Solidarity with the Earth, solidarity with the vulnerable

The acclaimed public intellectual Noam Chomsky has often said that there are two crises facing humanity: the threat of nuclear war and the threat of climate change.

May 03, 2020

By Anil Netto
The acclaimed public intellectual Noam Chomsky has often said that there are two crises facing humanity: the threat of nuclear war and the threat of climate change.

Already many are fleeing their homelands. “If people think there’s a migration crisis now, they haven’t seen anything,” Chomsky said.

But there is also a third threat facing humanity – species extinction due to the loss of our biodiversity. This loss of biodiversity is the direct result of our model of economic “development” – which has degraded, even destroyed, the ecosystems in many parts of the world.

No wonder the Bishop of Rome, in his Earth Day message on April 22, has lamented that we have “failed in our responsibility to be guardians and stewards of the earth”.

“We have polluted it and we have despoiled it, endangering our very lives,” he added.

Gifts of God such as land, labour, human ingenuity and capability have all been put to the service of production, which in turn serves the market. The fundamental problem is that we have deified the market.

It wasn’t always that way. The market was once embedded as part of human life but now the market has been glorified. We are now less a human society and more of a “market economy”, before which we are expected to bow.

This market has run out of control. It has promoted excessive consumption and materialism, in the process tearing down forests and destroying rivers and seas. It has also unleashed a genie — the financialisation of the economy.

This has led to the rise of global financial institutions, which rake in billions of ringgit in profits. These institutions facilitate the investment of excess capital in unproductive sectors  such as speculation in high-end property development and commodities, including food.

The government now has to intervene. The market is already in free fall. The deity of “economic growth” that we once heralded has now stung us like a scorpion’s tail.

So, we must now promote solidarity and harmonious living among all humans and with the ecosystem.

Francis has called for a renewed sacred respect for the earth, for “ecological conversion that can find expression in concrete actions”.

As the tragic coronavirus pandemic has taught us, “we can overcome global challenges only by showing solidarity with one another and by embracing the most vulnerable in our midst.”

Easier said than done! True, many Malaysians rallied to help others in our midst who were left hungry and stranded by the ongoing lockdown. Many donated or volunteered to help in the distribution of relief supplies. Others provided support for frontline staff dealing with this healthcare crisis. But when it came to helping migrants and refugees in desperate situations, our reactions were more mixed, even xenophobic.

In recent days, we have seen comments tar geted at refugees and migrant workers who are fleeing dangerous or desperate situations.

Sometimes, we forget that many of our own ancestors were once migrants and refugees. They fled unstable situations – war, famine, climate change, persecution.

Jesus and his family were no different. When Jesus was born, Herod was reaching the end of his life and was increasingly erratic, even mentally ill. Upon his death, rebellions against Roman rule erupted, and the Romans brutally crushed these uprisings.

Probably around 4 BC, Joseph, Mary and Jesus fled as refugees along the way of the sea to a safer sanctuary in Egypt, also under Roman rule. In Egypt they would have found a fairly sizeable Jewish community; it was a friendly neighbour of Judea.

The journey would have been a gruelling one, along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, going through Gaza, then crossing the Sinai Desert into Egypt – all in all perhaps around 560km.

Once it was safer, they returned to Judea, to find that it was under Herod’s son, Herod Archelaus, a violent ruler. When they discovered this, they journeyed north to Nazareth in Galilee, which was then ruled by Archelaus brother, Herod Antipas. The entire return journey —  perhaps around 640km.

It was not easy travelling this distance in those days. Imagine if the holy family had reached Egypt, only to be told they were not welcome and then forced back to the then violent region of Judea and Galilee.

Clearly, Jesus and his family were refugees fleeing from violence and persecution. This is why we should express solidarity with refugees in today’s world, no matter where they are from. Who knows, one day, we too might be climate change refugees. How would we want others to treat us?

In any case, the principle of non-refoulement under international law requires that we not turn back refugees to situations that would endanger their lives.

Some people see Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman and his parable of the Good Samaritan as pointed barbs at racist attitudes towards foreigners, as they were different from the folks of Galilee.

The central highland region of Samaria, sandwiched between Galilee in the north and Judea in the south, was seen as foreign territory, and many tried to avoid the place.

Indeed, when the Assyrians conquered Samaria, foreigners settled in that land and they intermarried with locals, bringing their own ‘pagan’ gods.

For a Jewish man to enter into a deep dialogue with a woman at the well was unheard of, and what was more, she was a Samaritan!

In the parable of the Good Samaritan, the tables were turned. Jesus turned the despised Samaritan foreigner into the ‘hero’ while the religiously upright were the uncaring villains of the piece

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