Episode #68 Wild Law and Justice in action: Spiritual Activism with Mothiur Rahman, founder of New Economy Law
Why does the law not protect us? Why does our government not strive every sinew to keep us safe at all levels? What would it look like if the law did protect, care for and sustain common people? Answers on this, and the depths of life from Mothiur Rahman, pioneer member of XR and XR Muslims.
Mothiur speaks with raw courage and a unique combination of vulnerability and strength as he describes his own journey to spiritual connection and how it informs his life, from supporting anti-fracking campaigners to working with XR visioning.
From helping defeat the first major fracking application in the UK, to taking part in XR actions to highlight government inaction, Mothiur walks his talk with clear integrity, a sharp, engaged mind and a commitment to bringing about a regenerative future.
New Economy Law
Muslims for Extinction Rebellion FB page
Article in Resurgence Magazine: “A Civil Rights Movement”
Mothiur’s statement to be read at his trial (for XR Action – the case was dismissed before this could be read out)
Manda: Hey, people, welcome to Accidental Gods to the podcast where we believe that another world is still possible. And that together we can make it happen. I am Manda Scott, your host at this place on the Net, where art meets activism, politics meets philosophy and science meets spirituality, all in the service of Conscious Evolution. And my guest this week definitely stands at the intersection of all of those. Mothiur Rahman is a spiritual activist in all senses of those words. He’s a founder of New Economy Law, a legal innovation love that seeks to strengthen civil resilience for precarious futures. He’s an alumnus of Shimako College and he’s a founder of XR Muslims, and a really deep and profound XR activist. As you’ll hear, he has worked on some of the key environmental challenges of our time, offering crucial inputs to the ways that governments frame their responses. And above all of this, he’s a heartfelt advocate for the rights of people and the planet, in the understanding that these two can only ever work together. Our conversation took us deep into the bedrock of being touching on places that were clearly, very profoundly moving for most here are sharing of the result of this feels to me a real testament to the integrity of his spirit, to his passion, and to his clear intent to create a space where the stories that move us most can be felt by us all. This was a really moving podcast to record. It roamed over areas that mattered to everybody, at all levels and to all people. So people of the podcast, please do welcome Mothiur Rahman. Welcome to the Accidental Gods podcast.
Mothiur: Thank you. Thank you for inviting me.
Manda: So let’s take a step back, because you’ve done so many things, and there is a thread that runs through them all of integrity and a sense of spirit to me, when I read what you write and hear what you’ve done. But you were born in a city. And tell us a little bit about how Mothiur now came to be, where you started, what your origins were and how your motivations arose.
Mothiur: Thank you. Well, yeah, I was born in Leeds, a part called Beeston, in an economically deprived area. My father and my mom came from Bangladesh in the sixties. I don’t think they actually wanted to stay at the time. But then these things happen don’t they: Accidental Gods, accidents. And having children, and then sort of you engage, and then you start, time moves on. And then the thread started for me was this love of literature. And I remember at 13 reading Charlotte Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, and that just opened a whole new world for me of the sense of what it means to be human. I think that was what I became alive to and that thread. I went to university, did English literature.
When I came back, I was teaching in Japan and somebody mentioned something about law as an option. And I thought, well, I’ll give it a go and see what it’s like to be… I wanted to ground myself. I felt I was a bit too dreamy, and I wanted to find something that was a bit more pragmatic and real and see whether I could engage at that level. And it was a bit of a huge tussle with myself, the way my brain works, to actually ground into that way of thinking.
But to find at the end I had these tools or this way after this big struggle, I found that quite liberating. Ended up being a lawyer in London, a sort of large global law firm which wants to work in human rights. I ended up doing an area called Planning Law, which is around both public and private sphere by the balance of different rights of the public right maybe to acquire land, and the private right to want to maintain a sense of their own identity or the town’s identity. So looking at all these different rights. And starting with that environmental law, I remember one of the partners at work when I said I wanted to work in environmental law, passing me this leaflet saying, why don’t you go to this conference? It turned out to be this conference about something very alternative. I don’t think he’d quite realised. It was something called Wildlaw. And that was a very ecocentric perspective of law. We ended up convening in the woods and meditating and I was like, wow, this is an interesting time. But it connected me to this kind of like what it means to be human, this story, this way of engaging outside of the kind of normative understanding of law.
And that, I guess, brought this – I wouldn’t have called myself spiritual at that point. I think I was more humanistic, but broadening to an outside perspective of what it means to be human. But I found myself going down the spiral of like not having enough time to myself, and trying to work, and just everything getting on top of me, and trying to maintain this out of what I thought was an artifice self. Like, I didn’t feel like I really was a lawyer. I felt this illusionary self I had to maintain, something inside of me was dying. That’s what it felt like. Yeah. Just some personal things as well that all came into a crunch and it led to this kind of paralysis.
And I mean, it’s quite a vulnerable thing to start talking…to bring the sense… but I think it’s really important because of the precarities of our lives at the moment and the way that we get shamed around this. So my journey has been to sense how the system actually creates a lot of this within ourselves, and we take it upon ourselves as if it’s us. And so it’s partly why I want to speak about this, this breakdown, this sense of like not having any purpose anymore, and not being able to touch what was really meaningful, anything in myself, and trying to find medications that would support, that was the functional way that you were meant to deal with it, not able to speak at work because of the shame that you’ve got to carry on this sort of individual struggle. That story was in my head a lot.
But it came to the point where I felt like I’d given up all the options, talked to friends, have been to the doctors and tried medication. Nothing was going to get rid of this overwhelming pain inside me. And so I felt like I was at the abyss, at this edge of like I didn’t want to carry on at that time of very deep pain, of not knowing where else to go, and ringing this friend and saying, I have no where else to go. I don’t know.
She said, Have you ever felt like praying before? I remember those words, I was like why would I want to pray to something? Like, you know, prayer to me was religious and not.. I was in a very different field and I couldn’t… this sense of wanting the truth, but I felt that Western liberalism was all about, I want the truth. And everything I’ve been given through my education is truth. This praying was outside of that. And yet when I put the phone down, it stayed with.. I couldn’t, I was at this edge of like, if I have to pray, that means letting go of this idea, of this truth. And I didn’t want to give up. I was where I was. I couldn’t sincerely, I couldn’t find myself to succeed. But the more that I said I can’t give it up, the more I was going down this dark path towards, like, I’ve got nowhere else to go.
So it was like this, a crisis of who I am, who I want to. And I remember the giving up. I don’t know anymore. I prayed sincerely as I could to God, to Allah, to whatever it is, that I need, I need help. I can’t do this anymore. And that was a letting go and an opening. I didn’t recognise it at the time, but slowly things something changed in the way that the events began coming towards me. That’s all I can see, how I can explain it. Like bumping into a friend who I hadn’t seen for 12 years on Hampstead Heath doing this outdoor event. And she had become a yoga teacher and she had something really gentle about her. And she sat me down and said, Can you tell me your story. Just like what you said!
And something in the way that she said it was just an unravelling, like it allowed me space to begin to explore myself rather than being told, why don’t you do this? Why don’t you do X or Y or Z? It was just an opening and an invitation, so gentle. But it allowed me to go on this journey. And I went to a number of places with her, I went to a place called Buddhafield, where I had this really intense experience of of being held by something that kind of said, through this suffering, can you recognise you are being held, and have been held at all times? And it was this joy of coming to that place.
But it was such an experience that it lit a flame in me. I can’t, I have to understand what, I have to follow this. Whatever it is, what it’s outside of the knowledge that I’ve been given or understood the world to be, this kind of Newtonian world that’s within this more subjective frame. The world comes to meet you halfway in some mysterious way. And that’s been my journey since then. It’s kind of spiritual. Trying to bring love into law, I think was how the message came to me and how I began to integrate those different aspects. I can just mention how that, because it’s quite interesting, that love into law aspect, it was because I don’t know if, you know of Polly Higgins’ work, she’s another lawyer.
Manda: We’ve talked about her on the podcast, so, yes.
Mothiur: She passed away just over a year ago. And her work was amazing, what she did. And I remember meeting her while I was still a lawyer. She’d just about started on her own path. The first time I met her, it was in Gaia House in London. And she was talking about how her experience of who was the lawyer for Earth? And how then that moved her into her path. And I thught, wouldn’t it be great to be able to do that, not thinking that I could, you know, I was stuck in my own path at that time of being a lawyer. And this experience sort of opened a different space. And I was at a place called Embercombe doing some voluntary work there. And Polly had come to Totnes to give a talk. And I said, why don’t you come to Embercombe to bring what you’re doing to this place? And so I facilitated a workshop with her. At that workshop, she talked about the story of how love is at the centre of her work. And I said, how would you define love? She said, I don’t know. How would you define love? That’s all, I don’t know either. And it was almost like an invitation to carry something. So I said, oh, that’s going to be my enquiry. How how do you bring love into law? So that’s where it began.
Manda: Yes. And I think we just found the title for the podcast. As with everything you’ve just said, it changes our perception of what law is. It’s not something that I would generally associate with the concept of loving, and yet it’s integral to who we are and what we do, and the structures of the way that we function as a society. So I’m thinking your parents are both from Bangladesh. When you prayed to a God, you were praying to Allah, so you had been brought up to some degree within a Muslim structure. But you stepped away from that. Am I right?
Mothiur: Yeah. The Muslim structure was was the fabric of my childhood life. It was in everything: how we chose biscuits, looking for ingredients, no animal fats, to… you know, it was just a way of life. And my father passed away when I was very young, around six. And I guess also the education we all had. And my brothers were older than me. And rather than going to the mosque, my brother would take us to the library. Very early rebellion! The Islam that we were given at the time was very strict, very: you have to follow this path of… don’t ask any questions because we would ask why would you have to read in Arabic? We wouldn’t be listened to, or we wouldn’t be given the proper answer, just that you have to follow this. And so that brings an entire kind of like what I think is the truth of how we have to act, like the truth of like wanting to have agency. And for me, my learning of what it means to have free will.
What does our conscience and our responsibility give towards us as human beings? So the structure, and this again, is about law, like it almost becomes ossified. And there is a real source to it, and all of this, and that’s the law that I… the spirit of the law. But yeah, coming to that Islamic upbringing, I think, yeah. Just by the age of 15, 16, I had quite turbulent childhood. And so I was by the age with my siblings a lot. And so we were learning a lot that was outside of the sphere of the family. And if the family sphere continued, maybe it would be different. But that gave a much wider perspective, carried me along a different path.
Manda: Because you set up XR Muslims. So now you do identify as a Muslim, having not done, having learnt the power of prayer, having found that we are held through our suffering, and the world does come to meet us halfway. Where would you say you are in terms of your spiritual focus now?
Mothiur: Thank you. I remember just the Occupy movement as being a huge influence on me. And the meditation tent. That was the big thing for me, that there was a meditation space. That I was just at the beginning of this kind of turning for me when I was mentioning earlier about this prayer. And so seeing the meditation on the St Paul’s Cathedral, I was ‘wow’. And it was a bit of a mess in the tent. And I asked whether I could look after the meditation tent, and I was given permission to look after it. So I was there this tent, and I remember seeing how this whole time it had a Buddha, and I have this heart that maybe the idea of love being at the centre. So I put that, and put my mom’s icon of Allah there, and there was a Christ symbol as well. So trying to see that the heart is the centre of these different kinds of spiritual traditions. At the time, Islam was still for me, something about my mother had rather than I was taking on that time. I still had really strong reactions against it.
And I was reading a book called The Places That Scare You by Pema Chodron. So I was on much more like a shamanic Buddhist route. And this book, The Places that Scare You, was saying go inwards and wherever there is tension, wherever something arises, that is tension, that is the the boundary which you need to to move beyond. And that scares us. It causes vulnerability. That’s the journey to go on. But that was the time when somebody said, but I want to go to visit a mosque. By the third time, I thought, OK, this feels like a barrier, a really strong one rather than just a value there. Exploring that mosque was massive. Yeah, I saw the mosque was very different to how I remember as a child and my childhood projections were actually what I was envisaging, and the reality is something else. And it was good to be reminded of that.
And then I began recognising that maybe the story of Islam is also something that I’m carrying. That hasn’t been me, but I’ve been given. That was a journey that came up Schumacher, trying to find the separation between Western hegemonic values as it was given to me, which I thought was universal, to say, is this just a story within which I’m swimming and thinking it’s universal? And to use my ancestry in Islam and my Bengali culture as the kind of tool by which to uncover the boundary of that. And for me, yeah, that’s been my way of understanding decoloniality, of trying to separate the different stories. And I’m finding in Islam a beauty, a beauty to it that I hadn’t noticed. And Sufism being the particular route that I began my journey down.
Manda: So can you give us an example of something, because I’m really interested in this idea of hegemonic stories, and the stories that we tell ourselves, and the stories that evolve within the story, particularly the story of Sufism. I’m woefully ignorant, so I don’t really understand the different subsections of any of the major religions, to be honest. So what is it? Can you tell us what is it that makes Sufism what it is? And is there a story that has evolved for you from your childhood to now, that would give us a sense of the the life that you feel now in the sense of spirit that this gives you?
Mothiur: So the book that came to me when I was exploring the website of the St Ethelburga Centre for Peace and Reconciliation Traditions, and there was Kabir Edmund Helminsky was giving a talk. He’s a Sufi teacher and in the Mevlevi tradition of Rumi. And he’d written a book called Sufism as a way to Presence. For me, yeah, that’s… what does presence mean? I remember seeing the first word on the first page, he talked about will. And I think that for me, because I thought Islam, I knew Islam is about surrender, about letting go. And I could see the connexion to that, to what is about letting go and surrender, opening up. But this idea of will. I thought what is that to do with will, I thought that was a Western idea. I’d see that as the struggle of ‘bringing your will to’. I met him at a retreat. I asked him this question because I wanted to understand, see what kind of answer he’d give. He said something like, and I felt profoundly moved by the answer. He said there was something that we bring our will towards.
And then it comes to a place where we then see the letting go. It folds into a letting go. And I could see how that unfolded for me in my own life. There is an experiential understanding of how so, for example, the prayer moments of will moving to let letting go.
And there’s this kind of yeah, this journey. And the connexion to me, I guess within the collective journey of law, within the Western hegemony is the story that maybe you could say built up from Western liberalism: Rousseau and those ideas in the 17th century. I loved at the time of JS Mill, Thomas Hardy was talking about, JS Mill and Jude the Obscure about the sense of the rights of the individual, the rights to liberty, freedom, and the ‘freedom from’. That’s the sense that the Western liberal tradition has come from: the ‘freedom from’. But the ‘freedom to’, or the responsibility aspect, the collective, the story of letting go of your individual towards the: what is it that gives the sense of belonging? There’s this kind of movement. I feel like that’s the other side of the coin, the collective aspect. And everything keeps shifting back into individualism is how I see it, because that story of you could see the institutional imaginary world of the West is so strong towards this freedom, sense of freedom from, liberty, the liberty of the individual, and separates the community from the individual rather than seeing you as an aspect of the community.
Manda: Yes. And you wrote very movingly about that in Resurgence. I’d like to come back to that in a moment. But before that, I’m curious, because you’ve obviously come from quite a Buddhist focussed path, you were reading Pema Chodron, you had that sense of surrender and letting go. What is it now about Islam? I’m aware, and I’m sure you’re aware that Aldous Huxley discussed the perennial philosophy, that thing that he saw as being core to all of the major religions, the kind of common ground behind the cultural overlays that tend to get layered on. What is it that Islam gives you now that that, say, Buddhism or the perennial philosophy hadn’t given? If anything?
Mothiur: This is me thinking aloud: so the perennial philosophy, if you want to look at a meta level, I guess I see it as like it’s still following that: What can we abstract from as universal from the embodied elements of different religions? And still following this meta story of abstraction brings us to universality rather than embodiment, and moving into lived experience can also be a way towards understanding what it means to be human. So the prayer is trying to move out and find the abstraction because of that meta story. I find the same stories, similar stories in Islam and Sufism around surrender, that there are elements that say in Islam, etc.. I made you all into tribes so that you may know one another, not that you may deceive one another. There’s parts of the Koran which again, this is about learning to be with one another.
And then it says all life is communities, all life are communities like you from the flower to the to the bird flying. These communities, and I could find, I need to find the exact wording in the Qur’an because the wording is important. But that’s the general gist of those, that these communities are, and that’s the ecocentric perspective, that all communities are… we have given privilege – so that’s also different because it’s not centred on the human being. It doesn’t have the strength of dominion that maybe some of us coming out of the the Christian tradition, although they now talk about stewardship, but it’s still something there for me around this idea that we’re all communities and we live at different levels, and we discern different aspects of the sacred in and through our lived experience.
And then there’s something in the Qu’ran and runs throughout it, and it is: people, use your reason to understand this universal reality beyond the projections that we give, because another name of Allah is Al-Haqq, which means truth. Just means that the reality of the truth beyond the reality that we think is real and which is the perennial philosophy as well. But it’s the thing that lies beyond the finger pointing and this idea that we can look at the world and understand, so that science isn’t really separate. For me, science isn’t separate even from Islam. It’s got a strong scientific tradition and goes through different phases, of course, depending upon the institutions by which a specific spirituality is being conveyed, different times, the institutions by which it was being conveyed. So the richness of the scientific tradition to understand the world that we are in and to observe and therefore come closer to the sacred and this clash between reason and heart, I think is also very important because I feel that the Western tradition has a schism between these aspects in some way, a Cartesian kind of separation. Whereas the values if you go to the source, within Islam and traditions are not from the West, doesn’t have that separation so much between reason and heart. And seeing that emotion is a form of knowledge that brings us closer.
Manda: Brilliant. Yes, emotion is a form of knowledge that brings us closer.
Mothiur: There is a part of the Qur’an which says something about the heart within the mind, bringing these two aspects together.
Manda: Yeah. So that everything arises from that. And what is it that sets Sufism apart from other forms? Because you’re all reading the Koran. Is it in the interpretation of specific passages, or are you following a particular teacher? This is entirely my ignorance, I’m just really curious.
Mothiur: I’ve been ignorant as well of Sufism. I mean, it’s funny because the way I grew up, I mean, my my parents come from an agricultural part of Bangladesh in the 60s in a very rural framing, swept into this country. We don’t get the huge cultural shift that they had to go and see their children going through, a massive shift. But for me, to my parents, you can imagine it’s almost like history is being squeezed. So the Islam that they are communicating to me is an Islam that is very conservative, very how it has to be done in this form. And so I grew up thinking Sufism was not Islam, but, you know, that’s how I was taught. Sufism is it’s not really it’s not the realis Islam, it’s just a kind of offshoot that’s gone a bit wrong.
And so I didn’t really question, you begin to question things that you don’t even know you can question: the things that you don’t know you don’t know. That kind of area. Then you begin to look into it and go, oh, actually, what is Sufism? And I went on a journey to Bosnia actually a couple years ago, because this is the heart, you could say much of the ancestral wounding in Europe. You know, when Islam was spreading and there was a big, I haven’t got my history quite right, but there was Vienna and Spain had been taken over. But Bosnia, the Bosnian Muslims, and a lot of them were Sufi Muslims.
And so there’s a strong tradition of, I wanted to understand what that indigenous Islam that’s European in a way, what form has it taken? Now, they read the Koran. They sing a lot. There’s a lot of chanting. There’s much more what’s called Zikkid, is that this is another, if I can just relate this, because I think it’s quite funny, maybe it’s something in Christianity as well. But when I was in a comprehensive and we used to sing Christian hymns and lots of the songs and one of the songs was Dance, Dance, Wherever You May Be, I am The Lord of the Dance said he. And one of the teachers wanted us to keep moving to it, and moving. And the other teacher’s like “Don’t, you can’t move, sit still.” And the other teacher is “No, no, move if you want to move.”
So it’s these different world views of what it means to, how to engage with your spirituality. And so Zikir is the saying of the name of Allah. And it’s also a movement as well. And now you can see in the mainstream Islam that the Zikir has become very like, oh, no, that’s that’s sort of this alternative thing. We shouldn’t be doing that. And so there’s been a sort of cut off, but Zikir is very central to Sufism. So to me, they’re just different limbs, of different ways of experiencing an encounter with the sacred that you’re searching for this longing with direct experience through the form of your body.
Manda: Quite a mystical element to Sufism that might not be there in some of the more traditionalist hardcore, ‘read the book, say the stuff’ versions. Is that fair?
Mothiur: Yeah, I’d say that. I’m not in myself even quite clear what makes mysticism, mysticism and what makes other forms of spirituality this other form, because I feel there’s a schism there. But I think about spiritual ecology, for example, a lot of the time doesn’t cede ground to the traditional forms of religion. It’s been a big teaching for me to try to work with this rather than see them separate. So like spirituality and religion, they’re sourced in the same love but come forth through the human in different ways. And I mean a big change for me, I mentioned, Wild Monastics with Sam Werner, someone who in training to be a minister in Dartington, near Totnes. And she mentioned to me about her journey through paganism and back to Christianity to find her roots. And it was seeing that understanding. She became a kind of a role model for me to say, OK, if I’m going down this path, what can I bring from my own roots? She saw within western the church as well, having a very strong mystical tradition and roots as well. I tried to uncover that.
Manda: Ok, that makes a lot of sense. So. I feel we could spend the rest of the hour really delving down into this and we might come back to that, but I really also want to have a little bit of a look at New Economy Law and how that arose, and what it’s doing. And then that’ll probably loop us back, because it feels to me that everything that you do is grounded in your sense of being part of a greater whole. And being connected to whatever it is that meets us halfway. But tell us a little bit about setting up New Economy Law. What it is, what it does, where it’s going, how that experience has been for you
Mothiur: After having this experience, either at that time I could go back into work -the experience of I mentioned in 2012, or step into something unknown and uncertain and follow this enquiry, a living enquiry to understand, and try to make my work a pilgrimage of identity. This is what there’s this phrase I’d come to mean I came from a pilgrimage of identity, understand myself through my work. So that’s why I guess the thread came through for New Economy law. And it started with Polly Higgins. I mentioned she invited me, I was doing a workshop with her about how could communities protect their local environment, the local ecology to safeguard their local environment. And she put me in touch with a community up in Scotland, in Falkirk, who were struggling against, resisting coalbed methane gas extraction, a form of, similar to fracking. This was in 2012/13. So years before it came down to Balcombe and to England. Scotland was almost like the first testing ground with very poor communities that gone through those four phases to go through with coming towards commercial extraction of unconventional gas extraction. And in England, it never really got beyond phase two.
But in Scotland, we got to phase four. This was going to be the first commercially viable facilities to go through all these phases. The community didn’t even know this was happening. By the fourth phase something clicked and they were now resisting it from becoming commercially up for question. It would have been the first… you can imagine once you’ve got one, that becomes a precedent for many others. So this was going to be a big fight. And DONG Energy, which was the company that got taken over by INEOS, which is owned by RATCLIFF, which yeah, the biggest, richest person. So it was a huge fight. I mean, this is like a giant Goliath, this tiny community. And I at the time, I was thinking after this workshop, love into law means building relationships through the aggression and shadows that we carry, like how do we really understand this fight that we engage in?
And planning law, I’d begun seeing it as a playing lawyer, seeing it as a really crucible where all these different interests are coming together. How could the community stand for itself from its values and not engage in the fight was its first step, but engage from a sense of love and care for who they are and where they live, and their place. So the charter, the idea of the community charter, developed from that, which was to start with four questions, Why did you move here? What do you want for your grandchildren? Very simple questions. What do you see in here that gives you a sense of happiness? And they talked about the swans, and this was that maybe communities just don’t talk to each other. We just don’t engage in that level. The people could just discuss in a free way and start to draw threads together. And we developed the full charter from that, which set out the things that what we call the intangible assets, the community, the sense of sanctuary that the lake nearby or the pool nearby. All of these things are intangible assets. And the legal hook was to call this the cultural heritage. Because of the Environmental Impact Assessment Directive, the project has to assess the impact of their project on its environment, the water tables and the air, and also cultural heritage, which is normally the hard, tangible assets.
So the argument we were bringing was this impacts also upon the intangible assets, because there’s no strict definition of cultural heritage. It was enough of a hook not to be a strong legal, but it was enough of a hook to engage in the legal framework. So to call for a Public Inquiry and to draw witnesses that would be witness to the impact on their sense of identity, that this community was having. And then also bringing other witnesses that would also try to frame this within a sense of the importance of values for sustainable development. So we’ve begun building this site and it brought in many more communities together. So it started off with this one for the community, because then we were in a public enquiry, three or four more, what were called community councils adopted the charter. And this is, of course, just stepping in to uncertainty. That this was not a project I was envisaging. It was more like, again, coming from the spiritual sense of uncertainty, of not working with predict and control mechanisms, working with uncertainty, and respond to life as it unfolds, kind of this emergence. And so just always being aware what’s happening and saying this feels what needs to happen.
And so drawing these communities together, and then those seven communities, when it came to the public enquiry, that body, inspectorate, put the communities up as one of the main players at the front table. So it was Falkirk Communities, Scottish Environment Protection Agency, Falkirk Council, and the developer, has the four main bodies. So they become representing the whole community in a way. And then even more people came and joined. And there is this growing sense of this real grounded body. They weren’t being represented by an NGO, they weren’t being represented by Friends of the Earth Scotland. There were themselves, being supported to represent themselves, to represent their voice on this platform. And that sense of literacy, that sense of you can call it a franchise, an economic crunch, the sense of agency in your life to be able to begin to make steps, and not give it to another body who steps in to say, we will do it for you.
That, I think is really important. So this sense of agency that was growing at that time, that was a that really helped them meet their own councillors and tell them what was important to them. That council, so much smaller communities as well, in Scotland, far less people. So everybody kind of knows each other, I guess to an extent.
This got then called up to the Scottish ministers at the time when the referendum was happening in Scotland, and the community was like, oh, this is a done deal. The Scottish ministers have called up because they just want to make it pass and we’re just going to lose. I said, look, this is a key time. Like Scotland is now looking for reform to be separate from Westminster. If you say to your ministers, can you champion a different story from what’s happening at Westminster, maybe they’ll take up something. Maybe they’ll try to see that you, the community, who they really do want to serve, want to have a different story. There was a letter that was written. I’m not saying to what impact. That’s what happened, when the Scottish ministers came up with we are going to act differently, from we are going to call a moratorium. We’re going to do this big public enquiry. And the communities were communicated with through that process. And through the chartering network, there was four at the time, we carried out this what we call Community Centred Consultations. We wanted to send to the community, the centre, not just to be a consultancy body where tthyere’s this normal way of carrying out consultations where the government says, you know, what is it that you want to tell us? And then they may give you time, but might not listen. We wanted to give it as themselves as the centre of their own agency, the site of their own agency.
And as the community counsel holds something for themselves and then communicate it from a very, not just to copy something, but to really get to a real grounded sense of why they were impacted. And they came up with some really incredible stories about things, like they would say, it’s not that we’re against it, but why is it that these jobs are going to people from the outside of the community? Why isn’t the money coming to us as a community, or where is the money actually going to, why is it being siphoned off? We’re not seeing it. So they were coming up with things that were very local, very place based. I think that’s also something that New Economy Law’s about: place based on understandings of our community, of integrity, the development centres on our lived experience as communities, as peoples. That grew my own understanding.
This was new to me as well. Being a lawyer that worked for TFL, or working on big projects. For me, the community was just a number of letters. I would receive thousands of letters of anger, and trying to manage them so that it doesn’t get the project manager off their direction that they want. So we want to give them what you need to do legally, but to keep you on your path. That’s what my advice that I’ll be giving. And now I’m learning behind these letters is the whole soil of human experience, the whole… yeah, the whole sense that needs to be given more space, and needs to be the root from which we grow rather than this abstraction that goes back to that same question where we keep abstracting. I’m saying we privilege the abstraction over the practise, over the lived experience of the daily lives that we actually lead, and not give that privilege. And so New Economy Law, in a sense, is trying to.. when I say new economy, what we think of the economy as ‘oikos’ and ‘nomia’, like, ‘our household’. The management of a house, it’s trying to say we don’t, we shouldn’t be managing it from this abstraction. We should be managing it from who we are as humans in our home, to bring in that sense of safety and care that the law should be giving.
Because that was the first question with the full community when I first went there, when I was invited up, one of them, I think, as Maria said to me, why isn’t the law protecting us? It was this plaintive, why is that the law protecting us? Because they have this sense that the law was meant to be protecting them. Is that such a crazy thing to be thinking? Yes, of course. The law should be protecting us. It is there, the refuge in Dharma, when we talk about the Buddhist tradition, the dharma is the law, but they see it as the refuge. They see it as a place of rest. And our law does not give us rest. It takes us away from ourselves.
Manda: So that sounds… there’s so many angles to this, particularly that idea that as a lawmaker in planning, your job had been to make sure that the thousands of letters that people write saying you cannot do this, don’t ever actually knock the project off. I had always thought that, as a person who writes the letters going, are you kidding? You can’t seriously be going to do this, that actually nobody’s reading them, or at least nobody’s ever intending to actually take any notice. So it’s kind of interesting to know that that’s really the case. Bringing us back, can you give us a sense of how long ago this was and and how long it took? Because fracking only really hit my radar after, I think, the 2014 referendum. And it sounds like this was starting before that. For those outside of the U.K., that’s the referendum in Scotland on Scottish independence, which chose to remain with England because the frightener that was put on at the time was if you leave the UK, then you’ll have to leave the EU, and you don’t want to leave the EU. And look how that turned out. So anyway, Indyref 2 on its way, but give us a sense of the timeline of when this was happening, and how long it took to unfold.
Mothiur: Imagine this was 2013 when it started. So this is all about the public enquiry. So this ends up in a moratorium 2015. We had these intensive consultations over 2016, I think about 16 communities gave their responses. And when you look at the Scottish minister’s response to the community consultation, which led to the ban on fracking, he said the level of community engagement, the speed of the response we’ve had is huge, and there is no social.. he even used the words, there is no social licence for fracking at this particular time because of the concerns. Of course, this was a general ban. Now INEOS, then did a judicial review against that decision saying, of course, still this decision on the Falkirk was held in abeyance while this judicial review is being carried out. That’s 2017 18. Then the decision by the judge was that the ban was legal, lawful, and INEOS didn’t carry out an appeal on that. So by 2020, I think INEOS finally withdrew its application. If that had gone through, that would have been the beginning of the commercial like what we’ve seen in America at the beginning of the year. So that committee held the burden of this. And this is because they had the burden. But they are not being seen that they have, seen for that. A lot of them went through a huge stress in their lives, and holding that enquiry, and I just want to honour what that community went through in taking on that burden.
Manda: And are you still in touch with any of these people, the ones who really fought for this? Because it sounds to me I can imagine it’s very, very stressful. It made a huge impact on their lives. But also, you talked earlier about agency. This must have given an extraordinarily powerful sense of agency to have taken on the might of something like Ineos, to have faced down a Scottish government that sounds like it was ready to rubber stamp the planning and to have built a sense of community that really felt like it was worthwhile. From the way you’ve described it, they were invited to express what it was that really mattered to them in their community, and they did so and they were heard. And it seems to me that that’s one of the steps that we all need to take in healing the wounds of the separation, scarcity and powerlessness, the wounding of our time. So are you still in touch with anybody from that time and that place?
Mothiur: Yeah. I’m still in touch with Maria, and I still have little pieces of work from Maria, particularly around again, this all goes into the land reform. Scotland’s going through a massive land – and I think this is at the core of a lack of agency in economic terms, going all the way back to the Charter of the Forest. And the Charter of the Forest, if people don’t know, it’s not really talked about much, but came out at the same time as the Magna Carta. This goes to the story of, I would say, you know, the franchise of equality. So Magna Carta was the King having direct lineage to God, and all the rules and arbitrariness coming from the King, but the barons saying we want some agency, so that Magna Carta was the beginning of an equality that put into a document this sense of the law, even the King cannot be above the law. That’s an important move, step. That’s why the Magna Carta… the Charter of the Forest is a document that came and gave rights to ordinary labourers and peasants who were working on the land and were excluded from their land, where they were foraging for food, for subsistence rights, and they were starving. And so the rights of commoning, that’s what came through there, the rights to forage on land, and take wood and involve building homes. So all these rights came from that. But this idea of enclosing an economic… so wood at the time was timber, was the economic commodity at the time for building ships, so enclosed for the forest. And then, you know, you now have oil and gas, which is being the that the territory which is excluded and then closed.
So the charter for me is building upon the story. How do we bring and give ourselves the resources for equality and agency? And still, land is a massive issue, that land in Scotland is mostly owned by the lairds. And now there has been a big shift towards land reform in Scotland. Very important. And so some of the stuff I’m working on in Scotland is allowing this land reform, where two of the communities are still separate villages, but the land in between is looking to be developed and they’re saying they don’t want that; development is going to remove their identity. So it’s, again, the way in which authorities and authority is managed in different institutions, and not through our legal system, which privileges a particular development idea. So community is still alive. And the one thing that maybe came out of that is that the community councils are working together much more. So through the Scottish Falkirk work, a lot of the community councils, I was representing a number of them, 17, twenty four of them at one point. And so a few of them are still acting together in concert as a much more grounded level of political agency than, say, the District Council, the Falkirk council, which is still quite removed now, you could say, from the ground level. So for me, municipalism, I think it’s called, is a frame that’s used quite a lot. And I’ve be working with Francis Northrup, who works for the New Economy Foundation. She’s been holding an enquiry called Around New Municipalism.
Manda: And I’m wondering where this takes people who’ve been given that sense of agency, who perhaps have a concept of new municipalism and all that it means, and whether the politics changes in the local area? Because we were talking to Pam Barrett a week or three back, who was part of the independent group that basically took over Buckfastleigh Town Council, and are demonstrating what can be done by an activist local group that understands the need to the local community and actually cares about it. Because what seems quite striking when we begin to unpick things is the extent to which… some people go into local politics for an easy life and a cushy number, and to make political points, and some people go in actually to transform the local community. And we sound like in Falkirk, we got a lot of people who are ready to transform the local community. And is Flatpack Democracy. Peter McFadyen’s work, is it reaching deep into those communities? Or do we still need to do some work to help spread that idea?
Mothiur: Yeah, I see Peter McFadyen’s work and Flatpack Democracy in the small towns as being really significant to see how the economic franchise can grow, how we can begin to have economic agency over our lives, or have agency over our economic lives. And I think that’s really important because we’ve got this sense of the franchise is just political. It’s like we’ve got the votes, so therefore we’ve got a democracy. But really, the economic franchise has never really happened. We’ve never had the sense of agency in economic life and we don’t even think we’re meant to be even having that. We just as employees or we’ve got to you know, we’ve got to be subservient to something, rather than sensing our agency in our lives has to be all these different levels. Ecological, economic, political. And law is where that comes through. And so how to engender the question of, like, revising our sense of what it means to be human so that the economic is an aspect of how we engage with each other, whether it’s in our small towns or the urban landscape. And the urban landscape gets much more complex.
And this is where the decolonial story comes in. The histories of colonialism, of Bengal culture, or Indian or Caribbean, all these other cultures that come through usually in the cityscape. To find agency and centring on.. these stories are still hidden. Like I only reconnected my own history to my life until about three or four years ago. This other thread, I just saw it as a thread I needed to escape from rather than as want to move into. So that’s the inner oppression that has happened through way of education, that shames something in you about your history, about your colour, that doesn’t want you to even acknowledge it, say we’re all universal. So I don’t want to be talking about it, we’re all multi-cultural, rather than really engaging at a more vulnerable level, saying can we engage in our differences and hear and still see each other?
Manda: Yeah, and that sounds almost like a whole other podcast. I would really, really like to go into your experiences of exactly that, of being told we’re all multicultural, so we don’t want to engage with colonialism, and then realising that we absolutely have to engage with it. And each of us has to look at where we came from to see where we might go, and the vulnerabilities that that brings up. I am really in awe of the courage of your process, but we’re heading, we’re very nearly at the end. And it feels to me that if we go down there, either we end up recording a whole second podcast now, or we come back to it at another time. And we haven’t got to Extinction Rebellion, which was what brought you to me, because Gill Coombs wrote me an email and said, hey, we’ve got this amazing guy who set up XR Muslims. And I’d really like to know more about how you came to do that, along with New Economy Law and all of the other activist things that you were doing. Where did the XR strand come in?
Mothiur: I haven’t even mentioned Extinction Rebellion, which has been a massive part of my life for the last two years. And I’ve given up so much of my life to that movement because I believed in it so much. When it came through actually through Totnes, somebody really central to XR mentioned there’s this movement, and it feels like really important what it’s doing. I’m going to go dedicate my life to it. I went to a talk by him because I really trusted him, and the principles and values that by which Extinction Rebellion holds itself, the principle values. Those to me felt like the orientation we need to move towards, to move toward an economic franchise that is a political economy that is orientated away from the accumulation of wealth, because that is what is destroying us. In that article I wrote in Resurgence, it talks about all previous civilisations have destroyed themselves because the short term interests unravel the long term interests of society. So for me, the civil society element, bringing together community level to say we have agency, rather than fighting just against the other, the oligarchy, is all about strengthening our sense of civil responsibility, our sense of civil rights, which is why I was talking about in the article, which goes back to the old sense of Marx called civil rights, that we don’t – if we separate the individual from our community, we’ve already made a mistake at that very engendering level.
And so that for me is the story we’re trying to bring forth through New Economy and working with specific communities. But also on my personal life as well, I guess Islam for me, but spirituality shouldn’t be an all consuming thing, has to be part of your daily life as a householder. So I’m trying to give more boundaries to myself to say that there is learning to be had. Not from this ‘Everything has to be sacrificed’. This idea of the hero’s journey, which I think we get really entranced by. But let’s look for the heroine’s journey to the one that’s gathering nuts in the background. We still need to feed each other. I feel in the Eastern tradition, that is something more of that collective aspect, the ordinariness of our sacredness.
Manda: I love that the ordinariness of sacredness, because I don’t think the sacred is that ordinary. But I think we can make it part of our daily lives and then our daily lives become unordinary, more than ordinary, deeply, deeply unordinarily something or other. And I’m wondering, how is it that you bring that ordinariness into law, into justice? Because what I’m hearing from you is that your process of law, your practise of law is about finding fairness and bringing that so that the law does protect people. That question from Maria in Falkirk. Why is the law not protecting us? That you’re bringing that into your life and your work and your activism. Can you say a bit about that?
Mothiur: I think I mean, yeah, it’s about justice, in the end, it’s about what do we understand by justice? And, you know, I teach also constitutional law at a university and that’s been quite a learning for me as well, this idea of that being constitutional moments in history. And so when we think that England is one of three uncodified countries with three uncodified constitutions. New Zealand and Israel, the other two, uncodified, so they’re not written down. And this is the whole… Brexit, the whole thing that’s been around is unwritten constitution and lawyers trying to say, but this is the constitutional meaning of parliamentary privilege, or the whole prorogation, what are the limits of prorogation? All that isn’t written down. So it’s like we’re in this kind of flux. And there have always been moments where constitutional movements where something new can arise. And I feel like we’re in this moment where Scotland could be leaving. What is Britain? What does it mean to be English? What do we want for ourselves as a country? What’s the opportunity in the crisis, for ourselves as ordinary human beings to come together to look at the history. The Putney debate that were happening in the 17th century when a similar moment that led to the parliament actually coming into existence and the levellers, and what was lost then of that time around the the movement for universal suffrage, and this idea of economic suffrage that we still haven’t grasped what can we move towards from that?
Manda: But what can we do, Mothiur? We have so little time left. We’re heading for a tipping point so fast, and if from the 7th century to now, we still haven’t got anywhere near economic equity, how are we going to do it in the next decade, which is what it’s going to take? It feels like we’re running headfirst into a political brick wall that is just, it’s a wall of will. It’s an inadequacy of vision. And the people at the top do not strike me as being particularly interested in changing the trajectory.
Mothiur: Unless we change, unless we see that we don’t need to stand back. But parliament is there, the idea of parliament to speak, partly, to speak, and that they are, it’s representative of the people, but the legitimacy of parliament, of their being representative? That’s the question I want to put in, because when you look at how parliament evolved at that time in around the time of the levellers, there was the New Model Army, which was similar to XR, ordinary people coming together and saying we want something different. And the New Model Army brought something called the Agreement of the People. And the Agreement of the People’s idea of universal suffrage for everybody, labourers and people without property. Now, the grandees who saw people coming rising up and said, the idea of liberty and property being linked together at the heart of our idea of freedom is one that needs to be shifted. And we still have the power because parliament is, its is legitimacy is through us. And so we still have the right to question the legitimacy if the ideas of society are that we don’t need to link it in that way. Let’s look in a different way as to what is suffrage and what is. And we can have these questions and these debates if we can really grasp the question, if we can really grasp our own agency and autonomy in our communities together.
Manda: Ok, so that’s it. If we can grasp our own agency and autonomy in our communities together, then we can persuade the government that they have legitimacy because they are there to act on our behalf. We are not just the sheeple to be herded around at their whim, to be allowed to die at their whim, because as far as they can see, we don’t serve any useful purpose. Am I cross? Yes, but we don’t need to let that flow over into the rest of the podcast. Thank you Mothiur. We have absolutely run out of time this time. It’s been so inspiring to listen to you and the journey that you’ve been on. And I really want to thank you for the courage of your sharing, for the courage of taking the path that you’ve taken. But then to come and talk about it on an open podcast feels to me huge. And I want to honour that. And thank you for what you’re doing, have done, are doing, will do, and say that definitely we would like to come back for a second podcast at some point. So thank you in the meantime.
So that’s it for another week. Huge thanks to Mothiur, for the depth of his experience and for the clarity and breadth of his thinking. It really did feel this week like we were just getting going and I would dearly have liked to spoken for another hour. So Mothiur and I have agreed that we’ll come back and revisit constitutional law on the ways we could reframe our government systems once he has moved to Brighton and got settled in.
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