Crédit: Charlotte Krebs
Crédit: Charlotte Krebs

Née au Maroc, Fatima Ouassak est politiste et essayiste, elle est également militante écologiste dans les quartiers populaires de la région de Paris.

Fatima Ouassak – The reality of climate crisis is well documented and supported by figures. The scientific facts are both reliable and dramatic, because they teach us the irreversibility of the catastrophe that our children and grandchildren will experience: their world is already partially destroyed, no matter what we do. However, it is our present actions that will determine the extent of the destruction. We can still do something to make this world more bearable and breathable than what it promises to become if we do nothing.

So how can we explain that the descendants of African immigrants living in Europe are interested in the consequences of climate change on the other side of the Mediterranean, in Africa, even organizing themselves collectively to finance projects to plant trees or drill wells, but are obviously not interested in what could happen on this side of the Mediterranean, in Europe, where they have lived for so long and where their children and grandchildren are being born? Yet no one is more vulnerable to environmental disaster than the people who live on the outskirts of the big cities. Why don’t they try to protect their neighborhoods from the pouring of concrete so they can breathe better? Why is the land they care about and want to protect from floods and droughts in Africa and not where they live, in Europe?

It must be said that the inhabitants of working-class neighborhoods have good reasons to worry more about Africa than Europe. Our house may be on fire, but the system distinguishes between the houses that count and those that don’t. And people in working-class neighborhoods know this for two reasons: because they live in the segregated neighborhoods in Europe, and because they come from countries that were colonized by Europe. They know that it is the European home that for centuries has been setting fire to its African neighbor’s home every evening to prepare its sumptuous meal, and that today, more than ever, it double-locks its doors when the neighbor seeks refuge. It is a fact that people in Africa will suffer most from climate change. European countries are responsible for far more greenhouse gas emissions than African countries, but it is African countries that are paying the price for the global warming that Europe has largely caused.

The lack of interest in climate change among working-class neighborhoods is due to their organized and systematic uprooting (unanchoring), to the processes handed down from generation to generation that make them landless and therefore powerless.
Everything is done to prevent these populations from (anchoring) settling in Europe and to condemn them to vagrancy. A thousand physical and symbolic borders force them to do so, “You are not from here, you are no longer from there, you are from nowhere.” Even the children and grandchildren who were born here and know no other country are repeatedly told that they are foreigners, that they are not at home, that they do not belong, that they have no right to move freely, that they must show their papers as if they were passing through customs, even though they are only talking in front of their dwelling.

In Europe, populations descended from post-colonial immigrants must constantly prove their usefulness, and if they are not deemed useful enough, they must disappear. They are disposable. They are put to work, but are under constant scrutiny. The so-called labor migration of the 1960s and 1970s, based on economic utility, aims to keep them in a state of perpetual vagrancy (wandering).

This state of wandering (vagrancy) is characterized in particular by the fact that people who have not migrated, and sometimes have never even left the neighborhood in which they were born, continue to be called migrants. Non-white populations born in France are associated with migration, not to say that they come from somewhere else, but to reiterate that they are not at home there. Through this organized uprooting, what could have been a richness – to be from here and from there – has become a curse: to be neither from here nor from there, to continue to wander. I think this is the best way to describe people from Africa living in Europe: they are landless, they live without land, they wander.

Without land and without power, the descendants of post-colonial immigration are also subhuman; they experience the hogra first-hand and in their daily lives. The hogra is to be understood as the institutional will to terrorize and humiliate individuals; hogra is the expression of a seemingly unfounded hatred, the violation of a person’s dignity, even to the point of burying them (translation of a Tarifit expression synonymous with hogra). However, its function is to remind the individual of the socio-racial order. This happens, for example, when a policeman whispers in the ear of a 14-year-old child that he sees him again hanging around outside he will beat him until he bleeds.

This organized uprooting and humiliation is very useful: it makes it possible to use the living spaces of the descendants of post-colonial immigration to build incinerators, factories, data centers, parking lots, freeway interchanges, landfills, noise, ugliness, and disgusting smells. It allows to turn it into places to pollute and abuse the land without causing riots or uprisings because the inhabitants are constantly told the land does not belong to them.

We cannot ask people living in working-class neighborhoods to stand up against what is destroying the land while at the same time constantly reminding them that they are not at home on that land – through massive racist discrimination in all social spaces, through racist police stops, through difficulties in obtaining papers, or through more or less openly expressed islamophobia. We cannot expect populations that do not even have the right to publicly say “God is great” to join the climate front out of love for Gaia. You are not in a position to protect an endangered land where you yourself are being crushed and under constant scrutiny. You are not in a position to protect a land where you have no power to change things. In working-class neighborhoods, the ecological question cannot be about protecting the land – the environment, nature, life – but about liberating it.

In Europe, the ecological majority project, as it is supported today by the political parties and represented by most environmental organizations, does not come from a desire for change, as it claims, but from a desire to preserve the current social order. There is much talk of protection, but never of liberation; it clearly expresses concern about change (“We want our children to have the same life as we do”) and the desire to preserve the life as it was before, before global warming, demographic risks and migration. It shows a relative indifference to the fate of the rest of living being and human beings (despite the mobilization of great universal discourses about the planet, humanity, life…) in order to secure a front garden that can only reserve the level of material comfort achieved today in Europe by the white upper classes. There is no real questioning of the social relations that the capitalist system produces and on which it is based, especially in relation to the domination of class, gender and race. This project does not address the racist hatred that the capitalist system produces on a mass scale, nor the impact of this organized racist hatred (white supremacy) on the lives of the non-white populations living in Africa or the populations of African descent living in Europe. It never calls for what should be a fundamental right of any ecologist worthy of the name: freedom of movement and settlement for all people. It is content to simply promote campaigns to aid development, help migrants, or raise awareness of environmental issues in underprivileged countries/neighborhoods.

This ecological majority project in no way reflects the aspirations for change in working-class neighborhoods, where the fear is that nothing will change.

If we want to create clarity and move forward, we need to answer some important questions that are rarely asked in the political debate. We agree that the climate problem must be solved, but from whose perspective and in whose interest? Is it humanity we want to save, or just the white and wealthy part of it?

Pirate ecology seeks to answer these questions by considering the possibility of liberating ourselves from the system responsible for the climate crisis and from the restrictions on freedom of movement that it requires for its survival. If ecology is a science, then pirate ecology is the science of strategies for taking back power, time and space from the colonial capitalist system. If ecology is a struggle, then pirate ecology is a collective struggle for the freedom of movement of all people. If ecology is a social movement, then pirate ecology is the movement of all those who reject injustice and want to leave their children something other than this disgusting world. Pirate ecology is a resistance project that aims to liberate the land and has as horizon equal human dignity and freedom of movement.

The dispossessed can only liberate themselves through the land. This liberation takes place through the compelling combination of territorial anchoring (“We are at home here!”) and freedom of movement (“We are at home everywhere!”). Anchoring and freedom: this seems to be a contradiction. In fact, left-wing parties like to demand a certain freedom of movement (under certain conditions), while (extreme) right-wing parties demand territorial anchoring, often linked to a xenophobic discourse (“We are at home here! Out with the foreigners!”). The political project advocated here aims to reconcile the notion of territorial anchoring (from an anti-racist perspective) with that of freedom of movement (necessarily unconditional), in order to form one of the spearheads of a broad front for the liberation of peoples and lands degraded to useful objects for the development of the colonial capitalist system.

The descendants of post-colonial immigrants living in Europe need land to get them out of their wandering. And that land is here, in Europe.

The descendants of post-colonial immigrants will truly be at home when they have the right to unconditionally welcome their relatives across the sea, their family, their friends, their neighbors, their village, the whole world, if they so choose. To be at home is to be able to welcome whomever you want without having to justify it to any authority. And in this way repair the shame of decades in which communities and families descended from African immigrants were separated, isolated and amputated by the wall that the Mediterranean has become, due to the racist rules – the management of migratory flows – that the colonial-capitalist system has imposed on these communities in order to take maximum advantage of them. This has weakened these communities and families on the political level – less political power here and there – and on the cultural level – less transmission of language, history and memory of struggles. It also led to class inequalities between legal and illegal immigrants, between immigrants and migrants, between here and there, to the construction of boundaries between sisters and brothers, between spouses, between parents and children; to wounds and traumas across generations. Children of post-colonial immigrants have the right to a fulfilling and whole family and community life. In order to exercise this right, freedom of movement and settlement must be recognized as a fundamental right.

In Europe today, the political project of completely closing the borders to people from Africa has gained majority support. On the far right, the white supremacist position is gaining ground, and it is clear and unequivocal: to prevent the large-scale replacement of white Europeans by non-white populations, especially Muslims, the borders must be completely closed and the remigration – deportation – of these populations to Africa must be organized. This position only prolongs the colonial capitalist logic of relations that Europe has maintained with Africa for centuries. There is no clear and accepted political line against this position. It must be said that freedom of movement and settlement is not recognized as a fundamental right by European states and international organizations. To the extent that it is legally denied to people, freedom of movement is not a freedom but a privilege. The vast majority of European ecologists refuse to question this privilege. With thousands of migrants dying every year as a result of European repression, the ecological discourse is essentially humanitarian. In general, they are on the defensive in the face of white supremacists. Hardly anyone is willing to oppose the European project of domination with another project of freedom of movement and freedom of settlement with the guarantee that this freedom will be effectively exercised..

This kind of ecology does not do justice to the global challenges. Freedom of movement as a fundamental right must be understood as an alternative to the climate and population issues propagated by the extreme right and as an alternative to the colonial-capitalist logic. Freedom of movement as a guaranteed fundamental right, no longer restricted by the European authorities, would make it possible to decouple the human dignity of non-white populations from their usefulness to the colonial-capitalist system.

The colonial-capitalist system sorts and hierarchizes people and land in order to better exploit and profit from the subhuman and the devalued land. This hierarchization is both an effect of the colonial-capitalist system and a cause of the ecological catastrophe that reinforces the hierarchization of people and land: it is responsible for a climate disruption that, while global, naturally has much worse consequences for the devalued lands south of the Mediterranean than for the more highly valued lands of the global North.
This exacerbates the inequalities between Europe and Africa, allowing Europeans to benefit from the climate change they have caused at the expense of Africans.

Freedom of movement must be seen as an indispensable tool to tackle the climate crisis. Rather than playing scare tactics with the idea of hordes of barbarians from Africa flooding onto European beaches – described as climate refugees, as Europeans are doing today, including a large part of ecologists – the urgent need is to organize the possibility for any population in danger to leave the area, to escape, to go to the sea. And to arrive safely.

The project of pirate ecology is to promote freedom of movement as a central demand, especially in the climate movement. This would make it possible to roll back the colonial-capitalist system, starting in the Mediterranean.

The Mediterranean is the key! What could unite and liberate, is used to divide and imprison. The Mediterranean is abused and also used for dirty work: to transport resources from African countries to Europe; to restrict the movement of Africans, to judge their usefulness, to drown them if necessary; and to ensure the domination of Europeans. The Mediterranean is occupied.
Like a colonially occupied land, it must be liberated. What if the Mediterranean became an autonomous space, like the pirate ships? We’d take to the sea, and once the sea is liberated, it would no longer belong to any state or power. It would become a place of inalienability.
It would no longer be the morbid arena where Europe’s domination of Africa takes place, but the space where we show our equal human dignity – what a beautiful turn of events that would be! The Mediterranean would be the arena for the first step towards internationalism from the perspective of European working-class neighborhoods.

What if the Mediterranean became a legal person and had rights, just as the Pachamama is today thanks to the struggles and indigenous knowledge of the comrades in Bolivia?
The liberated Mediterranean would acquire inalienable and sacred rights.

The Mediterranean as a symbol of a common struggle for equal human dignity, as a meeting point of all resistances and mutinies, in the global North as well as in the global South, against the hogra in Europe, where the evil was born, against the hogra in Africa, where the word was born because the evil continued. The Mediterranean as a place where the working classes of Europe and Africa share their local experiences, their ancestral techniques, their scientific and technological knowledge in order to truly resist the ecological devastation.

The Mediterranean would no longer be a graveyard, but a space of freedom, joy and mutual help, where children from both shores who dream of setting sail as pirates arrive safely and alive on the other side.

In the context of a growing extreme right-wing shift and fasciation of the political field in France and in Europe, a project of political ecology and degrowth that does not place an anti-colonial and anti-racist line at its center is doomed to failure, because the entire life-destroying system is based on the dehumanization of a part of humanity. Above all, such a project is dangerous because it is perfectly compatible with that of the extreme right-wing survivalists and supremacists. If we really want to fight against the environmental disaster and have a chance of winning, we must change course …… and head towards the global South – the South of the Mediterranean and the South living in Europe. The way out of ecocidal capitalism will be won through a war of liberation, a revolution whose center will certainly be in the global South. Everything will start from there. And we in Europe will do our part. Hopefully, and above all, environmental struggles will follow the victorious anti-colonial liberation struggles of the 1940s to the 1970s.

The children of post-colonial immigrants who live in the working-class neighborhoods of France and Europe must have the opportunity to anchor themselves in France and Europe. This anchoring in France and Europe, former colonial powers, is not a treason. On the contrary, it is a liberation that consists in telling our children to dream of adventures and to take to the sea: You are at home here, free to leave and free to come back.

The working-class neighborhoods are our land. Sure, it is not a beautiful land: it is damaged, polluted and dangerous. But it could only be so mistreated because we ourselves have been mistreated. The liberation of the land is through our liberation, our liberation is through that one of the land. We are dying because we are not allowed to anchor ourselves to the land. The land dies because those inhabiting it are not considered to be at home. And yet we must anchor ourselves to this land, because this is where our children and grandchildren will grow up. We have to define ourselves politically with it and through it.