Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘settler colonialism

My Speech for London Rally in Support of Palestinians’ Rights to Exist, Resist and Return

My name is Shahd Abusalama and I’m a 3rd generation Palestinian refugee, born and raised in Jabalia Refugee Camp, northern Gaza.

I’m standing here with so many Palestinians, born in Palestine and exile, to tell the founding Zionists of Israel who assumed that the old will die and the young will forget, that we will not forget Palestine, and we will never surrender our fundamental rights to exist, resist and return.

We stand representative of many indigenous communities who faced various forms of oppression across the history of European colonialism and imperialism, to remind the world that settler colonialism is not a culture of the past, but a current reality that we have lived and defied from America, Australia and Ireland to Palestine.

My grandmother described a peaceful childhood in green fields of citrus and olive trees in our village Beit-Jirja. This life, the tastes, the sounds and the smells remained fixated only in her memories as Beit Jirja was dismantled alongside other 530 villages and towns that were depopulated and destroyed by Zionist thugs in 1948.

For Palestinians, the Nakba was never a one-off event that happened in 1948.

Israeli colonial oppression has never stopped and many Palestinian communities within Israel, including the people of Khan Al-Ahmar, are still fighting against their ethnic cleansing as we stand here.

My grandparents are present today more than ever as we mark the 71st anniversary of the ethnic cleansing of Palestine, for what happened then is why I was born in Jabalia with a gun pointed at my head.

During my mother’s labour, Israeli soldiers disrupted her way to Jabalia UNRWA Clinic as they forced a curfew that indoctrinated to shoot any moving being. Shooting to kill was common in the 1st Intifada when I came to life, and is a common practice now.

We saw it in the shooting and maiming of Gaza’s Great Return March protesters who stood with their bare chests against Israeli snipers to claim their humanity and to bring their right of return, an issue that Israel firmly rejected across the past 7 decades on racist grounds, to the centre of political debate.

Their cries for justice come amidst US-Israeli attempts to push the right of return and Jerusalem “off the table”. It is time that we call those world leaders what they are: racist trolls. It is time to stand firm in our support of the Palestinian right of return, as without justice, there will be no meaningful peace.

Palestinians in the Gaza Strip just survived another a 3-day deadly Israeli attack last weekend, which claimed 25 lives, including two pregnant women, two toddlers and a 12 year old child.

While world news was quick to move on after the truce was announced, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip returned to a daily struggle for survival while more deadly violence is expected at any moment.

That’s how my family welcomed Ramadan. Following the truce, I heard my parents calling relatives and friends and saying, “glad you survived” before continuing “Ramadan Kareem”.

Imagine living in an open-air prison where there is constant presence of death, and fear of walls falling inwards. This fear of being uncertain about anything, including your own life, even while in your home, is terrifying.

This is what 2 million people faced last weekend as they are besieged by Israeli weaponry from air, land and sea, turning Gaza into a laboratory for its lethal arms, which Israel markets as ‘battle-tested’ in notorious arms fairs around the world, such as DSEI which London is hosting again this year.

It is not a coincidence that Gaza comes under attack during Israeli elections over and over again.

Those elections are led by criminals using Palestinian children’s blood to win popular support.

Meanwhile, the world is about to celebrate Eurovision in Apartheid Israeli on top of an ethnically-cleansed Palestinian land, a show whose whole purpose is to expose Israel’s ‘prettier face’ while deflecting global attention from its daily crimes against the Palestinians.

Shame on all contestant countries, all the participants and audiences if they still support Eurovision in Israel while our victims’ blood haven’t dried.

This is nothing new. This is our decades-long lived experience that is normalised by a dominant media discourse that finds it comfortable to avoid addressing the power imbalance between the occupier and the occupied, to remove the context of settler colonialism and reduce it to conflict, effectively demonizing Palestinians and their legitimate struggle against their systematic dehumanization.

Our injustice is also normalized by tax payers whose money is paid as military ‘aid’ for Israel, by politicians who suddenly fall short on words of condemnation once the perpetrator is Israel.

And by international institutions doing business with Israel or corporations that enable Israeli crimes, by Muslims of the world who normalise relations with Israel and buy Israeli dates merged with our pains of loss and dispossession, by Zionist Jews and Evangelical Christians who support the uninterrupted process of ethnic cleansing against the native people of the ‘promised land’ in the name of God.

The best response to such brutality and normalisation is active solidarity!

We have a beautiful demonstration of solidarity today with thousands uniting from different races, religions, genders, professions and cities, to say: we’re not turning our back to the Palestinian people. We know too well that whether Palestine on news headlines or not, Israel is perpetrating violence uninterruptedly.

Every minute, innocent souls are buried, (as if it should be a common occurrence when Israel does the killing)

And building that took a lifetime to build are flattened. It is urgent that people of conscience all over the world join in solidarity and resist the collusion of their governments and institutions in this long-standing crime against humanity.

Note 1: Do you know that 80,000 Evangelical preacher/pastors main duty is to disseminate world Zionism ideology?

Note 2: Do you know that this bogus “Deal of Century” was Not discussed with the Palestinians?

 

Yes, Native Americans Were the Victims of Genocide

Saturday, June 04, 2016 By Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, History News Network | Op-Ed

This paper, written under the title, “U.S. Settler-Colonialism and Genocide Policies,” was delivered at the Organization of American Historians 2015 Annual Meeting in St. Louis, MO on April 18, 2015.

US policies and actions related to Indigenous peoples, though often termed “racist” or “discriminatory,” are rarely depicted as what they are: classic cases of imperialism and a particular form of colonialism — settler colonialism.

As anthropologist Patrick Wolfe writes, “The question of genocide is never far from discussions of settler colonialism. Land is necessary for life “[1] The history of the United States is a history of settler colonialism.

The extension of the United States from sea to shining sea was the intention and design of the country’s founders. “Free” land was the magnet that attracted European settlers.

After the war for independence but preceding the writing of the US Constitution, the Continental Congress produced the Northwest Ordinance. This was the first law of the incipient republic, revealing the motive for those desiring independence.

It was the blueprint for gobbling up the British-protected Indian Territory (“Ohio Country”) on the other side of the Appalachians and Alleghenies. Britain had made settlement there illegal with the Proclamation of 1763.

In 1801, President Jefferson aptly described the new settler state’s intentions for horizontal and vertical continental expansion, stating: “However our present interests may restrain us within our own limits, it is impossible not to look forward to distant times, when our rapid multiplication will expand itself beyond those limits and cover the whole northern, if not the southern continent, with a people speaking the same language, governed in similar form by similar laws.

This vision of manifest destiny found form a few years later in the Monroe Doctrine, signaling the intention of annexing or dominating former Spanish colonial territories in the Americas and the Pacific, which would be put into practice during the rest of the century.

The form of colonialism that the Indigenous peoples of North America have experienced was modern from the beginning: the expansion of European corporations, backed by government armies, into foreign areas, with subsequent expropriation of lands and resources.

Settler colonialism requires a genocidal policy. Native nations and communities, while struggling to maintain fundamental values and collectivity, have from the beginning resisted modern colonialism using both defensive and offensive techniques, including the modern forms of armed resistance of national liberation movements and what now is called terrorism. In every instance they have fought and continue to fight for survival as peoples.

The objective of US colonialist authorities was to terminate their existence as peoples — not as random individuals. This is the very definition of modern genocide as contrasted with premodern instances of extreme violence that did not have the goal of extinction.

The United States as a socioeconomic and political entity is a result of this centuries-long and ongoing colonial process. Modern Indigenous nations and communities are societies formed by their resistance to colonialism, through which they have carried their practices and histories. It is breathtaking, but no miracle, that they have survived as peoples.

Settler-colonialism requires violence or the threat of violence to attain its goals, which then forms the foundation of the United States’ system.

People do not hand over their land, resources, children, and futures without a fight, and that fight is met with violence. In employing the force necessary to accomplish its expansionist goals, a colonizing regime institutionalizes violence.

The notion that settler-indigenous conflict is an inevitable product of cultural differences and misunderstandings, or that violence was committed equally by the colonized and the colonizer, blurs the nature of the historical processes. Euro-American colonialism, an aspect of the capitalist economic globalization, had from its beginnings a genocidal tendency.

So, what constitutes genocide?  (The Turkish government is still debating on the nuance of its Armenian genocide?)

My colleague on the panel, Gary Clayton Anderson, in his recent book, “Ethnic Cleansing and the Indian,” argues: “Genocide will never become a widely accepted characterization for what happened in North America, because large numbers of Indians survived and because policies of mass murder on a scale similar to events in central Europe, Cambodia, or Rwanda were never implemented.”[2] There are fatal errors in this assessment.

The term “genocide” was coined following the Shoah, or Holocaust, and its prohibition was enshrined in the United Nations convention presented in 1948 and adopted in 1951: the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.

The convention is not retroactive but is applicable to US-Indigenous relations since 1988, when the US Senate ratified it. The genocide convention is an essential tool for historical analysis of the effects of colonialism in any era, and particularly in US history.

In the convention, any one of five acts is considered genocide if “committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group”:

(a) killing members of the group;

(b) causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;

(c) deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;

(d) imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;

(e) forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.[3]

The followings acts are punishable:

(a) Genocide;

(b) Conspiracy to commit genocide;

(c) Direct and public incitement to commit genocide;

(d) Attempt to commit genocide;

(e) Complicity in genocide.

The term “genocide” is often incorrectly used, such as in Dr. Anderson’s assessment, to describe extreme examples of mass murder, the death of vast numbers of people, as, for instance in Cambodia. What took place in Cambodia was horrific, but it does not fall under the terms of the Genocide Convention, as the Convention specifically refers to a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, with individuals within that group targeted by a government or its agents because they are members of the group or by attacking the underpinnings of the group’s existence as a group being met with the intent to destroy that group in whole or in part.

The Cambodian government committed crimes against humanity, but not genocide. Genocide is not an act simply worse than anything else, rather a specific kind of act.

The term, “ethnic cleansing,” is a descriptive term created by humanitarian interventionists to describe what was said to be happening in the 1990s wars among the republics of Yugoslavia. It is a descriptive term, not a term of international humanitarian law.

Although clearly the Holocaust was the most extreme of all genocides, the bar set by the Nazis is not the bar required to be considered genocide. The title of the Genocide convention is the “Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide,” so the law is about preventing genocide by identifying the elements of government policy, rather than only punishment after the fact. Most importantly, genocide does not have to be complete to be considered genocide.

US history, as well as inherited Indigenous trauma, cannot be understood without dealing with the genocide that the United States committed against Indigenous peoples. From the colonial period through the founding of the United States and continuing in the twentieth century, this has entailed torture, terror, sexual abuse, massacres, systematic military occupations, removals of Indigenous peoples from their ancestral territories, forced removal of Native American children to military-like boarding schools, allotment, and a policy of termination.

Within the logic of settler-colonialism, genocide was the inherent overall policy of the United States from its founding, but there are also specific documented policies of genocide on the part of US administrations that can be identified in at least four distinct periods: the Jacksonian era of forced removal; the California gold rush in Northern California; during the Civil War and in the post Civil War era of the so-called Indian Wars in the Southwest and the Great Plains; and the 1950s termination period; additionally, there is the overlapping period of compulsory boarding schools, 1870s to 1960s.

The Carlisle boarding school, founded by US Army officer Richard Henry Pratt in 1879, became a model for others established by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). Pratt said in a speech in 1892, “A great general has said that the only good Indian is a dead one. In a sense, I agree with the sentiment, but only in this: that all the Indian there is in the race should be dead. Kill the Indian in him and save the man.”

Cases of genocide carried out as policy may be found in historical documents as well as in the oral histories of Indigenous communities. An example from 1873 is typical, with General William T. Sherman writing, “We must act with vindictive earnestness against the Sioux, even to their extermination, men, women and children . . . during an assault, the soldiers can not pause to distinguish between male and female, or even discriminate as to age.”[4]

The so-called “Indian Wars” technically ended around 1880, although the Wounded Knee massacre occurred a decade later. Clearly an act with genocidal intent, it is still officially considered a “battle” in the annals of US military genealogy. Congressional Medals of Honor were bestowed on twenty of the soldiers involved.

A monument was built at Fort Riley, Kansas, to honor the soldiers killed by friendly fire. A battle streamer was created to honor the event and added to other streamers that are displayed at the Pentagon, West Point, and army bases throughout the world. L. Frank Baum, a Dakota Territory settler later famous for writing The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, edited the Aberdeen Saturday Pioneer at the time.

Five days after the sickening event at Wounded Knee, on January 3, 1891, he wrote, “The Pioneer has before declared that our only safety depends upon the total extermination of the Indians. Having wronged them for centuries we had better, in order to protect our civilization, follow it up by one or more wrong and wipe these untamed and untamable creatures from the face of the earth.”

Whether 1880 or 1890, most of the collective land base that Native Nations secured through hard fought for treaties made with the United States was lost after that date.

After the end of the Indian Wars, came allotment, another policy of genocide of Native nations as nations, as peoples, the dissolution of the group. Taking the Sioux Nation as an example, even before the Dawes Allotment Act of 1884 was implemented, and with the Black Hills already illegally confiscated by the federal government, a government commission arrived in Sioux territory from Washington, DC, in 1888 with a proposal to reduce the Sioux Nation to six small reservations, a scheme that would leave nine million acres open for Euro-American settlement.

The commission found it impossible to obtain signatures of the required three-fourths of the nation as required under the 1868 treaty, and so returned to Washington with a recommendation that the government ignore the treaty and take the land without Sioux consent. The only means to accomplish that goal was legislation, Congress having relieved the government of the obligation to negotiate a treaty.

Congress commissioned General George Crook to head a delegation to try again, this time with an offer of $1.50 per acre. In a series of manipulations and dealings with leaders whose people were now starving, the commission garnered the needed signatures.

The great Sioux Nation was broken into small islands soon surrounded on all sides by European immigrants, with much of the reservation land a checkerboard with settlers on allotments or leased land.[5] Creating these isolated reservations broke the historical relationships between clans and communities of the Sioux Nation and opened areas where Europeans settled. It also allowed the Bureau of Indian Affairs to exercise tighter control, buttressed by the bureau’s boarding school system.

The Sun Dance, the annual ceremony that had brought Sioux together and reinforced national unity, was outlawed, along with other religious ceremonies. Despite the Sioux people’s weak position under late-nineteenth-century colonial domination, they managed to begin building a modest cattle-ranching business to replace their former bison-hunting economy. In 1903, the US Supreme Court ruled, in Lone Wolf v. Hitchcock, that a March 3, 1871, appropriations rider was constitutional and that Congress had “plenary” power to manage Indian property.

The Office of Indian Affairs could thus dispose of Indian lands and resources regardless of the terms of previous treaty provisions. Legislation followed that opened the reservations to settlement through leasing and even sale of allotments taken out of trust. Nearly all prime grazing lands came to be occupied by non-Indian ranchers by the 1920s.

By the time of the New Deal–Collier era and nullification of Indian land allotment under the Indian Reorganization Act, non-Indians outnumbered Indians on the Sioux reservations three to one. However, “tribal governments” imposed in the wake of the Indian Reorganization Act proved particularly harmful and divisive for the Sioux.”[6] 

Concerning this measure, the late Mathew King, elder traditional historian of the Oglala Sioux (Pine Ridge), observed: “The Bureau of Indian Affairs drew up the constitution and by-laws of this organization with the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934. This was the introduction of home rule. . . .

The traditional people still hang on to their Treaty, for we are a sovereign nation. We have our own government.”[7] “Home rule,” or neocolonialism, proved a short-lived policy, however, for in the early 1950s the United States developed its termination policy, with legislation ordering gradual eradication of every reservation and even the tribal governments.[8] At the time of termination and relocation, per capita annual income on the Sioux reservations stood at $355, while that in nearby South Dakota towns was $2,500.

Despite these circumstances, in pursuing its termination policy, the Bureau of Indian Affairs advocated the reduction of services and introduced its program to relocate Indians to urban industrial centers, with a high percentage of Sioux moving to San Francisco and Denver in search of jobs.[9]

The situations of other Indigenous Nations were similar.

Pawnee Attorney Walter R. Echo-Hawk writes:

In 1881, Indian landholdings in the United States had plummeted to 156 million acres. By 1934, only about 50 million acres remained (an area the size of Idaho and Washington) as a result of the General Allotment Act of 1887. During World War II, the government took 500,000 more acres for military use. Over one hundred tribes, bands, and Rancherias relinquished their lands under various acts of Congress during the termination era of the 1950s. By 1955, the indigenous land base had shrunk to just 2.3 percent of its [size at the end of the Indian wars].[10]

According to the current consensus among historians, the wholesale transfer of land from Indigenous to Euro-American hands that occurred in the Americas after 1492 is due less to British and US American invasion, warfare, refugee conditions, and genocidal policies in North America than to the bacteria that the invaders unwittingly brought with them.

Historian Colin Calloway is among the proponents of this theory writing, “Epidemic diseases would have caused massive depopulation in the Americas whether brought by European invaders or brought home by Native American traders.”[11] Such an absolutist assertion renders any other fate for the Indigenous peoples improbable. This is what anthropologist Michael Wilcox has dubbed “the terminal narrative.”

Professor Calloway is a careful and widely respected historian of Indigenous North America, but his conclusion articulates a default assumption. The thinking behind the assumption is both ahistorical and illogical in that Europe itself lost a third to one-half of its population to infectious disease during medieval pandemics.

The principle reason the consensus view is wrong and ahistorical is that it erases the effects of settler colonialism with its antecedents in the Spanish “Reconquest” and the English conquest of Scotland, Ireland, and Wales. By the time Spain, Portugal, and Britain arrived to colonize the Americas, their methods of eradicating peoples or forcing them into dependency and servitude were ingrained, streamlined, and effective.

Whatever disagreement may exist about the size of precolonial Indigenous populations, no one doubts that a rapid demographic decline occurred in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, its timing from region to region depending on when conquest and colonization began.

Nearly all the population areas of the Americas were reduced by 90 percent following the onset of colonizing projects, decreasing the targeted Indigenous populations of the Americas from a one hundred million to ten million. Commonly referred to as the most extreme demographic disaster — framed as natural — in human history, it was rarely called genocide until the rise of Indigenous movements in the mid-twentieth century forged new questions.

US scholar Benjamin Keen acknowledges that historians “accept uncritically a fatalistic ‘epidemic plus lack of acquired immunity’ explanation for the shrinkage of Indian populations, without sufficient attention to the socioeconomic factors . . . which predisposed the natives to succumb to even slight infections.”[12] Other scholars agree. Geographer William M. Denevan, while not ignoring the existence of widespread epidemic diseases, has emphasized the role of warfare, which reinforced the lethal impact of disease.

There were military engagements directly between European and Indigenous nations, but many more saw European powers pitting one Indigenous nation against another or factions within nations, with European allies aiding one or both sides, as was the case in the colonization of the peoples of Ireland, Africa and Asia, and was also a factor in the Holocaust.

Other killers cited by Denevan are overwork in mines, frequent outright butchery, malnutrition and starvation resulting from the breakdown of Indigenous trade networks, subsistence food production and loss of land, loss of will to live or reproduce (and thus suicide, abortion, and infanticide), and deportation and enslavement.[13] Anthropologist Henry Dobyns has pointed to the interruption of Indigenous peoples’ trade networks.

When colonizing powers seized Indigenous trade routes, the ensuing acute shortages, including food products, weakened populations and forced them into dependency on the colonizers, with European manufactured goods replacing Indigenous ones. Dobyns has estimated that all Indigenous groups suffered serious food shortages one year in four. In these circumstances, the introduction and promotion of alcohol proved addictive and deadly, adding to the breakdown of social order and responsibility.[14] These realities render the myth of “lack of immunity,” including to alcohol, pernicious.

Historian Woodrow Wilson Borah focused on the broader arena of European colonization, which also brought severely reduced populations in the Pacific Islands, Australia, Western Central America, and West Africa.[15] Sherburne Cook — associated with Borah in the revisionist Berkeley School, as it was called — studied the attempted destruction of the California Indians. Cook estimated 2,245 deaths among peoples in Northern California — the Wintu, Maidu, Miwak, Omo, Wappo, and Yokuts nations — in late eighteenth-century armed conflicts with the Spanish while some 5,000 died from disease and another 4,000 were relocated to missions.

Among the same people in the second half of the nineteenth century, US armed forces killed 4,000, and disease killed another 6,000. Between 1852 and 1867, US citizens kidnapped 4,000 Indian children from these groups in California. Disruption of Indigenous social structures under these conditions and dire economic necessity forced many of the women into prostitution in goldfield camps, further wrecking what vestiges of family life remained in these matriarchal societies.

Historians and others who deny genocide emphasize population attrition by disease, weakening Indigenous peoples ability to resist. In doing so they refuse to accept that the colonization of America was genocidal by plan, not simply the tragic fate of populations lacking immunity to disease. If disease could have done the job, it is not clear why the United States found it necessary to carry out unrelenting wars against Indigenous communities in order to gain every inch of land they took from them — along with the prior period of British colonization, nearly three hundred years of eliminationist warfare.

In the case of the Jewish Holocaust, no one denies that more Jews died of starvation, overwork, and disease under Nazi incarceration than died in gas ovens or murdered by other means, yet the acts of creating and maintaining the conditions that led to those deaths clearly constitute genocide. And no one recites the terminal narrative associated with Native Americans, or Armenians, or Bosnian.

Not all of the acts iterated in the genocide convention are required to exist to constitute genocide; any one of them suffices. In cases of United States genocidal policies and actions, each of the five requirements can be seen.

First, Killing members of the group: The genocide convention does not specify that large numbers of people must be killed in order to constitute genocide, rather that members of the group are killed because they are members of the group. Assessing a situation in terms of preventing genocide, this kind of killing is a marker for intervention.

Second, Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group: such as starvation, the control of food supply and withholding food as punishment or as reward for compliance, for instance, in signing confiscatory treaties. As military historian John Grenier points out in his First Way of War:

For the first 200 years of our military heritage, then, Americans depended on arts of war that contemporary professional soldiers supposedly abhorred: razing and destroying enemy villages and fields; killing enemy women and children; raiding settlements for captives; intimidating and brutalizing enemy noncombatants; and assassinating enemy leaders. . . . In the frontier wars between 1607 and 1814, Americans forged two elements — unlimited war and irregular war — into their first way of war.[16]

Grenier argues that not only did this way of war continue throughout the 19th century in wars against the Indigenous nations, but continued in the 20th century and currently in counterinsurgent wars against peoples in Latin America, the Caribbean and Pacific, Southeast Asia, Middle and Western Asia and Africa.

Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part: Forced removal of all the Indigenous nations east of the Mississippi to Indian Territory during the Jackson administration was a calculated policy intent on destroying those peoples ties to their original lands, as well as declaring Native people who did not remove to no longer be Muskogee, Sauk, Kickapoo, Choctaw, destroying the existence of up to half of each nation removed.

Mandatory boarding schools, Allotment and Termination — all official government policies–also fall under this category of the crime of genocide. The forced removal and four year incarceration of the Navajo people resulted in the death of half their population.

Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group: Famously, during the Termination Era, the US government administrated Indian Health Service made the top medical priority the sterilization of Indigenous women. In 1974, an independent study by one the few Native American physicians, Dr. Connie Pinkerton-Uri, Choctaw/Cherokee, found that one in four Native women had been sterilized without her consent. Pnkerton-Uri’s research indicated that the Indian Health Service had “singled out full-blooded Indian women for sterilization procedures.”

At first denied by the Indian Health Service, two years later, a study by the U.S. General Accounting Office found that 4 of the 12 Indian Health Service regions sterilized 3,406 Native women without their permission between 1973 and 1976. The GAO found that 36 women under age 21 had been forcibly sterilized during this period despite a court-ordered moratorium on sterilizations of women younger than 21.

Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group: Various governmental entities, mostly municipalities, counties, and states, routinely removed Native children from their families and put them up for adoption. In the Native resistance movements of the 1960s and 1970s, the demand to put a stop to the practice was codified in the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978.

However, the burden of enforcing the legislation lay with Tribal Government, but the legislation provided no financial resources for Native governments to establish infrastructure to retrieve children from the adoption industry, in which Indian babies were high in demand. Despite these barriers to enforcement, the worst abuses had been curbed over the following three decades. But, on June 25, 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court, in a 5-4 ruling drafted by Justice Samuel Alito, used provisions of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) to say that a child, widely known as Baby Veronica, did not have to live with her biological Cherokee father.

The high court’s decision paved the way for Matt and Melanie Capobianco, the adoptive parents, to ask the South Carolina Courts to have the child returned to them. The court gutted the purpose and intent of the Indian Child Welfare Act, missing the concept behind the ICWA, the protection of cultural resource and treasure that are Native children; it’s not about protecting so-called traditional or nuclear families. It’s about recognizing the prevalence of extended families and culture.[17]

So, why does the Genocide Convention matter? Native nations are still here and still vulnerable to genocidal policy. This isn’t just history that predates the 1948 Genocide Convention. But, the history is important and needs to be widely aired, included in public school texts and public service announcements.

The Doctrine of Discovery is still law of the land. From the mid-fifteenth century to the mid-twentieth century, most of the non-European world was colonized under the Doctrine of Discovery, one of the first principles of international law Christian European monarchies promulgated to legitimize investigating, mapping, and claiming lands belonging to peoples outside Europe. It originated in a papal bull issued in 1455 that permitted the Portuguese monarchy to seize West Africa. Following Columbus’s infamous exploratory voyage in 1492, sponsored by the king and queen of the infant Spanish state, another papal bull extended similar permission to Spain.

Disputes between the Portuguese and Spanish monarchies led to the papal-initiated Treaty of Tordesillas (1494), which, besides dividing the globe equally between the two Iberian empires, clarified that only non-Christian lands fell under the discovery doctrine.[18] This doctrine on which all European states relied thus originated with the arbitrary and unilateral establishment of the Iberian monarchies’ exclusive rights under Christian canon law to colonize foreign peoples, and this right was later seized by other European monarchical colonizing projects.

The French Republic used this legalistic instrument for its nineteenth- and twentieth-century settler colonialist projects, as did the newly independent United States when it continued the colonization of North America begun by the British.

In 1792, not long after the US founding, Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson claimed that the Doctrine of Discovery developed by European states was international law applicable to the new US government as well. In 1823 the US Supreme Court issued its decision in Johnson v. McIntosh.

Writing for the majority, Chief Justice John Marshall held that the Doctrine of Discovery had been an established principle of European law and of English law in effect in Britain’s North American colonies and was also the law of the United States. ( Israel still applies the British administrative colonial detention law on Palestinians)

The Court defined the exclusive property rights that a European country acquired by dint of discovery: “Discovery gave title to the government, by whose subjects, or by whose authority, it was made, against all other European governments, which title might be consummated by possession.” Therefore, European and Euro-American “discoverers” had gained real-property rights in the lands of Indigenous peoples by merely planting a flag.

Indigenous rights were, in the Court’s words, “in no instance, entirely disregarded; but were necessarily, to a considerable extent, impaired.” The court further held that Indigenous “rights to complete sovereignty, as independent nations, were necessarily diminished.” Indigenous people could continue to live on the land, but title resided with the discovering power, the United States. The decision concluded that Native nations were “domestic, dependent nations.”

The Doctrine of Discovery is so taken for granted that it is rarely mentioned in historical or legal texts published in the Americas. The UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Peoples, which meets annually for two weeks, devoted its entire 2012 session to the doctrine.[19] But few US citizens are aware of the precarity of the situation of Indigenous Peoples in the United States.

Note: Israel is founded on settlers genocide and displacement of Palestinians. Boycott Settlements products and services.

Let Them Drown

The Violence of Othering in a Warming World

Edward Said was no tree-hugger. Descended from traders, artisans and professionals, he once described himself as ‘an extreme case of an urban Palestinian whose relationship to the land is basically metaphorical’.[*]

In After the Last Sky, his meditation on the photographs of Jean Mohr, he explored the most intimate aspects of Palestinian lives, from hospitality to sports to home décor.

The tiniest detail – the placing of a picture frame, the defiant posture of a child – provoked a torrent of insight from Said. Yet when confronted with images of Palestinian farmers – tending their flocks, working the fields – the specificity suddenly evaporated.

Which crops were being cultivated? What was the state of the soil?

The availability of water? Nothing was forthcoming. ‘I continue to perceive a population of poor, suffering, occasionally colourful peasants, unchanging and collective,’ Said confessed. This perception was ‘mythic’, he acknowledged – yet it remained.

Andrew Bossone shared this link

Fascinating explanation of the intersectionality of settler colonialism and environmentalism through the lens of Edward Said.

If farming was another world for Said, those who devoted their lives to matters like air and water pollution appear to have inhabited another planet.

Speaking to his colleague Rob Nixon, he once described environmentalism as ‘the indulgence of spoiled tree-huggers who lack a proper cause’. But the environmental challenges of the Middle East are impossible to ignore for anyone immersed, as Said was, in its geopolitics.

This is a region intensely vulnerable to heat and water stress, to sea-level rise and to desertification.

A recent paper in Nature Climate Change predicts that, unless we radically lower emissions and lower them fast, large parts of the Middle East will likely ‘experience temperature levels that are intolerable to humans’ by the end of this century.

And that’s about as blunt as climate scientists get. Yet environmental issues in the region still tend to be treated as afterthoughts, or luxury causes. The reason is not ignorance, or indifference. It’s just bandwidth.

Climate change is a grave threat but the most frightening impacts are in the medium term. And in the short term, there are always far more pressing threats to contend with: military occupation, air assault, systemic discrimination, embargo. Nothing can compete with that – nor should it attempt to try.

There are other reasons why environmentalism might have looked like a bourgeois playground to Said. The Israeli state has long coated its nation-building project in a green veneer – it was a key part of the Zionist ‘back to the land’ pioneer ethos.

And in this context trees, specifically, have been among the most potent weapons of land grabbing and occupation. It’s not only the countless olive and pistachio trees that have been uprooted to make way for settlements and Israeli-only roads.

It’s also the sprawling pine and eucalyptus forests that have been planted over those orchards, as well as over Palestinian villages, most notoriously by the Jewish National Fund, which, under its slogan ‘Turning the Desert Green’, boasts of having planted 250 million trees in Israel since 1901, many of them non-native to the region.

In publicity materials, the JNF bills itself as just another green NGO, concerned with forest and water management, parks and recreation. It also happens to be the largest private landowner in the state of Israel, and despite a number of complicated legal challenges, it still refuses to lease or sell land to non-Jews.

I grew up in a Jewish community where every occasion – births and deaths, Mother’s Day, bar mitzvahs – was marked with the proud purchase of a JNF tree in the person’s honour.

It wasn’t until adulthood that I began to understand that those feel-good faraway conifers, certificates for which papered the walls of my Montreal elementary school, were not benign – not just something to plant and later hug. In fact these trees are among the most glaring symbols of Israel’s system of official discrimination – the one that must be dismantled if peaceful co-existence is to become possible.

The JNF is an extreme and recent example of what some call ‘green colonialism’. But the phenomenon is hardly new, nor is it unique to Israel. There is a long and painful history in the Americas of beautiful pieces of wilderness being turned into conservation parks – and then that designation being used to prevent Indigenous people from accessing their ancestral territories to hunt and fish, or simply to live. It has happened again and again.

A contemporary version of this phenomenon is the carbon offset. Indigenous people from Brazil to Uganda are finding that some of the most aggressive land grabbing is being done by conservation organisations.

A forest is suddenly rebranded a carbon offset and is put off-limits to its traditional inhabitants. As a result, the carbon offset market has created a whole new class of ‘green’ human rights abuses, with farmers and Indigenous people being physically attacked by park rangers or private security when they try to access these lands.

Said’s comment about tree-huggers should be seen in this context.

And there is more. In the last year of Said’s life, Israel’s so-called ‘separation barrier’ was going up, seizing huge swathes of the West Bank, cutting Palestinian workers off from their jobs, farmers from their fields, patients from hospitals – and brutally dividing families. There was no shortage of reasons to oppose the wall on human rights grounds. Yet at the time, some of the loudest dissenting voices among Israeli Jews were not focused on any of that.

Yehudit Naot, Israel’s then environment minister, was more worried about a report informing her that ‘The separation fence … is harmful to the landscape, the flora and fauna, the ecological corridors and the drainage of the creeks.’ ‘I certainly don’t want to stop or delay the building of the fence,’ she said, but ‘I am disturbed by the environmental damage involved.’

As the Palestinian activist Omar Barghouti later observed, Naot’s ‘ministry and the National Parks Protection Authority mounted diligent rescue efforts to save an affected reserve of irises by moving it to an alternative reserve. They’ve also created tiny passages [through the wall] for animals.’

Perhaps this puts the cynicism about the green movement in context. People do tend to get cynical when their lives are treated as less important than flowers and reptiles. And yet there is so much of Said’s intellectual legacy that both illuminates and clarifies the underlying causes of the global ecological crisis, so much that points to ways we might respond that are far more inclusive than current campaign models: ways that don’t ask suffering people to shelve their concerns about war, poverty and systemic racism and first ‘save the world’ – but instead demonstrate how all these crises are interconnected, and how the solutions could be too.

In short, Said may have had no time for tree-huggers, but tree-huggers must urgently make time for Said – and for a great many other anti-imperialist, postcolonial thinkers – because without that knowledge, there is no way to understand how we ended up in this dangerous place, or to grasp the transformations required to get us out. So what follows are some thoughts – by no means complete – about what we can learn from reading Said in a warming world.

*

He was and remains among our most achingly eloquent theorists of exile and homesickness – but Said’s homesickness, he always made clear, was for a home that had been so radically altered that it no longer really existed. His position was complex: he fiercely defended the right to return, but never claimed that home was fixed.

What mattered was the principle of respect for all human rights equally and the need for restorative justice to inform our actions and policies. This perspective is deeply relevant in our time of eroding coastlines, of nations disappearing beneath rising seas, of the coral reefs that sustain entire cultures being bleached white, of a balmy Arctic.

This is because the state of longing for a radically altered homeland – a home that may not even exist any longer – is something that is being rapidly, and tragically, globalised.

In March, two major peer-reviewed studies warned that sea-level rise could happen significantly faster than previously believed. One of the authors of the first study was James Hansen – perhaps the most respected climate scientist in the world. He warned that, on our current emissions trajectory, we face the ‘loss of all coastal cities, most of the world’s large cities and all their history’ – and not in thousands of years from now but as soon as this century. If we don’t demand radical change we are headed for a whole world of people searching for a home that no longer exists.

Said helps us imagine what that might look like as well. He helped to popularise the Arabic word sumud (‘to stay put, to hold on’): that steadfast refusal to leave one’s land despite the most desperate eviction attempts and even when surrounded by continuous danger.

It’s a word most associated with places like Hebron and Gaza, but it could be applied equally today to residents of coastal Louisiana who have raised their homes up on stilts so that they don’t have to evacuate, or to Pacific Islanders whose slogan is ‘We are not drowning. We are fighting.’ In countries like the Marshall Islands and Fiji and Tuvalu, they know that so much sea-level rise is inevitable that their countries likely have no future.

But they refuse just to concern themselves with the logistics of relocation, and wouldn’t even if there were safer countries willing to open their borders – a very big if, since climate refugees aren’t currently recognised under international law. Instead they are actively resisting: blockading Australian coal ships with traditional outrigger canoes, disrupting international climate negotiations with their inconvenient presence, demanding far more aggressive climate action. If there is anything worth celebrating in the Paris Agreement signed in April – and sadly, there isn’t enough – it has come about because of this kind of principled action: climate sumud.

But this only scratches of the surface of what we can learn from reading Said in a warming world. He was, of course, a giant in the study of ‘othering’ – what is described in Orientalism as ‘disregarding, essentialising, denuding the humanity of another culture, people or geographical region’.

And once the other has been firmly established, the ground is softened for any transgression: violent expulsion, land theft, occupation, invasion. Because the whole point of othering is that the other doesn’t have the same rights, the same humanity, as those making the distinction. What does this have to do with climate change? Perhaps everything.

We have dangerously warmed our world already, and our governments still refuse to take the actions necessary to halt the trend. There was a time when many had the right to claim ignorance. But for the past three decades, since the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was created and climate negotiations began, this refusal to lower emissions has been accompanied with full awareness of the dangers. And this kind of recklessness would have been functionally impossible without institutional racism, even if only latent.

It would have been impossible without Orientalism, without all the potent tools on offer that allow the powerful to discount the lives of the less powerful. These tools – of ranking the relative value of humans – are what allow the writing off of entire nations and ancient cultures. And they are what allowed for the digging up of all that carbon to begin with.

*

Fossil fuels aren’t the sole driver of climate change – there is industrial agriculture, and deforestation – but they are the biggest. And the thing about fossil fuels is that they are so inherently dirty and toxic that they require sacrificial people and places: people whose lungs and bodies can be sacrificed to work in the coal mines, people whose lands and water can be sacrificed to open-pit mining and oil spills.

As recently as the 1970s, scientists advising the US government openly referred to certain parts of the country being designated ‘national sacrifice areas’. Think of the mountains of Appalachia, blasted off for coal mining – because so-called ‘mountain top removal’ coal mining is cheaper than digging holes underground.

There must be theories of othering to justify sacrificing an entire geography – theories about the people who lived there being so poor and backward that their lives and culture don’t deserve protection. After all, if you are a ‘hillbilly’, who cares about your hills? Turning all that coal into electricity required another layer of othering too: this time for the urban neighbourhoods next door to the power plants and refineries.

In North America, these are overwhelmingly communities of colour, black and Latino, forced to carry the toxic burden of our collective addiction to fossil fuels, with markedly higher rates of respiratory illnesses and cancers. It was in fights against this kind of ‘environmental racism’ that the climate justice movement was born.

Fossil fuel sacrifice zones dot the globe. Take the Niger Delta, poisoned with an Exxon Valdez-worth of spilled oil every year, a process Ken Saro-Wiwa, before he was murdered by his government, called ‘ecological genocide’. The executions of community leaders, he said, were ‘all for Shell’.

In my country, Canada, the decision to dig up the Alberta tar sands – a particularly heavy form of oil – has required the shredding of treaties with First Nations, treaties signed with the British Crown that guaranteed Indigenous peoples the right to continue to hunt, fish and live traditionally on their ancestral lands.

It required it because these rights are meaningless when the land is desecrated, when the rivers are polluted and the moose and fish are riddled with tumours. And it gets worse: Fort McMurray – the town at the centre of the tar sands boom, where many of the workers live and where much of the money is spent – is currently in an infernal blaze. It’s that hot and that dry. And this has something to do with what is being mined there.

Even without such dramatic events, this kind of resource extraction is a form of violence, because it does so much damage to the land and water that it brings about the end of a way of life, a death of cultures that are inseparable from the land. Severing Indigenous people’s connection to their culture used to be state policy in Canada – imposed through the forcible removal of Indigenous children from their families to boarding schools where their language and cultural practices were banned, and where physical and sexual abuse were rampant.

A recent truth and reconciliation report called it ‘cultural genocide’. The trauma associated with these layers of forced separation – from land, from culture, from family – is directly linked to the epidemic of despair ravaging so many First Nations communities today. On a single Saturday night in April, in the community of Attawapiskat – population 2000 – 11 people tried to take their own lives.

Meanwhile, DeBeers runs a diamond mine on the community’s traditional territory; like all extractive projects, it had promised hope and opportunity. ‘Why don’t the people just leave?’, the politicians and pundits ask. But many do. And that departure is linked, in part, to the thousands of Indigenous women in Canada who have been murdered or gone missing, often in big cities.

Press reports rarely make the connection between violence against women and violence against the land – often to extract fossil fuels – but it exists. Every new government comes to power promising a new era of respect for Indigenous rights. They don’t deliver, because Indigenous rights, as defined by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, include the right to refuse extractive projects – even when those projects fuel national economic growth.

And that’s a problem because growth is our religion, our way of life. So even Canada’s hunky and charming new prime minister is bound and determined to build new tar sands pipelines, against the express wishes of Indigenous communities who don’t want to risk their water, or participate in the further destabilising of the climate.

Fossil fuels require sacrifice zones: they always have. And you can’t have a system built on sacrificial places and sacrificial people unless intellectual theories that justify their sacrifice exist and persist: from Manifest Destiny to Terra Nullius to Orientalism, from backward hillbillies to backward Indians. We often hear climate change blamed on ‘human nature’, on the inherent greed and short-sightedness of our species.

Or we are told we have altered the earth so much and on such a planetary scale that we are now living in the Anthropocene – the age of humans. These ways of explaining our current circumstances have a very specific, if unspoken meaning: that humans are a single type, that human nature can be essentialised to the traits that created this crisis. In this way, the systems that certain humans created, and other humans powerfully resisted, are completely let off the hook. Capitalism, colonialism, patriarchy – those sorts of system.

Diagnoses like this erase the very existence of human systems that organised life differently: systems that insist that humans must think 7 generations in the future; must be not only good citizens but also good ancestors; must take no more than they need and give back to the land in order to protect and augment the cycles of regeneration.

These systems existed and still exist, but they are erased every time we say that the climate crisis is a crisis of ‘human nature’ and that we are living in the ‘age of man’. And they come under very real attack when megaprojects are built, like the Gualcarque hydroelectric dams in Honduras, a project which, among other things, took the life of the land defender Berta Cáceres, who was assassinated in March.

*

Some people insist that it doesn’t have to be this bad. We can clean up resource extraction, we don’t need to do it the way it’s been done in Honduras and the Niger Delta and the Alberta tar sands. Except that we are running out of cheap and easy ways to get at fossil fuels, which is why we have seen the rise of fracking and tar sands extraction in the first place.

This, in turn, is starting to challenge the original Faustian pact of the industrial age: that the heaviest risks would be outsourced, offloaded, onto the other – the periphery abroad and inside our own nations. It’s something that is becoming less and less possible.

Fracking is threatening some of the most picturesque parts of Britain as the sacrifice zone expands, swallowing up all kinds of places that imagined themselves safe. So this isn’t just about gasping at how ugly the tar sands are. It’s about acknowledging that there is no clean, safe, non-toxic way to run an economy powered by fossil fuels. There never was.

There is an avalanche of evidence that there is no peaceful way either. The trouble is structural. Fossil fuels, unlike renewable forms of energy such as wind and solar, are not widely distributed but highly concentrated in very specific locations, and those locations have a bad habit of being in other people’s countries. Particularly that most potent and precious of fossil fuels: oil.

This is why the project of Orientalism, of othering Arab and Muslim people, has been the silent partner of our oil dependence from the start – and inextricable, therefore, from the blowback that is climate change.

If nations and peoples are regarded as other – exotic, primitive, bloodthirsty, as Said documented in the 1970s – it is far easier to wage wars and stage coups when they get the crazy idea that they should control their own oil in their own interests. In 1953 it was the British-US collaboration to overthrow the democratically elected government of Muhammad Mossadegh after he nationalised the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (now BP).

In 2003, exactly fifty years later, it was another UK-US co-production – the illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq. The reverberations from each intervention continue to jolt our world, as do the reverberations from the successful burning of all that oil. The Middle East is now squeezed in the pincer of violence caused by fossil fuels, on the one hand, and the impact of burning those fossil fuels on the other.

In his latest book, The Conflict Shoreline, the Israeli architect Eyal Weizman has a groundbreaking take on how these forces are intersecting.[†] The main way we’ve understood the border of the desert in the Middle East and North Africa, he explains, is the so-called ‘aridity line’, areas where there is on average 200 millimetres of rainfall a year, which has been considered the minimum for growing cereal crops on a large scale without irrigation.

These meteorological boundaries aren’t fixed: they have fluctuated for various reasons, whether it was Israel’s attempts to ‘green the desert’ pushing them in one direction or cyclical drought expanding the desert in the other. And now, with climate change, intensifying drought can have all kinds of impacts along this line.

Weizman points out that the Syrian border city of Daraa falls directly on the aridity line. Daraa is where Syria’s deepest drought on record brought huge numbers of displaced farmers in the years leading up to the outbreak of Syria’s civil war, and it’s where the Syrian uprising broke out in 2011.

Drought wasn’t the only factor in bringing tensions to a head. But the fact that 1.5 million people were internally displaced in Syria as a result of the drought clearly played a role. The connection between water and heat stress and conflict is a recurring, intensifying pattern all along the aridity line: all along it you see places marked by drought, water scarcity, scorching temperatures and military conflict – from Libya to Palestine, to some of the bloodiest battlefields in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

But Weizman also discovered what he calls an ‘astounding coincidence’. When you map the targets of Western drone strikes onto the region, you see that ‘many of these attacks – from South Waziristan through northern Yemen, Somalia, Mali, Iraq, Gaza and Libya – are directly on or close to the 200 mm aridity line.’

The red dots on the map above represent some of the areas where strikes have been concentrated. To me this is the most striking attempt yet to visualise the brutal landscape of the climate crisis. All this was foreshadowed a decade ago in a US military report.

‘The Middle East,’ it observed, ‘has always been associated with two natural resources, oil (because of its abundance) and water (because of its scarcity).’ True enough.

And now certain patterns have become quite clear:

first, Western fighter jets followed that abundance of oil; now, Western drones are closely shadowing the lack of water, as drought exacerbates conflict.

*

Just as bombs follow oil, and drones follow drought, so boats follow both: boats filled with refugees fleeing homes on the aridity line ravaged by war and drought. And the same capacity for dehumanising the other that justified the bombs and drones is now being trained on these migrants, casting their need for security as a threat to ours, their desperate flight as some sort of invading army.

Tactics refined on the West Bank and in other occupation zones are now making their way to North America and Europe. In selling his wall on the border with Mexico, Donald Trump likes to say: ‘Ask Israel, the wall works.’

Camps are bulldozed in Calais, thousands of people drown in the Mediterranean, and the Australian government detains survivors of wars and despotic regimes in camps on the remote islands of Nauru and Manus.

Conditions are so desperate on Nauru that last month an Iranian migrant died after setting himself on fire to try to draw the world’s attention. Another migrant – a 21-year-old woman from Somalia – set herself on fire a few days later. Malcolm Turnbull, the prime minister, warns that Australians ‘cannot be misty-eyed about this’ and ‘have to be very clear and determined in our national purpose’. It’s worth bearing Nauru in mind the next time a columnist in a Murdoch paper declares, as Katie Hopkins did last year, that it’s time for Britain ‘to get Australian. Bring on the gunships, force migrants back to their shores and burn the boats.’

In another bit of symbolism Nauru is one of the Pacific Islands very vulnerable to sea-level rise. Its residents, after seeing their homes turned into prisons for others, will very possibly have to migrate themselves. Tomorrow’s climate refugees have been recruited into service as today’s prison guards.

We need to understand that what is happening on Nauru, and what is happening to it, are expressions of the same logic. A culture that places so little value on black and brown lives that it is willing to let human beings disappear beneath the waves, or set themselves on fire in detention centres, will also be willing to let the countries where black and brown people live disappear beneath the waves, or desiccate in the arid heat.

When that happens, theories of human hierarchy – that we must take care of our own first – will be marshalled to rationalise these monstrous decisions. We are making this rationalisation already, if only implicitly. Although climate change will ultimately be an existential threat to all of humanity, in the short term we know that it does discriminate, hitting the poor first and worst, whether they are abandoned on the rooftops of New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina or whether they are among the 36 million who according to the UN are facing hunger due to drought in Southern and East Africa.

*

This is an emergency, a present emergency, not a future one, but we aren’t acting like it. The Paris Agreement commits to keeping warming below 2°c. It’s a target that is beyond reckless. When it was unveiled in Copenhagen in 2009, the African delegates called it ‘a death sentence’. The slogan of several low-lying island nations is ‘1.5 to stay alive’. At the last minute, a clause was added to the Paris Agreement that says countries will pursue ‘efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°c’. Not only is this non-binding but it is a lie: we are making no such efforts.

The governments that made this promise are now pushing for more fracking and more tar sands development – which are utterly incompatible with 2°c, let alone 1.5°c. This is happening because the wealthiest people in the wealthiest countries in the world think they are going to be OK, that someone else is going to eat the biggest risks, that even when climate change turns up on their doorstep, they will be taken care of.

When they’re wrong things get even uglier. We had a vivid glimpse into that future when the floodwaters rose in England last December and January, inundating 16,000 homes. These communities weren’t only dealing with the wettest December on record.

They were also coping with the fact that the government has waged a relentless attack on the public agencies, and the local councils, that are on the front lines of flood defence. So understandably, there were many who wanted to change the subject away from that failure. Why, they asked, is Britain spending so much money on refugees and foreign aid when it should be taking care of its own? ‘Never mind foreign aid,’ we read in the Daily Mail. ‘What about national aid?’ ‘Why,’ a Telegraph editorial demanded, ‘should British taxpayers continue to pay for flood defences abroad when the money is needed here?’ I don’t know – maybe because Britain invented the coal-burning steam engine and has been burning fossil fuels on an industrial scale longer than any nation on Earth? But I digress.

The point is that this could have been a moment to understand that we are all affected by climate change, and must take action together and in solidarity with one another. It wasn’t, because climate change isn’t just about things getting hotter and wetter: under our current economic and political model, it’s about things getting meaner and uglier.

The most important lesson to take from all this is that there is no way to confront the climate crisis as a technocratic problem, in isolation. It must be seen in the context of austerity and privatisation, of colonialism and militarism, and of the various systems of othering needed to sustain them all. The connections and intersections between them are glaring, and yet so often resistance to them is highly compartmentalised.

The anti-austerity people rarely talk about climate change, the climate change people rarely talk about war or occupation. We rarely make the connection between the guns that take black lives on the streets of US cities and in police custody and the much larger forces that annihilate so many black lives on arid land and in precarious boats around the world.

Overcoming these disconnections – strengthening the threads tying together our various issues and movements – is, I would argue, the most pressing task of anyone concerned with social and economic justice. It is the only way to build a counterpower sufficiently robust to win against the forces protecting the highly profitable but increasingly untenable status quo.

Climate change acts as an accelerant to many of our social ills – inequality, wars, racism – but it can also be an accelerant for the opposite, for the forces working for economic and social justice and against militarism. Indeed the climate crisis – by presenting our species with an existential threat and putting us on a firm and unyielding science-based deadline – might just be the catalyst we need to knit together a great many powerful movements, bound together by a belief in the inherent worth and value of all people and united by a rejection of the sacrifice zone mentality, whether it applies to peoples or places.

We face so many overlapping and intersecting crises that we can’t afford to fix them one at a time. We need integrated solutions, solutions that radically bring down emissions, while creating huge numbers of good, unionised jobs and delivering meaningful justice to those who have been most abused and excluded under the current extractive economy.

Said died the year Iraq was invaded, living to see its libraries and museums looted, its oil ministry faithfully guarded. Amid these outrages, he found hope in the global anti-war movement, as well as in new forms of grassroots communication opened up by technology; he noted ‘the existence of alternative communities across the globe, informed by alternative news sources, and keenly aware of the environmental, human rights and libertarian impulses that bind us together in this tiny planet’.

His vision even had a place for tree-huggers. I was reminded of those words recently while I was reading up on England’s floods. Amid all the scapegoating and finger-pointing, I came across a post by a man called Liam Cox. He was upset by the way some in the media were using the disaster to rev up anti-foreigner sentiment, and he said so:

I live in Hebden Bridge, Yorkshire, one of the worst affected areas hit by the floods. It’s shit, everything has gotten really wet. However … I’m alive. I’m safe. My family are safe. We don’t live in fear. I’m free. There aren’t bullets flying about. There aren’t bombs going off. I’m not being forced to flee my home and I’m not being shunned by the richest country in the world or criticised by its residents.

All you morons vomiting your xenophobia … about how money should only be spent ‘on our own’ need to look at yourselves closely in the mirror. I request you ask yourselves a very important question … Am I a decent and honourable human being? Because home isn’t just the UK, home is everywhere on this planet.

I think that makes for a very fine last word.


adonis49

adonis49

adonis49

October 2020
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