Only two members of Brazil’s Piripkura tribe are known to live in the territory, though others are also believed to live there, having retreated to the depths of the forest. Many Piripkura have been killed in past massacres.
The overflight was conducted last month for the “Uncontacted or Destroyed” campaign and petition organized by COIAB (the Coordinating Body of Indigenous Organizations of the Brazilian Amazon) and OPI (the Observatory for the Human Rights of Uncontacted and Recently Contacted Indigenous Peoples), with the support of APIB (Articulação dos Povos Indígenas do Brasil), ISA (Instituto Socioambiental) and Survival International.
The campaign has just released a dossier “Piripkura: an indigenous territory being destroyed for beef production.“ It’s revealed:
– Land clearances for cattle ranching have now reached an area where the uncontacted Piripkura are known to live.
– Roads, fencing and even an airstrip have been constructed, and hundreds of cattle brought in.
– The rate of deforestation in the territory has “exploded” – by more than 27,000% in the last two years.
OPI has also released a report on the invasion of the Piripkura lands. Their research has revealed that the Piripkura’s is now the most deforested uncontacted indigenous territory in Brazil. More than 12,000 hectares has already been destroyed.
The Uncontacted or Destroyed campaign highlights several uncontacted territories currently shielded by Land Protection Orders which are due to expire soon.
The only contacted Piripkura, a woman known as Rita, recently told Survival in a unique video appeal that outsiders operating illegally inside her people’s territory could soon kill her relatives, and described how nine of her relatives were massacred in one attack.
Sarah Shenker, head of Survival’s Uncontacted Tribes campaign, said today: “There could be no greater proof of the total impunity – indeed, active support – that land invaders enjoy under President Bolsonaro than this: commercial ranching operations in a vitally important indigenous territory that’s supposed to be protected by law. The invaders are fast approaching the uncontacted Piripkura. They’re resisting with all their might, and so must we. Only a major public outcry can prevent the genocide of the Piripkura and other uncontacted tribes. And an added bonus? A far cheaper and more effective way to protect Amazon rainforest than the fatal ‘solutions’ pushed by governments at COP.”
Elias Bigio of OPAN said today: “That area we flew over has been newly-cleared for beef production. They’ve already logged it, now they’re turning it into pasture for cattle.”
OPI said: “The Indigenous Territory and the Piripkura are extremely threatened. It’s the same thing that’s happened in other uncontacted tribes’ territories – the destruction is the ‘Bolsonaro Effect’, as it’s accelerated since 2019.”
Ending systems of domination: Reclaiming our bodies and politics from global trauma
By Eva Schonveld and Justin Kenrick
As the sun goes down on a system that cannot save us from itself, our only option is to bring that system to an end. But what is that system, and how do we replace it?
We begin from the understanding that systems of domination are, both, inside and between us, and that transforming social and political relations starts as much from our hearts and the personal as from the predicament of the earth, and all our societal relations. We begin from Scotland where we live, and where COP26 will yet again make grand promises but do nothing to stop us all hurtling off the climate cliff edge.
Colonization’s torment continues
Scotland has been both colonized and colonizer. Without the history of colonization of Scotland and England, there would have been no British Empire colonizing overseas. Without the vicious clearing of highland communities from their lands here, there would not have been the families desperate for food and a future, with no choice but to work for a pittance in the factories and furnaces of empire, or to fight its wars.
The mass murder wreaked by empire, the evisceration of others’ cultures and stealing of their lands, and the forced residential schooling of the youth, has viciously harmed indigenous peoples in the Americas, Asia, Africa and Australasia, while being dressed up as a ‘civilizing mission’ or ‘progress’. The same is true of how this system treats the vast majority of those living precariously in the British Isles, who are told that they benefit from a system that blames them for the inequality they suffer. But do even the 1% who supposedly benefit, really benefit? Those whose empathy is broken through the boarding school system, and whose shallowness is groomed by a compliant fawning media perpetuating its life-destroying feudal, corporate and political world?
Finding a way through
It is not by chance that our system is stumbling us into extinction.
We need to find new ways to gather, to make decisions, to organize, and to take responsibility for each other, so that we can respect and nourish all life, since those tasked with this responsibility have so disastrously and inevitably failed, since the dominant system’s purpose is not to respect and nourish but to control, co-opt and exploit.
We also need to re-imagine how we rediscover, create and maintain the enduring or emergent alternatives. Too often they unintentionally include (or fail to challenge) assumptions based on our dominant lived experience of (mostly) patriarchal, racist, hierarchical cultures. The growing understanding of personal and cultural trauma – its ubiquity, its unconscious nature, its debilitating effects, and, most crucially, our ability to learn and heal from it, provide radical possibilities for uncovering and shifting those unconscious (traumatized) assumptions and for (re)discovering genuinely fresh and emancipatory ways of being and working together.
Trauma is a complex neurological process, but in brief it is the way our mind deals with events, which we experience as physically or emotionally overwhelming. These are not stored as memories, but are patterned into the nervous system: the unconscious: the body. These patterns can be ‘triggered’ when we are reminded of the initial experience. Because this triggering happens instantaneously and unconsciously, we rarely even notice that we have been plunged into an emotional state which now has little to do with what’s going on in the present.
We all accumulate some level of trauma during our childhood. This can show up in adulthood in disparate areas of life, for example public speaking, standing up for ourselves, managing our anger or coping with rejection, where we know we tend to act differently to how we would like. Dig a little into these uncomfortable feelings and the roots always lead back to childhood within a dominating system. Every one of us experiences our own versions of this, but the underlying reasons are rarely acknowledged. The socially condoned view is that because we largely forget them, these early experiences are over. In fact, unaddressed, they continue to shape our lives.
Imperialism, colonization, supremacy, stratification, capitalism… these are culture level traumas: legacies of past damage that continue to re-inflict it. They play out in the world in many forms: in the stratifications of class or caste, sexism and racism, in economic inequality, wars, biodiversity loss, climate change… and as with personal trauma, the root causes of our cultural traumas are obscured, making what are essentially breaks with reality seem absolutely normal and inevitable, at least to those experiencing it.
Power and society
This system of domination also lives inside of us, within our bodies, our emotions, our relationships, our attitudes, our social structures, the way we act towards those we see as different to ourselves, other species and the wider natural world. We can see it in the way we bring up our kids, in our family and work relationships, and also in our health, education, economic, and political systems.
The casualties of power by domination include those currently at its apex, many of whom have been through a traditional ruling class upbringing of distant or proxy parenting, separation, physical punishment and/or emotional denial combined with treats and rewards, sometimes with visibly crippling results, but intended to result in the smooth, controlled and controlling presentation of the elite. These child-rearing practices are designed to cauterize empathy in the next generation of the ruling class. This vicious cycle of unacknowledged intergenerational personal and cultural trauma, combined with a hereditary system of domination turbo charged by the neoliberal agenda over the past 40 years, is now running close to costing us everything.
Wherever any of us experience or perpetrate domination, it is traumatic and traumatizing. Our personhood, our capacity for loving connection, our innate health are defiled and traumatized by this system. The implications of this collective blind spot for our capacity to create collaborative, rather than dominating, cultures and social infrastructure is monumental: if we can’t name it, we can’t change it.
But at the same time as all this, that innate health (both personally and collectively) is still alive, active and accessible to us. And this is where hope lies. If we address the root cause of our problems – we may even yet be able to change some of our outcomes.
Changing the power dynamic
Given the rapid unraveling of the natural systems that all us living beings depend on to survive, only the deepest of change is enough. We don’t need system change, if that means some changes to this system. We need to turn the dominating system into compost that can nourish the living systems we are. Carbon emissions have never been the real problem; they are simply a consequence of the fact that our system leaves us too traumatized to act rationally, even in the face of possible extinction.
Personal and collective inner work is needed to unpick the systems of domination that play out in our bodies and psyches, in our personal and work relationships, in our organizations, our social systems, our relationships across cultures and with other species and ecosystems. Doing this difficult, often painful work is the only viable way out of this mess. Luckily, it is also the work of healing and liberation. It takes courage and determination to start, and it is not easy, but once we have begun it is a movement towards health and wholeness that brings with it increasing capacity for connection, pleasure, love and joy.
From shaming to learning
It is impossible to transform toxic power relations without venturing into the emotional realm. Without understanding and working to heal the unconscious drivers, which suppress our empathy, we inevitably end up disempowering others and ourselves, and often unintentionally replicate that which we are trying to change.
None of this is socially acceptable!
In dominating cultures we laugh at and judge harshly people who show their care too clearly – those who go to therapy (screw-ups), who show vulnerability (failures), who take care with language (politically correct) who work for the environment (tree huggers), who protest and get arrested (attention-seeking privileged, or dirty criminals), who dance (hippies), who cry (embarrassing), who try to make a difference (do-gooders).
Standing up to this can be tough, but we can support one another and know that the fact that we feel such social censure is a good indication that we’re successfully challenging the system. Transforming attempts to shame us into opportunities to learn more about the system we need to change is core to this work. We (collectively) need to be doing this work at every level: in ourselves and our relationships, in our families, in our workplaces, in our professions, in the way we do politics, education, healthcare, nature-care, but we also need to be sure that the changes we are making are genuinely coming from a different root and will give us different results.
Resisting, and trusting our guts
Much of the cultural genocide practiced during the (ongoing) colonial period was and is done by people convinced that they are acting well: freeing others from ignorance and ungodliness, bringing health, education and democracy, stimulating new markets.
So how can we tell what change is genuinely helpful?
There are no road maps, but there are processes and practices that can help guide us. Understanding how trauma works, and how to process and heal it is crucial. We know how to work with trauma in the personal mind-body. Working with trauma in our social and cultural systems is not all that different: what we know works in personal therapeutic processes we can apply out in the world.
We can bring curiosity, tenacity, compassion, generosity, sensitivity, honesty, courage, spaciousness and patience. We can look at the history and the painful triggers together. We can express and unwind our hurt, shame and loss together. We can open our hearts, practice mindfully, use our imaginations and our creativity to build new ways of doing things (pretty much everything), get comfortable with making mistakes (and learning from them), with not knowing, with showing our vulnerability, and also with showing the strength of our care.
We don’t have to shrink from hard truths. We can make a stand when we see domination in action, we can pay attention to and resist the old patterning, and we can pick ourselves up over and over again as we inevitably fail. We can apologize, make reparations. We can forgive, build relationship across all kinds of perceived differences, prioritize connection over performance, treasure the local, challenge the global, center the earth, and learn how to trust our collective guts.
We need to resist the cultural programming that says there’s nothing we can do, that those in power know best, that genuine social change is a myth. Let’s resist it by proving it wrong: facing our fears and doing it anyway. Let’s take whatever first small, wise steps we need to towards creating a world where we know and act on the truth that our well- being depends on ensuring the well-being of others, not on exploiting them.
We can’t now stop the reckoning that’s underway. We can only wake up, take responsibility, get over our egos and start working together for our collective, planetary healing. This is the ONLY work that matters now. We don’t necessarily need to change what we are doing. We simply need to do it with this in mind/ heart, in community/ society, in relationship with all.
The Sunset assembly
As the sun goes down on the 29th of October, a unique assembly will begin. It will continue for 24 hours, following the sunset around the world, passed from community to community.
Community members will speak and listen to one another from the heart. Each community will use different forms of meeting, as we collectively seek a path towards a politics of wholeness where our decisions are based on being deeply present to each other, rather than speaking at each other. Our common focus is on:
“How the system is impacting on me and my community, and how we are resisting, creating alternatives and maintaining connectedness in the face of it”
The timing is no coincidence: COP26 starts on 1st November and will be no different to the previous 25. The Climate COPs are mind-bogglingly successful at pretending they are tackling the climate crisis, while enabling the fossil fuel industry to receive billions in subsidies, emissions to rise exponentially, and corporate interests to perpetually delay real action.
Grassroots to Global, which has sparked this assembly, is working to build alternatives to our current collective decision making processes. Most of what democracy we have has been wrung from the hands of those with power who have given up only the absolute minimum amount of power they have had to in order to stay in power – most often followed by their rapidly retracting the real power to decide.
We need to rediscover enduring – and explore emerging – ways to gather, to deliberate and to decide together – developing a ‘relational democracy’ that can deepen and replace an easily captured ‘representational democracy’, and that can prevent democracies from sliding into outright authoritarianism.
Enabling the future
This is an ongoing area of exploration (you can read early thinking on that here and here) and will continue to develop as we learn through processes like Reworlding and the Sunset Assembly. Some essential elements of such relational decision-making processes include:
Building relationship: Ensuring all groups are included, specially those that are marginalized – ideally as partners in developing processes – to ensure the whole picture is addressed and that everyone is included. Given experiences of co-option and marginalization, people may start out skeptical, and the proof of inclusion will be in the practice not the promise.
Dealing with power: Having strategies for managing those who are conditioned to take, or give away, personal power, e.g. ensuring those used to speaking, to listen; and, those used to listening, to speak.
Centering empathy: Having strong input to support the development of relational skills e.g. listening, confidence, self-reflection and expression, emotional self-management, empathy.
Addressing trauma: Dealing early and well with conflict and trauma responses when they are triggered, and taking a transformative approach to trauma, reactivity and conflict (they are complex, nuanced and full of incredibly useful information) while also maintaining safety to ensure care for anyone re-experiencing trauma, and to limit triggering of others.
We have to become slow and deep enough to swiftly make the fundamental changes that are needed.
It is not our humanity that is the problem; it is an inhumane system of appropriation and exploitation that persuades us to rely on it for our survival and well being, while it devours both. Our wellbeing can only ever rely on ensuring, not exploiting, the well-being of others.
From few to many, we are everywhere
Groups who will join the Sunset Assembly include:
a diverse group of people from the Andes, the Amazon and the coast in Peru
a group in North Sulawesi, Indonesia who will be opening with a sunset ritual held by Minahasa elders
elders from West Papua reflecting on the devastation of palm oil and other colonial impacts
the Ogiek of Mount Elgon in Kenya, who are holding over part of a wider community meeting so that it can happen within this assembly
And more, including from Aotearoa, Scotland, Australia . . .
Alongside these assembly-holding groups, anyone from anywhere in the world is invited to join as witnesses at any point. Witnesses are invited to deeply experience and listen to the holding groups. We believe witnessing is an active process in which attention and intention make a real difference to the process.
In between each section, we will hold a “Sharing Circle’ which is open to all, taking turns to speak for a few minutes each, speaking from the heart without the need to prepare, bringing our own feelings and reflections, and hearing other Witnesses’ voices.
We hope this can be the beginning of a whole-globe check-in. If you would like to participate as a witness, please sign up here.
Beyond the sunset, we aim to hold a Sunrise Assembly after COP, hopefully joined by many new collaborators, focusing on how communities can gather locally and trans-locally to make heart-centered decisions, and so take responsibility for the future in a way that can replace a global decision-making system that is paralyzed by its own trauma.
These around-the-world assemblies are sparked by Grassroots to Global, building on the Reworlding gathering. Our river is joining with many others on different versions of the same journey, and we encourage everyone who is not already engaged to explore and develop their own streams of inspiration, so we can flow together towards a politics of wholeness, which confronts and overcomes the very real obstacles in our way.
Eva Schonveld is a climate activist, process designer and facilitator, supporting sociocratic system development, decision-making and facilitation. She co-founded Starter Culture and is currently working on Grassroots to Global, a project which asks: can we co-develop a more empathic, democratic, political system which could connect internationally in a global assembly to address the root causes of climate change?
Justin Kenrick co-founded Heartpolitics, is a Quaker, and trained in Buddhist psychotherapy. He is an anthropologist and a Senior Policy Advisor at Forest Peoples Programme where he works for community land rights in Kenya and Congo. He is a director of Life Mosaic, and also works on land reform in Scotland. He lives in Portobello, Edinburgh, where he chairs Action Porty which undertook the first successful urban community right to buy in Scotland. He writes in many contexts , and was on the Stewarding Group of the Scottish Government’s Climate Citizens Assembly which XR Scotland campaigned for but ultimately had to leave.
– Committee chair “frustrated, exasperated, incredulous at WWF’s failure to take responsibility” for human rights abuses
– Independent expert underlines “continued impacts of colonialism in conservation”
– He accuses WWF of “shocking deception” and warns “WWF won’t change their behavior unless forced to do so”
An unprecedented hearing by the US House Natural Resources Committee has seen WWF’s reputation shredded by Representatives from both parties, and independent experts, and a denunciation of the “fortress conservation” model that leads to human rights atrocities.
The organization was subjected to unprecedented attack for its involvement in human rights abuses, and refusal to take responsibility for them.
Survival International’s Fiore Longo called it “the conservation industry’s equivalent of the Abu Ghraib scandal – a moment from which it will never recover.”
The hearing was prompted by exposés by Buzzfeed News and many other investigations, including testimonies from Indigenous people collected by Survival International over many years, that laid bare WWF’s involvement in human rights abuses, particularly in Africa and Asia.
Dozens of Indigenous and local people have been raped, murdered and tortured by rangers funded by WWF, which has known about the abuses for decades but done little to address them. The abuse stems directly from a conservation model that sees the removal of Indigenous and local communities when their land is seized to create conservation areas. Other organizations have also been implicated in similar abuses, including the Wildlife Conservation Society and African Parks.
Professor John Knox, who led a WWF-commissioned review into human rights violations in WWF projects, told the hearing: “I’ve been very disappointed by the failure of WWF to make a break with their past… WWF’s leadership is still in a state of denial about its own role in fortress conservation and human rights abuses.”
He called on the organization to apologize [for its involvement in past human rights abuses] and take responsibility [for its failures], and castigated WWF for misleading the committee: “WWF’s statement to this sub-committee takes quotations from the panel’s report out of context, and thereby gives a false impression of the panel’s findings. It is frankly shocking…
“These allegations have also highlighted the continued impacts of colonialism in conservation: The old way of doing conservation, Westerners coming into a country, setting up a national park with strict borders and ridding the area of its inhabitants, is still causing conflict today.”
Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D) said: “I’m absolutely shocked by the human rights violations and treatment of local and Indigenous communities that have been reported today… It’s devastating to hear” that US funds have contributed to “truly heinous atrocities.”
Committee Chair Rep. Jared Huffman (D) condemned Ginette Hemley, WWF’s Senior Vice-President of Wildlife Conservation, who represented the organization at the hearing after its President and CEO in the US, Carter Roberts, declined to testify. Huffman also criticized WWF’s failure to take responsibility for the abuses they funded: “… International conservation funding is potentially being put at risk because so many people are frustrated and exasperated and incredulous about WWF’s failure to take responsibility. You wouldn’t answer a simple Yes/ No question about whether you bear any responsibility, much less provide [an] apology…”
He said: “From the beginning, WWF has focused on elaborate excuses to distance themselves from the allegations”… and behaved “as if the problem is just bad PR for WWF.”
Rep. Cliff Bentz ( R ) also lambasted the organization: “WWF has been irresponsible – their testimony is embarrassing. They need to step up and admit that they are at fault… The word colonialism comes to mind.”
The head of Survival’s DecolonizeConservation campaign, Fiore Longo, said today: “This was the conservation industry’s equivalent of the Abu Ghraib scandal, a total demolition of what little remained of WWF’s reputation. Again and again their hard-wired instinct to cover up, avoid blame, and pretend they’re changing while carrying on with business as usual, was exposed for all to see.”
Survival’s Director Caroline Pearce said today: “As John Knox said, WWF is not unique in how it behaves: this kind of abuse is deeply embedded in the traditional conservation model, which is directly in conflict with human rights and particularly Indigenous rights. For decades it has been not just ignored but supported by huge, establishment conservation organizations, who pull in massive governmental and corporate funding while turning a blind eye to atrocities against Indigenous and other local communities. Their theft of vast areas of Indigenous lands in the name of nature conservation is, as Rep Bentz said, a modern colonialism that is finally and ruthlessly being exposed.
“This must be a wake-up call, not just to WWF’s celebrity supporters like Leonardo DiCaprio and Prince William, but also to philanthropic and corporate backers throwing money at fortress conservation supposedly to “protect” 30% of the earth: these organizations and their conservation model are toxic. With COP26 about to start, a true path to securing environmental sustainability and biodiversity requires a rights-based approach – and, in particular, Indigenous land rights being recognized – and does not go through conservation NGOs for whom abuse is a feature, not a bug.”
Editor’s note: Despite all the “progress” that has been made and all the declarations of freedom and human rights, “Civilization is based on a clearly defined and widely accepted yet often unarticulated hierarchy. Violence done by those higher on the hierarchy to those lower is nearly always invisible, that is, unnoticed. When it is noticed, it is fully rationalized. Violence done by those lower on the hierarchy to those higher is unthinkable, and when it does occur is regarded with shock, horror, and the fetishization of the victims.” (Premise Four) And “The property of those higher on the hierarchy is more valuable than the lives of those below. It is acceptable for those above to increase the amount of property they control—in everyday language, to make money—by destroying or taking the lives of those below. This is called production. If those below damage the property of those above, those above may kill or otherwise destroy the lives of those below. This is called justice.” (Premise five)
By Lorenzo Kamel
An important historiographical debate developed starting from the 1980s. It was triggered by the publication of a few influential books by British historian Bernard Lewis. The latter argued that “intellectual curiosity” about “other cultures” – and thus the predisposition and will to study languages, history and traditions – is “still peculiar to Western Europe, and to the inheritors and emulators of the European scholarly tradition”. Lewis, who was writing in the very period in which new approaches to global history as well as the subaltern studies project were starting to gain ground, found it natural to claim that it is only with the European Renaissance that “a human society for the first time developed the sophistication, the detachment and, above, all, the curiosity to study and appreciate the literary achievements of alien and even hostile societies”.
Over time, these arguments have been echoed by dozens of public intellectuals, many of whom have applied them to specific contests and “cultures”. Franco Cardini,an internationally renowned medievalist and historian of religions, went so far to claim that “disinterest in civilizations other than Islamic ones” is “a characteristic of the culture which emerged from Muhammad’s religious revolution”. Other scholars have framed the same issue in slightly different terms, by placing much emphasis on “the unusual openness of Europeans to learning from other cultures”, while stressing, at the same time, that curiosity became “the trademark of progress itself”.
In more recent years, a host of new academic publications have demonstrated, in an increasingly accurate and well-documented manner, how problematic these kinds of approaches are: indeed, every society – from the hunter-gatherers to the largest of the Empires – was in one way or another curious.
Roxanne L. Euben’s studies, for instance, supply a wide array of cases on “others’ curiosity” and how they have contributed to “global Europe”.Further examples include the works of Sanjay Subramanyam, – which highlights the dangers of conceiving of “Europe as a deus ex machina” and fosters a global intellectual history which tend to universalize parochial insights – Iraj Omidvar, whose studies aim at “recovering Oriental Perspectives on the West”, and the Lebanese historian Nabīl Matar, who provides a wealth of detail in outlining India’s role and the writings of 17th century Arab travelers expressing their curiosity about the “lands of the Christians” (Bilād al-Nasārā), as well as their ability to appreciate “non-Islamic” concepts and aspects.
As Nizar F. Hermes has noted, specifically in relation to the Mediterranean context, “the problem lies more in the Western neglect of the corpus of medieval writings about the Other”. In other words, the limited knowledge of complex “non-colonial languages” and a plethora of manuscripts and documents produced in locations which remain difficult to access, have erroneously led some scholars to emphasize “others’” alleged lack of curiosity.
Yet, the debate on ‘curiosity’, or the lack of it, can be fully grasped only within a much broader frame which is rooted in the old-new narratives connected to ‘European exceptionalism’. Still today, in fact, plenty of scholars link the key achievements in human history – including, among much else, “critical thinking, freedom of research, experimental science, the secularity of culture and politics, technological inventiveness, the industrial revolution, modernization, capitalism, the autonomy of the individual” – to the influence exerted by “Europe’s knowledge and actions”, and its “leaning toward curiosity”. Others locate the origins of universal concepts, such as the “notion of freedom”, in the “ancient Western world”. The thesis that “there is no doubt that those values [democracy, rule of law and human rights] were born in Europe” is no less widespread.
These claims are all rooted, in different forms and ways, to what Peter Burke called “the grand narrative” of the establishment of Western civilization, specifically a triumphalist account of Westernachievement from the Greeks onwardsin which the Renaissance is a link in a chain which includes the Reformation, the Scientific Revolution, the Enlightenment, the Industrial Revolution and so on. Each of these historical periods has been (and still is) often presented as a moral success story, as well as by juxtaposing an alleged European pro-activeness to a supposedly intrinsic “Eastern” passivity.
What is largely missing in these types of approaches are the structural contributions of the “others”. Take, for instance, the case of the debates around democracy, and the related and largely successful attempt to detach ancient Greece’s legacy from its Mediterranean and ‘oriental’ background. In Ellen Meiksins Wood’s words, “it is even more artificial to detach ancient Greece from, say, Egypt or Persia, as if the Greeks were always ‘European’, living a separate history, and not part of a larger Mediterranean and ‘Eastern’ world”.
Think of symbols such as the myrtle dedicated to the Goddess Aphrodite and Athena’s olive tree, both borrowed from the traditions of ancient Egypt. In other words, scholars who link Europe’s roots to Ancient Greece, and thus to many of the previously mentioned concepts and ideas, are simply (more or less consciously) recognizing Europe’s oriental connections (in Greek mythology, Europe is the name of the daughter of Agenor’s, king of Tyre, in modern-day Lebanon), dominant religion (Christianity was an Oriental religion), and philosophical roots.
The term φιλόσοφος (philosophos) itself, “lover of wisdom”, is drawn from the Egyptian mer-rekh(mr-rḫ), “lover of knowledge”. The most ancient philosophical texts originate precisely from ancient Egypt, beginning with the papyrus on the “Immortality of writers”, (re)discovered in the 1920s and dated 1200 BCE.
The invention of a “Judeo-Christian tradition”
The considerations highlighted so far are also caught up with the misleading view frequently referred to as the “Western Judeo-Christian tradition”. The latter paradigm denies the large entanglement between Judeo-Christian-Muslim faiths, and overshadows the millenary history which predated them. Still today, plenty of scholars habitually refer to a supposed Judeo-Christian tradition as “the cradle of principles of equality and justice”, while others focus on “democracy’s biblical roots” and, more generally, the role of Biblical texts in fostering secular political power and its desacralization. In this case as well, however, such assumptions reflect limited, simplistic, and frequently anachronistic perspectives.
Indeed, atheism, as well as some principles related to secularism, were introduced into Indian traditions long before being introduced in Europe. Even more important within the frame of this article is the fact that, in the words of the American Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg, “‘Judeo-Christian” isn’t a thing. It a) positions Jews & Christians against Muslims, is Islamophobic b) elides Christian oppression & murder of Jews over more than 1000 years & c) ignores Jewish civilization worldwide & facts of key Jewish developments in Middle East & N[orth] Africa”.
In addition to being misleading, the widespread tendency to refer to a “Western Jewish-Christian tradition” risks accentuating dangerous antagonisms and “watershed” phenomena at the expense of a greater understanding of the shared historical legacy underlying the three largest mono-theistic religions. A powerful confirmation of this fact can be seen in the Epic of Gilgamesh (c. 2100), a literary product of ancient Mesopotamia, the cradle of Sumerians, to whom we owe, among many other inventions, cheques, letters of credit, and interest payments on loans. The Epic contains many of the themes – including the myth of the “universal flood”, Noah’s Ark, the Garden of Eden – that were later included in the Bible and other religious texts.
What is has just been argued applies to many other related issues as well. Think, for instance, of the literary parallelisms of the Song of Songs, that is, compositions of similar topics that existed previously in ancient Egyptian and Sumerian literature: “The love song genre”, as noted by Michael V. Fox, “certainly underwent many changes between its presumed Egyptian origins and the time when it reached Palestine, took root in Hebrew literature, grew in native forms, and blossomed as the song of songs”. To remain in the field of literature, it should be noted, incidentally, that 14th-century BCE Mesopotamia was the birthplace of the first poetess in history: the Sumerian priestess Enheduanna.
A further significant example can be found in the ‘holy city’ par excellence, Jerusalem. As noted in a study published by the University of Bar-Ilan, “Canaanite Jerusalem had two holy sites; both were above and outside the city walls. Shalem was probably worshipped in the area of the Temple Mount, which later became the holiest site for the Jews and the third most holy site for Moslems”.
The idea of the rosary itself was borrowed from Muslims in Spain, who were inspired by the prayer beads Buddhists used in Central Asia, who in turn borrowed the idea from Brahmans in Hindu India. Even Christianity underwent continuous contamination as it expanded from the Eastern Mediterranean to Europe: during this process, it took on numerous spatio-architectural practices, – such as the “Gothic style”, adopted to build many cathedrals in Europe (but also castles, palaces, and town halls) – and cultural customs, including traditions typical of pre-Christian Europe that form the basis of some key aspects of the Christmas and Easter holidays. Like all the themes and aspects mentioned in this article, religions are thus the result of human ‘accumulation’: a process which is not always understood in all its complexity and potential.
Health and rights
Two other aspects have played a particularly relevant role in the development of humankind and represent key elements within the frame of ‘entanglements’: health and rights.
It was above all the ancient Egyptians and Indians, and later some Persian, Chinese and Arab luminaries, who invented – or played a key role in introducing – practices such as anesthesia, bloodletting, and plastic surgery (Alexander the Great was responsible for importing the ancient Indian Sanskrit texts dedicated to early techniques for ear, nose and lip reconstruction into Europe), as well as plenty of surgical techniques and the first medical diagnoses for hundreds of diseases such as smallpox, measles and Parkinson’s.
Chinese doctors were the first to develop rudimentary vaccines and it was a Chinese author, Wan Quan (1499-1582), the first historical figure to clearly refer to the practice of vaccination by inoculation: the year was 1549 and Wan Quan was intent on highlighting efforts to combat the scourge of smallpox. It is worth recalling that inoculation was not practiced outside of China, India, Turkey and other “eastern countries” until the 18th century.
The medieval hospitals in Iraq and several other Islamic majority countries pioneered the practice of dividing hospitalization into different sections, based on the diseases that the patients were suffering from. It should also be remembered the role played by figures such as the Persian scientist Zakariyyā al-Rāzī (the first doctor to understand the function of fever, discover allergic asthma and describe diseases such as smallpox, at the end of the 9th century), the Basra-based physicist ibn al-Hasan ibn al-Haytham (who founded modern optics at the beginning of the 11th century), the Syrian physician ʿAlī ibn ʿĪsā al-Kahhāl (the first to prescribe an anesthetic for surgical purposes and produce an illustration of optic chiasm and the brain, around the year 1000), the scholar Ibn al-Nafīs from Damascus (considered “the father of circulatory physiology”), and the Turkish physicist Şerafeddin Sabuncuoğlu (author of the first surgical atlas). These and many other examples show that the field of modern medicine, like all others mentioned so far, owes its development to a long process of ‘accumulation’, within which European physicians have largely played the role of beneficiaries, and much less the one of contributors.
The question of health and safeguarding health is closely intertwined with the defense of human rights, that is, the inalienable rights that every human being possesses. Contrary to what is commonly asserted, the recognition of these rights is by no means a “product of Europe”, “the West”, or the Enlightenment.
In the words of Indian jurist Upendra Baxi, “the dominant discourse presents the very notion of human rights as ‘the gift of the West to the Rest’”. The latter is a meta-narrative that, among other side effects, fosters a sort of ‘collective amnesia’: “The ‘Enlightenment’ epoch that gave birth to the liberal ‘modern’ notions of human rights […] in effect, globalized extraordinarily cruel practices of Social Darwinism”.
It should also be clarified that the issue of human rights is rooted in a much earlier past than the one Baxi analyzes. Indeed, the first known historical figure to address the issue was the Persian Emperor Cyrus the Great (590 BCE-530 BCE). His decrees were engraved, in Akkadic cuneiform characters, on a baked clay cylinder known as the Cyrus Cylinder: this represents the world’s first document about human rights. The principle of ‘human rights’ spread from Babylon primarily to India. In the latter, the concept of human rights and the protecting of such rights are not seen in any way as ‘Western’; rather, they are perceived as principles embedded in Indian culture since the dawn of time.
This argument neither erases nor diminishes the fact that the Magna Carta (1215), the Petition of Right (1628), the Constitution of the United States (1787), the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen (1789) and the United States’ Bill of Rights (1791) are documents with epochal scope and value. They have been highly influential in the process of asserting individual rights, albeit for a very limited group of human beings (the wealthy and/or powerful).
Nevertheless, the common approach of identifying the Magna Carta as the starting point in the process of recognizing human rights is tantamount to framing the “City of Three Monotheisms” (Jerusalem) in 1000 BCE as the beginning of human history (an equally common approach). In reality, just as the “Holy City par excellence” had already experienced 2000 years of history when it was conquered by King David (1010 BCE), so many of the principles contained in the Magna Carta belonged to a larger ‘human history’ that had developed in places quite distant from the supposed “cradle of the rule of law” (England) and conceived in times much older than modernity alone.
In addition, all the above-mentioned declarations and constitutions were addressed to only a small subsection of the inhabitants and, in later times, of the citizens. The Magna Carta, for example, was conceived for the exclusive benefit of “free men”, to the detriment of the “servants” who accounted for nearly all of England’ s population at the time. For centuries, as confirmed by the spread of slavery, the right to property – which, in various forms, have existed in South Asia and other world areas since the ‘Early Middle Ages’ – was believed to have priority over the rights of human beings.
It might be rightly argued that it was only with the United Nations (1948) – within which, beside Western countries, also a number of Asian, African, and Middle Eastern diplomats provided significant contributions – and, later on, the Council of Europe (1949), that tools and monitoring mechanisms to ensure the universal protection of human rights were enacted: the attempt to achieve such ‘universality’ represented indeed an unprecedented step in world history. And yet, only a limited number of academic studies have dealt with the role played by international human rights in legitimizing and reproducing existing relations of dominations.
Even less are the studies which have discussed the link between white supremacy and the process which brought to the introduction of the concept of ‘human rights’ into the UN Charter. Last but not least, that very same tools and monitoring mechanisms were adopted right after the bloodiest and most devastating war in human history, a “European war” which became a world, or global, conflict only at a later stage.
Ultimately, the misunderstood authorship discourse of human rights is embedded in a solipsistic approach that still today often confounds and overlaps a simplified perception of the ‘history of the West’ with a more complex, ongoing ‘human journey’.
Each of the aspects addressed in this article reminds us of the need to support the mainstreaming of a more syncretic (in the original ancient Persian meaning of the term), ‘cross-pollinating’, and entangled knowledge, which will be able to place also the ‘others’ – with their ‘curiosities’ and contributions – at the center stage, to better understand ‘ourselves’ and the fluid world which we inhabit.
How to do so? By opposing any form of “epistemic violence”, – that is the process by which the non-Western peoples are viewed as passive, weak and disinterested – while at the same time enabling the retrieval of different ways of knowing and a wider understanding the “epistemologies of the South”; by deconstructing and tackling the assumption “that the West represents the center of scholarship and the rest (usually Africa, Asia, and Latin America) fits the margin”; by involving – in line with the ongoing “Why is My Curriculum White” campaign – a larger number of non-Western faculty from institutions around the world; by investing more in “denationalized curricula”, occluded and marginalized knowledges, and academic positions which foster indigenous approaches.
All this requires, first and foremost, intellectual flexibility and the will to question long-established scholarly traditions. It also demands a process of ‘unlearning’ the way in which history – and particularly the one linked to intellectual curiosity – continues to be (often) taught and learnt. It is indeed necessary to unlearn in order to relearn, to deconstruct in order to reconstruct. In Susan Buck-Morss’ words: “The greater the specialization of knowledge, the more advanced the level of research, the longer and more venerable the scholarly tradition, the easier it is to ignore discordant facts”.
 Center for Asia Minor Studies (CAMS) – KP 350, p. 94. Document produced in the late 1910s by Ioanna Palaxtsis, Farasa (Cappadocia), undated: “After the European war people from Farasa went to search for work elsewhere”.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Lorenzo Kamel is Associate Professor of History at the University of Turin, director of the Research Studies of the Istituto Affari Internazionali (IAI) and a faculty member of the PhD programme in Global History of Empires. He has taught in several universities in the Middle East, the US, and Europe, including the University of Bologna, the Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg, where he served as a Marie Curie Experienced Researcher, and Harvard University, where he was a Postdoctoral Fellow for 2 years. Among his most recent books is The Middle East from Empire to Sealed Identities (Edinburgh University Press, 2019).
Editor’s note: In these terrifying, apocalyptic times it becomes more obvious that we are all on the same boat, whether we belong to indigenous cultures or the culture of empire. It is stunning as well as sad and embarrassing that those who have suffered the most from colonialism and genocide are those who are still trying to save us all. The only chance for us to survive is to de-colonize our hearts and minds and join the fight against the culture of empire.
“The numbers don’t lie. Indigenous peoples have long led the fight to protect Mother Earth and the only way forward is to center Indigenous knowledge and keep fossil fuels in the ground.”
Indigenous resistance to fossil fuel projects in the United States and Canada over a recent decade has stopped or delayed nearly a quarter of the nations’ annual planet-heating pollution, according to a report released Wednesday.
“The only way forward is to center Indigenous knowledge and keep fossil fuels in the ground.”
—Dallas Goldtooth, IEN
The greenhouse gas pollution for Turtle Island, the land now known to settler nation-states as North America, totaled 6.56 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent in 2019—5.83 billion metric tons CO2e for the U.S. and 727.43 million metric tons CO2e for Canada.
Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN) and Oil Change International (OCI) examined the climate effects of several contentious projects and the impact of Indigenous protests.
Total Indigenous resistance against these projects on Turtle Island—including ongoing struggles, victories against projects never completed, and infrastructure unfortunately in current operation—adds up to 1.8 billion metric tons CO2e, or roughly 28% the size of 2019 U.S. and Canadian pollution. Victories in infrastructure fights alone represent the carbon equivalent of 12% of annual U.S. and Canadian pollution, or 779 million metric tons CO2e. Ongoing struggles equal 12% of these nations’ annual pollution, or 808 million metric tons CO2e. If these struggles prove successful, this would mean Indigenous resistance will have stopped greenhouse gas pollution equivalent to nearly one-quarter (24%) of annual total U.S. and Canadian emissions.
“That 24%, equaling 1.587 billion metric tons CO2e,” the report notes, “is the equivalent pollution of approximately 400 new coal-fired power plants—more than are still operating in the United States and Canada—or roughly 345 million passenger vehicles—more than all vehicles on the road in these countries.”
The groups not only highlight how Indigenous resistance to polluters’ projects has limited greenhouse gas emissions but also explain and emphasize the importance of tribal and Indigenous sovereignty, self-determination, and free, prior, and informed consent (FPIC).
As IEN Keep It in the Ground organizer Dallas Goldtooth put it: “The numbers don’t lie.”
“Indigenous peoples have long led the fight to protect Mother Earth,” he said Wednesday, “and the only way forward is to center Indigenous knowledge and keep fossil fuels in the ground.”
The new report says at the outset that it “seeks to uplift the work of countless tribal nations, Indigenous water protectors, land defenders, pipeline fighters, and many other grassroots formations who have dedicated their lives to defending the sacredness of Mother Earth and protecting their inherent rights of Indigenous sovereignty and self-determination.”
The report also draws attention to the criminalization of Indigenous land and water defenders, stating that “the fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline is a notable example of these threats—what happened in Standing Rock should not be seen as an anomalous incident, but rather a disturbing commonality across Indigenous resistance efforts worldwide.”
DAPL, as the oil pipeline is known, is among several projects included in the report. Other fights include fossil fuel development in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, fracked gas pipelines like Coastal GasLink and Mountain Valley, and tar sands projects like Trans Mountain and Line 3—which opponents are calling on President Joe Biden to block like he did the Keystone XL Pipeline shortly after taking office in January.
“Respecting and honoring the wisdom and sovereignty of Indigenous peoples is a key solution to the climate crisis.”
—Collin Rees, OCI
“This report is predicated on a simple fact: The world is delving deeper into climate chaos, and we must change course,” according to IEN and OCI. “In parallel to the severe threats Mother Earth is facing from climate change, the rights, well-being, and survival of Indigenous peoples throughout the world are at grave risk due to the same extractive industries driving the climate crisis.”
“The United States and Canada must recognize their duty to consult and obtain consent from Indigenous peoples for all projects proposed on Indigenous lands,” the report says. “In parallel, these settler nation-state governments must recognize that the fossil fuel era is rapidly coming to a close.”
Echoing scientists’ and energy industry experts’ increasingly urgent warnings, the report recognizes the “monumental challenge” of phasing out existing fossil fuel infrastructure and declares that “our climate cannot afford new oil, gas, or coal projects of any kind.”
OCI U.S. campaign manager Collin Rees said Wednesday that “Indigenous communities resisting oil, gas, and coal projects across their territory are demonstrating true climate leadership.”
“Brave resistance efforts by Indigenous land and water defenders have kept billions of tons of carbon in the ground,” he added, “showing that respecting and honoring the wisdom and sovereignty of Indigenous peoples is a key solution to the climate crisis.”
As heat and severe weather records are broken again and again, it should be clear by now that there is no limit for capital. There will be no scientific warning or dire catastrophe that leads to a political breakthrough. No huge wildfire, terrible drought or great flood will make governments and corporations change course. To carry on as they are means extinction. And yet they still carry on: more fossil fuels and fewer trees, more pollution and fewer species.
Recognition that there is no way out of this crisis without far-reaching, social upheaval animates the proposals put forward in The Red Deal: Indigenous Action to Save Our Earth. The short book was authored by activists from The Red Nation, a coalition devoted to Indigenous liberation and made up of Native and non-native revolutionaries based mainly in North America.
The authors make clear that they believe the campaign to halt climate change and repair ecological destruction is bound up with the fate of the world’s Indigenous peoples. They say bluntly that “there is no hope for restoring the planet’s fragile and dying ecosystems without Indigenous liberation” and that “it’s decolonization or extinction.”
This is not just a rhetorical flourish. The Red Deal points out that the approximately 370 million Indigenous people worldwide belong to traditional lands that cover 22-25% of the world’s surface. These territories overlap with areas that hold more than 80% of the planet’s biodiversity. Regaining control over their traditional lands is essential for Indigenous people’s ability to protect, restore and care for them, as they did sustainably for millennia prior to their dispossession. This makes decolonization – which “starts with land back” to Indigenous peoples – a critical part of The Red Nation’s proposals to avoid planetary extinction.
The authors of The Red Deal emphasize that their vision of decolonization “isn’t exclusively about the Indigenous” but is instead meant to bring together non-Indigenous and Indigenous activists in a common fight for the future.
They say: “What we seek is a world premised on Indigenous values of interspecies responsibility and balance. We seek to uplift knowledges, technologies, governance structures, and economic strategies that will make these values possible, in the immediate future and in the long term, and which always have the future health of the land at the center of their design and implementation, Indigenous or not. In this sense, decolonization is for, and benefits, everyone. It also needs our collective cooperation to succeed.”
Some recent Indigenous-led movements against ecologically destructive projects have won international support and attention, such as the Oceti Sakowin-led protests to halt the Dakota Access Pipeline at Standing Rock and the Wangan and Jagalingou people’s campaign to stop the huge Adani coalmine in Queensland’s Galilee Basin. But rather than focusing solely on what Indigenous movements oppose, The Red Deal aims to draw attention to “the revolutionary potency of what Indigenous resistance stands for: caretaking and creating just relations between human and other-than-human worlds on a planet thoroughly devastated by capitalism.”
The authors of The Red Deal advance a “plan of collective climate action” based on four general principles. The first of these is What Creates Crisis Cannot Solve It. This principle means that the destructive, polluting industries that profit from the plunder of nature cannot be reformed and have no future. But The Red Deal extends this principle to carceral institutions such as the military, police and prison systems, calling for their abolition. The Red Deal insists such violent, repressive institutions also stand in the way of a safe climate future.
The second principle is Change from Below and From the Left. This is both a commitment to practice grassroots democracy in the struggle, and also a longer-term ambition to replace capitalism with a system of true democracy. The document says: “We must throw the full weight of people power behind these demands for a dignified life. People power is the organized force of the masses – a movement to reclaim our humanity and rightful relations with the Earth.”
Politicians Can’t Do What Only Mass Movements Do is the document’s third principle, which underscores The Red Deal’s skepticism that reformist politics can make significant progress against fossil capital. Although the authors say that they “refuse to compromise” they acknowledge the mobilizing potential of “non-reformist reform” that “fundamentally challenges the existing structure of power.”
The final principle is From Theory to Action. This recognizes that the development of real social movements, in which people develop through struggle their own capacity to act and organize, is far more important than having “correct positions” on things. Rather, “correct ideas and theories of change that are worthy of reproduction only matter if they arise from, and directly nourish, our collective movements.”
Beyond the Green New Deal
The authors of The Red Deal do not see their proposals as a “counterprogram” to the Green New Deal, which they praise for its “potential to connect every social justice struggle – free housing, free health care, free education, green jobs – to climate change.” Rather, they see their ideas as a platform that builds upon and goes further than what the various Green New Deal proposals have yet offered.
However, the “primary inspiration” for The Red Deal was not the Green New Deal but the People’s Agreement of Cochabamba. The People’s Agreement was adopted by 30,000 attendees at the World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth in 2010. The conference, which promoted a suite of radical, people-centered policies on climate change, was hosted by the former President of Bolivia and leftist Indigenous leader Evo Morales.
This inspiration is clear in the way The Red Deal tackles the issues of technology transfer and climate debt owed to nations of the Global South – topics not addressed in some versions of the Green New Deal discussed in Europe or North America. It notes that the past high carbon emissions of the rich countries have in effect “colonized” the atmosphere, meaning nations in the Global South are blocked from pursuing the same path of industrialization due to climate change. This injustice means “any climate policy must also be anti-imperialist” and include “the payment of northern climate debt to the rest of the world.”
The Red Deal also includes criticism of “some Western socialists” who downplay the Global North’s responsibility to reduce its ecological impact rapidly to make room for the South but instead fixate on “technological pipe dreams like mining asteroids, gene editing, and synthetic meat.” Reshaping the wasteful economies of the Global North so they can play a role in healing the planet should instead take priority.
Towards the end of the document the authors note wryly that it’s evident other people have not listened enough to Indigenous people in the past. “Why else would we be on the precipice of mass extinction?” they ask. Those willing to listen today will gain a lot of insight and inspiration from the radical Indigenous activists showing leadership in this fight to save the Earth.