Why only ‘unnatural’ deaths?

Let us not wait for a disruption at the scale of two world wars to reconsider this as “natural.” Let every death as a result of climate criminals be followed by international headlines.

By
April 29, 2019 23:25
3 minute read.
A candlelight vigil is held at Rancho Bernardo Community Presbyterian Church for victims of a shooti

A candlelight vigil is held at Rancho Bernardo Community Presbyterian Church for victims of a shooting incident at the Congregation Chabad synagogue in Poway, north of San Diego, California. (photo credit: REUTERS/JOHN GASTALDO)

From the Christchurch shooting through the Colombo Easter bombings to the recent attack in the San Diego-area synagogue during Passover’s final hours, these vile attacks have captured the world’s attention. The faces of victims covered the front pages of newspapers everywhere, foreign governments have issues condemnations and condolences, and intelligence agencies and social media companies have pledged to tighten monitoring and curtail hate speech ahead of the next attack.

We cannot ignore such acts of terrorism today, because we don’t believe they are unavoidable. Prayers should rise uninterrupted by shrieking bullets – which are never shot by an invisible hand. We therefore expect inquiries, additional safeguards, perpetrators to be caught and decision-makers to consider policy changes. Even those who argue for calm and against overreacting to terrorists don’t suggest that we simply ignore them.

At the same time, however, other, “natural” deaths are not treated that way.

On the same weekend as the Colombo bombings, the death toll from floods in South Africa had risen to 70, leaving many people missing and about 1,000 more displaced in Durban. That same weekend, three people also died in Mississippi and Alabama, following heavy storms.

Two weeks earlier, rainstorms wreaked havoc in Nepal, killing at least 28 people, injuring 500 and destroying many homes. Floods have killed at least 62 people in Iran, transforming the celebratory Persian New Year into a season of funerals. At the same time, Cyclone Idai left more than 1,000 dead across Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe, unleashing a cholera epidemic and widespread hunger.

At the time of writing this article, only six weeks later, Cyclone Kenneth has already claimed the lives of six people, leaving entire South-West Indian Ocean islands flattened with no homes left standing. In Kenya’s northern regions, dozens are dying in droughts, which are imperiling nearly a million people. According to the Nairobi Institute for Security Studies, this used to occur every decade, then every five years, then down to every two or three years. Currently, every year is characterized by some dry spell.

This proliferation of deaths did not manage to create the same international shock. No individual or organization behind them was made accountable. But we know that many of those death aren’t parentless. As science unequivocally explains, they resulted from the perpetrators of climate change and their enablers – including governments and corporations. Why do we prioritize some deaths and overlook others?

According to sociologist Norman Fairclough, dominant ideology is often naturalized in our discourse. Given the status of “common sense” makes criticizing any naturalized idea much more difficult.

That used to be the case with Religiously and Politically Motivated Violence (RPMV). As historian Yuval Noah Harari explains in his article “The Theatre of Terror,” at least until the Age of Enlightenment, RPMV had been naturalized and perceived as an integral part of the human condition. Peace treaties were really viewed as ceasefire treaties between one war and another.

Only the calamity of two world wars led to a new ideology prevailing, in which RPMV was seen as an anomaly that can and must be prevented. Under this new ideology, it made sense to launch two wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, because attacks subsequent to 9/11 could and had to have been prevented.

The way we treat news about victims of extreme weather is similar to the way we used to treat RPMV: tragic, but unavoidable. The criminal logging, polluting and carbon-emitting economy is saved from the scorn that we have for terrorist groups.

It’s as if the lives of the Christchurch, Colombo and California victims matter while innocent ones elsewhere don’t. And “elsewhere,” of course, is increasingly everywhere.

Let us not wait for a disruption at the scale of two world wars to reconsider this as “natural.” Let every death as a result of climate criminals be followed by international headlines, by indignation from world leaders and trending hashtags which tell their stories. In the 21st century, the polluting economy should be treated as religious and nationalist terrorism: impossible to ignore, indictable and unnatural.

The writer is a PhD candidate.


Related Content

August 22, 2019
Back to school: What we teach our children

By GERSHON BASKIN

Cookie Settings