Jumma Mubarak and Reflections on the Islamic Climate Declaration

Who said the Art of Shadow Puppetry was dead?
Earlier this week, several mainly western NGOs held an event in Istanbul to develop and launch a joint, Islamic declaration on Climate Change.

I previewed it here.

The webcasts of the gathering were quite difficult to make any sense of, but the corporate communications teams have been busy and successful in messaging the symposium into the mainstream media. To be fair, many people just want a good news story about Muslims, and this air conditioned NGO theatre provides that.

Insofar as it is a confusing distraction from reality, the Islamic Climate Change Declaration functions in the same way as a few score people taking a well publicised Climate Change themed Dump on the Ummah, in order to attract Development Dung Beetles.

This is our Inconvenient Truth

Mistakeholding onto the rope of Allah

I have spent some time raising money and investing in one of the organisations (IR), watching it squander its human resources and grow to embody neoliberalistan, even while helping many people at the same time. It is not that I disagree with Islamic Relief's right to exist unharrassed, but it is important not to foul up the waters for others, blag your way through seriously complex issues and assume the role of a misleading gatekeeper. This is basic ummahtic adab.

It must be hard, being an Islamic Muslim NGO in such an Islamophobic, securitising and secularising environment, but it is harder if you are a street kid in Dhaka trying to survive to the next day without a policeman raping you, or a family in Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa trying not to get drone bombed or massacred, perplexed that these UK brothers are patronising you with DFIDy climate adaptation hush money.

Pardon the spelling. [Credit: MTA]
Organisational work in the world is fraught with contradictions and it is harder to stand back and peel away when you find yourself in the position of believing that you are helping Muslims as part of your rizq ( Divine worldly provision). I don't think this malaise is particular to the Muslim experience, it just sucks because its mine.

The Story of The Whistling Lion

The turning point came for me regarding IR came when the organisation spazzed out a few years back over Assed Baig's exposure of a betrayal of mission to relieve people in Somalia. It came just after the scandal at the London-based Muslim Youth Helpline, where the leadership used the extremist card to cover its own incompetence, and subjected its victims, who were unpaid volunteers, to lawfare. On the face of it, IR is a less precarious an organisation than MYH, with much more support and understanding from the Muslim community, so one would have hoped they would have responded more wholesomely.

In my generally inconsequential judgement, instead of admitting fault, they went on a character assassination rampage, suggesting that their corporate image was far too important to them, and that they were not to be mistaken for the selfless inspiration of the Edhi Foundation and the urban justice martyr Parween Rehman of the Orangi Pilot Project. Kudos to it IRs founder Dr Hany for all he did, and all the sincere stuff they have got right over the years, but we do need different vehicles now, and for old vehicles to transform.

The trustees, individual donors, staff and management still need to reflect on Relief-gate and avoid believing their own and their sector's BS. Why do we lionise the Chelsea Manning's and Edward Snowden's and flame our own truth sayers? Because its hard that's why.

Perhaps self-preservation might provide better motivation. There are actually malevolent actors out there collecting evidence to screw Muslim organisations when the time suits them. Can folks learn what the ex Mayor of Tower Hamlets Lutfur Rahman and company failed to?

Another thing that Relief-gate casts doubt on is the competence of airdropped and 'embedded' observers of development(ia) "field" work to understand what is unfolding before their eyes "on the ground". We could say that Nabi Khidr taught Nabi Musa this vital lesson.

This is why it is difficult for some, if not many, people to take IR's climate stuff at face value, despite the many lovely humans, barakah and sincerity that inhabits the place.

Back to the Declaration

Formatting facepalm
The text, when it came, was strewn with crucifix's, as if to convey a mystical sense about its inspiration and audience.

Another alarm bell rings when you search for the word justice and you only get the job title of the Lutheran participant.

1400 years of Islamic scholarship, coloniality, white supremacy and reparations were neither invoked nor addressed, lending the proceedings the odour of the vacuous tokenism that characterises this sector.

Enter The Corporate Nafs

The thing about developmentia, which is an inhibitor of our decolonisation so far, is that its so blatantly expressed in public communications.

On the promotional video reel --> , notice how the actual environmentalist, Fazlun Khalid, is featured hurriedly in order to make way for the IR advert for incorporation into the (white) world of  institutional donors.

I couldn't help but dwell on the exclusion of Black voice and the violation of the BDS campaign. And no, its not a petty operational oversight, its actually how this perverted theatre works, through us, to reproduce itself before we even clear our throats.

Its worth bearing in mind that,
  • A 2 degree average temperature rise across the globe will probably cook Africa by 4. 
  • The body of Black Liberation theology is a critical dialogue partner for the Muslims, 500 years plus downstream from 1492 and worse.
  • Current levels of global Negrophobia and Islamophobia amongst humanity suggest that Climate Refugee 'Concentration Camps' in the future are a real possibility. 
  • The spiritual reality of the batin and the zahir, the internal and the external plays out here. It is the turmoil inside some very powerful people has created this institutional, racist climate violence.

Reading the Text

The declaration text was a slight improvement on the draft, which was overly focused on Mitigation and European climate agenda. For a start, Adaptation to climate impacts featured (once). Some of the technical terms were defined  ( through they were unnecessary) and the diversity of the Muslim Ummah's experience of the impacts and contributions of climate change was acknowledged.

Happily though Islam does really shine through sometimes, despite the clunkiness and slapdash composition of the document which still gets bogged down in bullet points.

That triplet of Allah's name's is always going to be inspiring,  Al Khaliq, Al Bari, Al Mussawir - The Creator, The One Who Creates Out Of Nothing,  The Bestower Of Forms.

For the intellectually and spiritually underwhelmed
If you are looking for something a bit deeper, and mistook the stunt for something serious, I'd recommend the Ecology and Environment chapter of Tariq Ramadan's 2009 Radical Reform for a coherent, enlivening and practical read, and all of Seyyed Hossain Nasr's writings and lectures on the topic since the 60s. For creative depth and an idea of what could have been and could still be, there is always The Brethren of Purity's spiritual fiction novel The Case of the Aminals Versus Mankind before the King of the Jinn from the third Century of Islam.

GMOs and The Rights of Creation
One of my major beefs regarding the Istanbul Declaration is that it does not speak directly about Genetic Modified Organisms, which are and will continue to be foisted upon vulnerable societies as a Climate Solution. Farmers in Bangladesh and other places could do with a hand resisting this stuff, as their governments will kill them if they legitimately protest like UK groups do.

Our critique can be spiritual and jurisprudential as well as based on the malevolent corporate intention and health risk arguments. Other Muslim voices have stressed that our Rights of Creation discourse resonates with the Rights of Nature idea from the 2010 Cochabamba Declaration. Although the rights of ants to undisturbed habitation was affirmed in Istanbul, the Rights of Creation discourse wasn't developed enough. It has fascinating legal and scientific implication that I hear the People's Republic of Duriana have been exploring.

MSM Coverage
The coverage of the event has almost entirely been in 'the west', and its interesting to see how different agencies interpret it. Many are picking up on the total decarbonisation line, which apparently makes it strong. The twitter hashtag(firullah) is #Muslims4Climate

Ummahtic Tumbleweed.
Meanwhile I don't think anybody in the Muslim majority countries noticed. But what even if they did?

One question I haven't seen addressed is that often the civil society gangsters in such countries don't really like Islam, so nonsecular work is dismissed and denigrated to the point of hamstringing institutions, scholarship, dehumanising people and massacring them. This is very much the case in Bangladesh at present and gives a sadistic comedy value to Adaptation, Development and Disaster Risk Reduction there.

So What Now?
What I would like to see happening is not a bunch of western Muslim NGOs acting as UN Climate subcontractors, and getting their mates to retweet, but political and epistemic movement. One of the prerequisite of transformative adaptation that Tariq Ramadan points out is "The full and equal integration of all available knowledge".

We cannot really afford for the next generation of Muslim activists, scholars and political movements not to have a decolonial ecopolitics.

I believe that the next climate theatre is taking place in Paris, Oh Allah you have such a rich sense of irony.

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