American Muslim Youth And The Tar Sands – "We Want A Bright, Not A Blackened Future"

San Bruno Gas Pipeline Fire

Matthew Naim Abdullah, an environmental activist from California writes during Ramadan about why the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline is a bad idea.

It is nearing the onset of sunset in San Diego, California – an idyllic suburb in many respects, although mere kilometers away from a Mexican border that is wracked with blood, sweat, and tears. The Islamic maghrib prayer will occur soon, and dutiful Muslims arrive hungry and tired for one of the final nights of Ramadan, a time for spiritual contemplation and self-purification.

Some will spend the time sleeping and praying for redemption in their preferred mosque. Some will gorge on high-cholesterol Middle Eastern food, and consequently endure abdominal pain and insomnia most of the night. Others will simply spend quality time with their families.

My path is a little different, however, as I will most likely spend the last day or two of Ramadan in jail.

Over the next few days, I will travel to Washington DC to participate in the Tar Sands Action {tarsandaction.org}, a nonviolent civil disobedience gathering in front of the White House to protest the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline, repping individuals from all 50 states and all walks of life.

Muslims from around the world are aware of the insidious effects of oil and other fossil fuels on our daily lives. Gulf states regularly exploit workers from South Asia in their pursuit of hyper-industrial development, air pollution ravages nations such as Egypt and Iran, and African resources such as the Niger delta have been systematically raped and pillaged by post-colonial powers and multinational corporations.

These woes are precisely why many wince when they hear about this pipeline, which will purportedly run from Alberta, Canada all the way to refineries on the Gulf Coast of Texas, criss-crossing through multiple Midwest regions on the way there. If you take a look at the map on the aforementioned link, it rivals the transcontinental railroad in all its megalomaniacal glory.

Sadly, the Obama administration shows no sign of withstanding the onslaught of energy lobbyists salivating over this pipeline. According to the New York Times, the State Department just released a report concluding that the pipeline would exert only minimal environmental effects.

Never mind that the report minimizes - that is, completely ignores, the effects of the pipeline on carbon emissions, which will be so nasty that they will ‘essentially [spell] game over for the climate,” according to the world’s top climatologist James Hansen. Never mind that the pipeline runs straight through the Ogallala Aquifer - one of the largest freshwater reserves in the world - as well as the Yellowstone River and fragile ecosystems such as the Nebraska Sandhills. Never mind that yet another oil pipeline will further obstruct our ability to move towards a clean-energy economy. Not like we were moving in the first place. We didn’t even get a climate bill.

As Muslims, we are required to stand up to injustice wherever we see it - with our hearts, our bodies, and our minds. 

This remains true whether we are struggling against oppressors in Egypt or Libya, or whether we are fighting for policy reforms in the United States that will have transnational effects on poor and marginalized populations. The Qur’an reminds us that we need to ‘strive hard’ against the actions of ungrateful and two-faced entities that value private gain over public welfare (9:73). In addition, the sacred book states that our civil struggles are a necessary sociological phenomenon if we wish to avoid the physical or moral corruption of all people. As the brilliant Qur'an translator Muhammad Asad noted,

“….if God had not enabled people to defend themselves against one another, corruption would surely overwhelm the earth.“  (Qur'an, 2:251).

As young people, we will all suffer from the hazards of climate change, no matter what we adhere to in terms of religion, ethnoracial identity, or socioeconomic standing. If we as Muslims wish to provide a vital contribution to global movements such as climate justice, we need to reduce the fragmentation, insularity, and often-cynical identity politics seen in many of our communities and civil society organizations. Yes, we encounter struggles against discrimination and alienation, many of us almost daily. But let’s not let issues such as Islamophobia divert us entirely from our participation in movements such as climate change, which require the attention of our entire world.

And we do have reason to participate in efforts such as the Tar Sands Action, as our communities around the world will be affected. Not all Muslim groups around the world respond to climate collapse in a civil or peaceful way, as we have seen from the genocidal massacre related to resource conflicts in the Darfur region.  In fact, they might respond in a much more violent and reactionary manner. And in an era where resource-related conflicts will be exploited by wealthy special interests, war profiteers and corporate media outlets might realize that they have much to gain by creating a caricature of ‘eco-terrorist Muslims’ as evil villains. This could potentially cause scapegoat-like rage against the Muslim world, with elite land grabs and Great Game-like wargames expressed as euphemisms such as international ‘interventions’ and local ‘security incidents.’

However, there is reason for hope. Our Arab Spring brothers and sisters overseas have singlehandedly taken down decades-long dictators such as Ben Ali, Mubarak, and Gaddafi, mostly through civil and non-aggressive means on their part. Therefore, this vibrant revolutionary environment in the Arab Spring nations serves as the perfect opportunity for us to affirm the civil and peaceful principles that will guide future climate justice efforts in Muslim-majority societies. Hopefully, we can then begin to push the tide towards peaceful protests and international solidarity, rather than towards reactionary violence and balkanization.

Ramadan arrived, and it has left us. Many words have been spoken about the value of putting faith into action, but it is now time for action itself - which is why I will be joining over 2000 individuals at the White House this week to make a stance.

{Tar Sands Action}

By Matthew Naim Abdullah, an environmental and political activist from California.

Image:: flickr

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