By Alfee Rubayet | Contributing Writer
On Thursday, February 12th, Dr. Adeem Suhail, Assistant Professor of Social Anthropology, delivered a powerful lecture as part of Franklin & Marshall’s Common Hour series. Titled “Dreaming at the World’s End: Dispatches on an Emergent Cosmopolitics from South Asia,” the lecture focused on the pressing issue of climate change and climate colonialism with stories from South Asia, and the ongoing disaster in Turkey and Syria as they experience the “End of their Worlds.”
Going off script, Dr. Suhail scrapped his original lecture and began with a call for the able-bodied to take a stand for the thousands of lives lost and the tens of thousands that are being permanently altered. Dr. Suhail then recited the poem “On Living” by Nâzım Hikmet, a revolutionary Turkish poet.
What does it mean to dream at the end of the world? Dr. Suhail offers lessons from post-flood Pakistan, referring to the catastrophic flooding that submerged a third of the country last summer. He shared his own experiences witnessing the devastating effects of climate change in Pakistan. And as Pakistanis, Turks, and Syrians continue to bear witness to their own demise as the Climate Clock ticks down in Capitol buildings and billboards across New York, Dr. Suhail draws attention to the added burden placed on Syrians by the economic sanctions imposed by the US and Europe. As the end of the world comes and passes Syrians by, it is followed by the “vultures” that pick on the remains.
Alongside the vultures, Dr. Suhail highlights the bravery of those who respond to a calling. He offers us the stories of Farhan Allah, the man who carried his village to higher ground and saved his people from flash floods, and doctors Samira Abazi and Quratulain Wazir, who left their comfortable lives to treat the tens of thousands of cases of cholera, malaria, and dengue in the inundated regions. These are remarkable stories and exceptional people. Perhaps, Dr. Suhail suggests, had they taken a moment to conduct a cost-benefit analysis, they may have been dissuaded to answer their calling.
He then tells the story of the village of Pono, where a Sindhi legend plays out: a tragic love story where two lovers are subsumed into cosmic love by the Earth Mother. Last summer, the village of Pono witnessed the End of the World. In his highlight of the need to find indigenous cultures that existed before the violence of the colonial encounter, he speaks of the architect Yasmeen Lari. Once a “mercenary” architect at the behest of capitalism, Lari is now in her retirement, working in the village of Pono at the intersection of climate change and architecture. In Pakistan, where the damaging irregularities of extreme heat and cold waves have turned regular in their proximity to the end of the world, their future is to dream better, without being “tainted by visions of concrete.” Using indigenous knowledge and modern technology, she is reconstructing the village of Pono, showing people how to build sustainable homes with zero carbon impact through women-led initiatives, so that these new homes can withstand the brutalities of climate change.
But the village of Pono is not plugged into the trappings of capitalist becoming—none of the modern electric wiring or heated water that we take for granted. Yet the end of the world comes for Pakistan, Turkey, and Syria first. The rendering of unequal distribution and inequalities of the immediate consequences of climate change—the end of the world—is rooted in the legacies of colonialism and its multiple afterlives. Or as Dr. Suhail put it, climate colonialism. For all the bravery of Farhan Allah, the sacrifices of Dr. Samira Abazi and Dr. Quratulain Wazir, and the visions of Yasmeen Lari cannot make up for the constant failures around climate change by the countries that are in the position to do the most.
Last year at COP27, after decades of activism, a Loss and Damages fund was finally agreed upon by rich countries. This would create a fund where rich countries would pay for climate damages in poorer countries that face the brunt of climate change. Despite this major symbolic victory, the fund remains non-binding with a limited impact and numerous questions on what this would look like.
The language around loss and damages, from Pakistan’s floods to earthquakes of Leviathan magnitude, is not meant to place blame, but rather to emphasize the importance of shared responsibility and redistributing burdens. Neither Pakistan, Turkey, nor Syria, should bear this cost alone. Dr. Suhail ended his lecture with a call to action, urging the audience to consider their role in addressing the impacts of climate change and working towards a better future for all.
To support Turkey and Syria, the Muslim Student Association is organizing a fundraiser, “Uniting for Hope,” selling Middle Eastern desserts at the Steinman College Center from 12 PM to 6 PM until the end of the week. All proceedings will be donated to the emergency relief fund created by the Islamic Community of Lancaster.
Junior Alfee Rubayet is a Contributing Writer. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.