Ideasroom

Hard questions about inseparable events

It is time to grieve and take action for our Muslim compatriots and to also remember the wisdom and leadership of our young people, as they remind us to grieve and take action for the Earth, writes Sara Kindon.

I’ve assembled in large crowds twice in the past few days. On the first occasion, I walked to Parliament with my husband in solidarity with our teenage son and other young people on the school strike for climate justice. The second time, my whole family joined a slow procession entering Wellington’s Basin Reserve to honour the Muslim New Zealanders recently killed in Christchurch.

In the two days since these gatherings, the latter event has understandably dominated news coverage. The horror of an attack unprecedented in New Zealand has sent shock waves throughout the country and the world, but it has also eclipsed the significance of the global youth climate justice protest. 

The hate-fuelled gunning down of innocent and peaceful Muslim people at prayer is abhorrent and demands our grief, our anger and our action. I have been working in intercultural research and community development since the 1990s and have witnessed the lack of tolerance and understanding shown to Muslims. 

I also teach critical human geography and development studies, calling students to question the continuities of imperialism, colonialism and capitalism as they are writ large through structural inequalities and the promulgation of stereotypes which ‘Other’ and lead to discrimination and racism. 

For more than a decade, I have also worked to make our tertiary education sector a more welcoming and hospitable place for students with a refugee background and helped build capacity within the resettlement sector through my research. 

I am horrified by what has happened in Christchurch and angered by the complacency that allowed this atrocity to occur.

As a mother, and hopefully grandmother, I am equally concerned about the lack of attention being given to young people’s efforts to save our planet and call governments and big business to account. 

To me, the causes of, and need for, both the recent gatherings are inseparable. The slow death of our planet, the legacies of colonialism, child abuse, poor mental health and the sudden deaths of Muslims in Christchurch are interconnected. 

Their global mobilisation on Friday was nothing short of remarkable—even more so, I think, within New Zealand. Given the high rates of child abuse, teen suicide and family violence here, young people are no strangers to ill-treatment and vulnerability. But on Friday they stood up. They moved beyond their differences to unify their voices to speak out for a planet, and a future, at risk. 

It seems normal and appropriate for us to focus on the immediate and the cataclysmic. Our moral geographies are often strongest at the local scale and right now Muslim New Zealanders deserve a rapid response and support. 

At the same time, global warming continues apace and young people cry out to us all the time through self-harm, suicide, anxiety and depression. As adults, we can no longer turn a blind eye to how climate change and its effects around the world impact on the mental and emotional ill-health of young people. Or how it contributes to the displacement, conflicts and wars that produce many of the migrants and refugees who seek sanctuary here.

To me, the causes of, and need for, both the recent gatherings are inseparable. The slow death of our planet, the legacies of colonialism, child abuse, poor mental health and the sudden deaths of Muslims in Christchurch are interconnected. 

Indigenous and other scholars and activists have long made connections between the violence wrought on the Earth and that inflicted on marginalised groups. ‘Nature’ and those deemed to be closer to it by dint of race, ethnicity, age, gender or sexuality are routinely violated, exploited or killed in the name of progress and modernity for the usually white, adult, privileged few. 

Long-term and recent events reflect the need for us all to ask the harder questions about power, justice and the intersectionality of exploitations in ‘natural’, human and intergenerational relationships.

I stand in solidarity with my Muslim neighbours, friends and colleagues. I will continue to work alongside them to foster opportunities for mutual respect and understanding and to create places of genuine welcome and long-term hospitality in our institutions and communities. 

I also stand in solidarity with our young people and the Earth. I want to see us take urgent action to reduce carbon emissions and protect vital ecosystems. I want our young people to know they matter and can have hope.

In 44BC (or at least William Shakespeare’s account thereof), Julius Caesar was told to “beware the Ides of March” but ignored this warning at his peril. He was assassinated on 15 March and his regime toppled. Understood by Romans as the time to settle one’s debts, the Ides of March, deriving from the Latin meaning ‘to divide’, takes on new significance today. It is now the time to heal our divisions and settle our debts to the Earth, to our youth and to those victimised because of their faith or race. 

It is time to grieve and take action for our Muslim compatriots and to also remember the wisdom and leadership of our young people, as they remind us to grieve and take action for the Earth.

We have an opportunity to mobilise with the richness of our differences and by doing so enable a new era that values our interdependency on each other. An era founded in solidarity and mutual respect for people of all faiths, ages and colours, and an era borne of a deeper relationality and care for our Earth—without whom none of us will have either a safe home or a future.

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