A track on Echo & The Bunnymen’s 1997 album Evergreen became their first single after an almost ten-year hiatus. ‘Nothing Lasts Forever’ remains a lament to the misery of impermanence; the assumption that the perfect moment is an end goal, a ‘happy ever after’ that completes a circle, and promises to be a transformative and unchanging constant. All we need to do is seek it out, whether through hard work or good fortune; and once it is in our grasp, hold on to it and never let it go. The British post-punk band had more reason than most to be confronted with the precarity of existence. A result of the complacent and bullish belief in invincible and eternal youth. 

‘I want it all, I want it now.’

They were part of an explosion of synth-pop in the late 1970s that came to be known as New Wave. Post-punk guitar bands were embracing exciting technological innovations that meant they stopped thrashing chords and started playing arpeggios. Echo & The Bunnymen were among the many artists experimenting with the new kid on the block – a drum machine. It was a time when even rock bands were seizing the opportunity to utilise the latest gadgets, in order to digitally enhance their sound. In 1980, however, Pete de Freitas became the band’s drummer, rendering their drum machine obsolete. The transition to technology taking place around them could take a back seat. Or so they thought. In 1989, de Freitas was killed in a motorcycle accident, a premature death at a time when cultural icons including Ian Curtis of Joy Division and Marc Bolan were dying at shockingly young ages. They seemingly had it all, until death, the ultimate transition as Hina Khalid describes in her Last Word, came calling.

‘Nothing ever lasts forever.’

In death we transition to an unknown dimension. Perhaps an afterlife, perhaps reincarnation, perhaps the void of nothingness, depending on our ideological and spiritual convictions. But in life too, we are in continual transition. As Leyla Jagiella notes, tiny particles of matter that constitute our being fuse, function and power to serve the purpose of keeping us alive. Upon expiration, decay, and subsumed into the environment, they become a part of other clumps of particles whether they be human or not. It is this that Jagiella ponders while gazing upon a much-neglected plant, which has been in her possession for over two decades, a fixture in both her habitat and her biology: ‘We are therefore not simply just the successful end-point of a transition. We remain in a state of transition even as human beings. The boundaries and limits of our existence as humans are not absolute because we constantly merge into other beings and they merge into us. Be it through the air that we breathe in and breathe out, be it through the other beings that we consume, cooked or uncooked. Be it through our own bodies that become nutrition for others both during our lifetimes and after death.’

Echo & the Bunnymen appeared to foreshadow this merging of sentient life with inorganic matter, problematising the separation of the two, the one providing nourishment for the other and vice versa. ‘Echo’ represents the drum machine, while ‘the Bunnymen’ were the humans playing along to the tune of the machine. Pete de Freitas stepped into the breach and metamorphosed into an echo. A music trend taking hold among musicians of his generation, rebuffed. The slow crawl to trans-humanism stuttered by a young man’s desire not to be replaced by a cacophony of wires and electrics that emit inhuman sounds. Human sounds are imperfect, that is their charm; while the precision of machines is unsurpassed, clinical, impersonal. But ultimately, de Freitas too would die, too soon, too young, with the force of technology more than ready to quickly and confidently step back into the void. 

Musicians who leave the earthly realm at the height of their fame leave behind a legacy they can no longer control. A body of work independent of its creator. The meaning of sounds, originally erupting out of time-specific emotions and contexts, will evolve according to the changing tastes and vogue of evolving youth culture of any given era. The creation of culture and knowledge and the ways they will be packaged and presented knows no sovereign. One generation’s lauded cultural golden child is doomed to be the next generation’s uncool. And that’s ok. Sensitivities and attitudes should be allowed to sojourn, while at the same moment remaining constant to the subjective experience of the individual. At the same time as Echo & the Bunnymen were dealing with irreversible change and confronting the terrible toll of death, they were witness to the transformational impact of technology. Vacillating and dabbling with their human and non-human drum machine, they understood the robotic ability to detect which sounds were in vogue, or ‘the next best thing’ or just ‘the thing’. Nothing should last forever, after all.

How can we even hope to transition into forever, if such an aspiration ignites us? After all, transitions are a natural process, deterring stagnation and inviting rebirth, stirring the spark of new energy into an existing mix. An unchanging constant isn’t necessarily the panacea we might think, however appealing the comfort of a familiar state may be. A change is as good as a rest, goes the old adage; don’t you ever wonder what it means to be evergreen when all around you is gradually shifting? A transition itself can be a temporary metamorphosis, a re-wilding or a re-sculpting or even a refining. Such was the case, thankfully, for Robert Hainault, who details in this issue his flirtation with right-wing New Atheism. Brought up to suppress his part-Pakistani heritage, feelings of self-loathing manifest in a passionate rejection of all that the shameful DNA, particles, atoms he harbours, represents. His mother could not bring herself to speak of her Pakistani father. The pain of finding a huge chunk of his family origins dead to him. An inability to empathise with a mother traumatised by the experience of being a white-passing, mixed-race child in a racist northern UK industrial town in the 1970s. Laden down with a dirty dark secret. I hope they don’t find out the truth about me. This maelstrom led Hainault to fall under the spell of far-right anti-Islamists and their populist rhetoric. At last, the realisation that only by coming to terms with his identity, rather than resenting it, would he find peace, enabled Hainault to transition out of the extremist folds in which he was seeking an elusive truth:

I was to learn that the reality of being even remotely associated with Islam in Britain, even amongst my own socially liberal generation, was far from simple, and would be asking myself how, despite being once so determined to defend my Islamic heritage, I would end up entrenched in anti-Islam politics. Over the next few years, I would shift from being an active member of the Doncaster Socialist Workers’ Party and a committed Marxist marching against the war in Iraq, to being asked to contribute material to the British wing of the French far-Right movement Generation National Identitaire.

This process of change, an ideological detour down the avenue of hate, in Hainault’s case, begs the question whether transitions are an act of transformation from one self to another? Or are they the expression of a different part of what it means to form the self at any given time? Another music icon from the 1980s, Madonna, became the queen of reinvention over the following decades. While Echo & The Bunnymen grew into and within the boundaries of their New Wave-era sound, regardless of whether they used a drum machine or an actual drummer while de Freitas was alive, Madonna transitioned and mutated and contorted in every possible way to stay in the upper echelons of favoured musical trends. 

In 1997, newly fascinated by Jewish mysticism and attempting to continue to ride the wave of pop music highs, Madonna worked on the Ray of Light album that was released the following year. With some, but not all, parallels to the journey of rebirth experienced by a new convert alluded to by amina wadud in her conversion story also in this issue, Madonna flushed away her chirpy pop star image and submerged her brand into a new-age dimension that was in keeping with the times. Emerging from the frivolity of mainstream music-lite to reveal a new introspection to her art, the move away from the artificial sounds of the 1980s, towards more authentic, real, deeper sounds, brought an explosion of fusion that illustrates the interchangeability of spirituality across a spectrum of dogmatic persuasions. Ankur Barua, who teaches at the Faculty of Divinity, University of Cambridge, recently wrote of the conjunctions in the histories of Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam, in a subversion of the popular view that they are distinctly separate with little or no theological convergence of thought. His exploration of tawhid and tasawwuuf and bhakti and yoga in devotional poetry reveals the transitioning motifs and shared allegories of love across these religious worldviews. He gives the example of the sixteenth century Indian Sufi Muslim poet Ibrahim Khan, known as Ras Khan, who became a devotee of the Hindu deity Krishna and ‘recognised that this bhakti-shaped vision was more than malleable for Sufi hermeneutic recalibration’. Ras Khan spent much of his life creating tasawwuuf and bhaktic devotional poetry.

Of course, Islam has witnessed many movements working to inspire the masses to embrace a particular sectarian understanding of faith. The continual transitioning of what it means to be a Muslim has occurred since its origins. It was not long after Islam was revealed that a group of Muslim thinkers known as the Mu’tazilites introduced the concept of rationalism and individual free will in Islamic discourse. But rationalist thought was immediately attacked, although it managed to thrive in Islamic intellectual circles, particularly flourishing during the Islamic Golden Age and informing Shi’i thinking even today. The Ash’ari school of thought, founded by former Mu’tazalite Abu al-Hasan al-Ashari, came to dominate Sunni Islam with its emphasis on sacred scriptures and orthodoxy. Sharia is mentioned in the Qur’an only once and literally means ‘the way’. Yet the zeal to establish the one and only way has caused Islam to career from one doomed sectarian epiphany to the next. However, the journey of Islamic reform continues, arguably less successfully. Renewal should be energising in the course of religious practise, but the reality is too often a return to coercive power. As Ziauddin Sardar and the late Merryl Wyn Davies write in the introduction to CM10: Sects, ‘however much sectarian affiliation may begin with critical reason and a reformist instinct, it transforms into a complacent mindset that not only shuns genuine critique but becomes quite irrational’. Ideological transitions are regularly well-intentioned. It may seem preposterous, but the Taliban, Hizb ut Tahrir, and Salafism ‘all began as dissenting reform movements seeking justice and equity’.

The desire to seek out and serve a higher purpose fuels many of the transitional ideals that motivate revolutionaries and change-makers. Cleansing a context from decay, corruption and dishonour often provides the motivation to re-configure. It was an appetite for profundity in the later 1990s that Madonna’s bold new sound would lead to her being credited with not just bringing electronic dance music to the mainstream, but infusing influences drawn from as far afield as the Middle East and South Asia, surfing all the religions in-between. Ground-breaking, the queen of reinvention was applauded for her innovation and for being at the forefront of the fusion world. In-between swapping music CDs with friends and discovering raves in the industrial wastelands of London’s docklands, my young self sneered at what I regarded as Madonna’s flat-footed attempts to remain relevant. Perhaps this was the precocity of youth, whether or not at the cusp of middle-age, I still regard Madonna as a hot mess. It prevented me from appreciating her chameleon-like ability to transcend genres, styles and generations. Just as intolerant Wahhabis reject any practise of Islam that isn’t based on the rituals and pieties of seventh century Arabia. Who doesn’t remember a period in their life when they were unbearably rigid ideological purists? The late American anthropologist, David Graeber, in his posthumously published influential work, The Dawn of Everything, uses the term ‘schismogenesis’ to describe people’s tendency to define themselves against one another. Subcultures offered a sense of belonging to those who cultivated an image of themselves based on what they were not. Music, attitude, cultural references, and style were the uniform of their tribe. Mods versus Rockers, Teddy Boys versus immigrants and anti-racists, pop enthusiasts versus ravers and metalheads, Friends versus Seinfeld, Sufis versus Salafis, Al Ghazali versus Ibn Rushd, mainstream versus alternative, blind faith versus rationalism. 

It is Hainault’s moving, confessional and raw testimony that ardently reveals the necessity of transitioning across tribes. Barua tells us the devotional poets of early South Asian history developed ‘interfaces of mutual intelligibility’ in stark contrast to another far-right plague, Hindutva fascism. Cheered on from the side-lines by the alt-right, and driven by its populist beacon Modi, a strain of Indian society is determined to erase Islamic culture from any and all narratives of Hindustan. To remain entrenched in a set of views or attitudes is to deny the opportunity of growth over a lifetime. Sticking to our parochial guns, the inability to value the plurality of thought, a refusal to transition out of our tunnel vision is like a form of intellectual death. Pete de Freitas died too young. We know too many cut down in their prime, taken too soon, and we feel robbed of all they still had to offer, all that they could become, all the twists and turns that life’s trajectory would lead them on. But let us remind ourselves, theirs is the ultimate transition, not the final transition. And as their bodies return to the natural world, they experience transcendent growth, into new life, cells and matter that flow back into the universe, facilitating the cycle of rebirth in nature’s wisdom. Life is a series of drafts, to be re-worked and reprised, as the Islamic reformers’ journey seeking paradise exemplifies. An endless experimenting and transitioning into the next (no pressure to be best) version of yourself, whoever and whatever it is you are. 

Death is destructive but an inevitable part of the cycle of life. But what of the transitions upon which nature, crucial to the sustenance of life, depends? The stability of our climate and the predictability of distinctly changing seasons form the foundation of our world systems. Winter is Winter because it is not Summer. Spring in the UK signals an emergence from the dormancy of long, cold, dark months. A sign for nature to wake from its cosy slumber and busily create new life in the form of plants, flora, fauna, animals and crops. Spring brings new shoots, Summer a modicum of sun, and Autumn an abundance that is harvested to sustain us through the harshness of winter. In her poignant essay, Naomi Foyle laments our trashing of our environment that has lead to an unwieldly transitioning natural cycle and subsequent climate collapse. With climate chaos comes food and energy insecurity, triggering the loss of livelihoods, poverty, wars competing for scarce resources, and more death, more destruction. But before the ultimate, but not final, transition comes, we can either be defeated by this terrifying apocalyptic passage, or devoted to affecting change. Foyle has chosen the latter:

With the years left to me, I intend to be involved in co-creating, connecting and protecting safe havens in the storms to come: places and communities that will act as seed banks of human gifts, greenhouses for regenerative, pluralist visions of how human beings could live equitably and sustainably on the planet we evolved to inhabit. In my experience the Muslim Institute is one such powerful hothouse and I am always grateful for an invitation to join its conversations.

Foyle’s words resonate as a well of emotion tumbles from her words. Organisations and intellectual movements that champion plurality of thought, which are unafraid to carve out spaces welcoming critical thinkers turfed out and shunned by the mainstream, bringing into their fold enquiring minds that have been pushed to the fringes by a self-appointed centre, seeking place, belonging and sanctuary. These ‘hothouses’ should be at the forefront of courageous and pioneering conversations of reform and renewal. They must embrace the tumult that comes with transitioning away from old models and patterns of organising that perpetuate entitlement, patriarchy, nepotism, and stagnation. Injecting fresh new energy into a well-oiled machine is the secret to remaining relevant and avoiding decay. Synergy and the exchange of ideas, just like the inhalation and expiration of molecules during and after the expanse of a life, expelled into the ether to form the building blocks of the future of all that is around. Trying to hang on to the ghosts of the past, without learning from them, is a fatal mistake. After all, nothing lasts forever, not in any guise.

Who occupies the centre anyway, if wherever we locate the core of a community, an axis of power, a global order, a body of thought, is in constant transition? The Iranian philosopher Seyyed Hossein Nasr described the West’s construct of globalisation as based on a culture of waste and the inhumanity of brutal competition; something the sadly departed David Graeber, gone too soon, as the best of us are, would strongly agree with. Globalisation and its partner in crime, neoliberalism, have trashed the natural world and exploited it mercilessly, much to Foyle’s anguish. Inspired by modernity and its dethroned younger sibling postmodernism, the impact was not uplift and newness, but a descent into a dystopian simulacrum. Modernist theories promised to benefit humankind by embracing reason, knowledge and progress. Postmodernism went further, declaring the hollow shell of subjective existence to be devoid of truth. Each contributed to the globalisation project that rejected a theocentric view of reality. By removing God and putting man at its centre we transitioned into a society of consumers. How apt was Madonna’s synth-pop Material Girl of the 1980s. Globalisation, modernity and postmodernism were so well-intentioned, yet wreaked their havoc, and extracted and mistreated our natural world. Nothing lasts forever, even nature’s patience and fortitude in the face of sustained attack. 

Nature is transitioning to a slow potential death, and if it is to gasp its final breath, will take us, the perpetrators of the crime, down with it. The statistics and research are unmistakable, despite the ostrich-headed assertions of deniers such as Saudi Arabia and the Emirates, the oil giants and corporations, and legions of Trump supporters, Brexiteers, and conspiracy theorists. Where do we go from here? Boaventura de Sousa Santos is unequivocal. We are (finally?) transitioning away from the status quo augmented in the twentieth century: ‘the Eurocentric Western cultural universe comes from a long trajectory of historical victories that seems to have come to an end. Europe spent five centuries dominating and teaching the non-European world and finds itself today increasingly in the condition of no longer being able to dominate nor having anything to teach.’ As we see in Rehan Jamil and Asyia Iftikhar’s photo essay of British Pakistanis contemplating 75 years since Pakistan declared independence from the British Empire, the repercussions of all that Santos describes, still resound. More than once I’ve heard it said; We are here because you were over there. And how has Pakistan navigated the transition to independence? Dare I even ask? India descends into fascism yet at least Bangladesh, once designated East Pakistan, is relatively less economically destitute. Or is it? Let’s look a little closer, at the Land of Rivers. Utterly at the mercy of climate mayhem, rising seas, incessant and destructive floods and the reclaiming of the land by oceans. Life is cheap in the face of the globalists’ grand game. How do we persuade the elites they will soon run out of resources, and end up without even a habitable corner of the earth they can claim for themselves? As globalisation, and its consequential reaction deglobalisation, accelerates the transition out of the Anthropocene epoch to a post-human future, we are facing deep uncertainty. Ziauddin Sardar and his colleagues have described our current period as postnormal times, an in-between period of contradiction, complexity and chaos. Santos uses the term interregnum as ‘a temporal metaphor that points to an ambiguous temporality in which the new society is not yet fully born and the old one has not yet definitively died. It is a time of monsters.’

A transition to a green economy is a solution. But the resistance to a vision and practise that aims to concentrate and nurture power away from an extractive economy to a regenerative one is immense. Tick-box compliance, otherwise known as greenwashing, enables profiteering and exploitative multinational companies to claim a clean, green conscience. They do this while simultaneously absolving themselves of any meaningful action to mitigate climate catastrophe and continuing to pollute and bypass nature’s concerns while prostrating at the altar of capitalism. A just transition, which is what Foyle is likely dedicating herself to, will ensure that profit-driven industrial economies rooted in modernity will be dismantled and resources redistributed to local economies striving for ecosystem restoration. The wealth of the global north was built on the horrors of colonialism. Reparations for the global south who continue to suffer from this economic and emotional trauma, bearing the brunt of climate transition, will be an opportunity to heal the monsters of the past.

But these monsters are indeed in denial. The first generation of Pakistanis, whose children, and grandchildren and great-grandchildren Iftikhar and Jamil spoke to and photographed, were greeted with this denial when they packed up their lives in the hope of something better. Those who transition across borders in planes, boats, trains and on foot are slapped in the face with denial. They are scorned for daring to encroach the shores from whence they didn’t come. From the land of a mother tongue to alien intonations and script. Migration, increasingly caused by planetary chaos, erratic climate, food insecurity, loss of livelihood, is a transition of hope, tragedy and the yearning for something better. Raha Rafii uprooted her life in the pursuit of a career in academia but found nothing but those same monsters in denial. ‘Instead of answers, I found Orientalism at every turn— repackaged, renamed, and rehabilitated, but still recognisable—sculpted into garish, four-cornered texts, with Europe as its centre. These disciplines, these studies, were nothing but a folly, a white man’s vanity project, alone and crumbling on a green hill overlooking a murderous shore.’ 

As Pakistan celebrates 75 years of independence, its transition from a colonised satellite into a flourishing democracy has choked. The country’s 2022 floods, a direct result of the injustice of climate change and the disproportionate impact upon the poorest, who are least responsible for causing this planetary aberration, is one more example of these monsters in denial. All this while the tentacles of Islamism transition society to a more radicalised persuasion. Climate deniers scoff that those campaigning for climate justice through reparations and equity are prophets of doom but the death they are really afraid of is the death of the privileged lifestyle of those in the global north. Hainault may have noticed that far-right populists, climate deniers, and forces of oppression, are not only all monsters in denial, but are nauseating bedfellows. What ugly folly. How long can this interregnum that punishes the global south for the greed of those who pushed globalisation upon the world last? The reckoning will come.

It will come but it won’t be with ease. Those whose existence is cushioned by the brutality of colonialism and the slave trade will resist any attempt to change their circumstance. Even if it is to redistribute wealth more equitably and make the poor less poor. Who doesn’t fear forcible and seemingly detrimental transitions in our material and emotional lives? The profiteering oil and gas and banking industries are major employers, as Yassmin Abdel-Magied’s essay On The Rigs illustrates. These powerful actors will not hesitate to generate unease and insecurity in those reliant on the opportunities they bring. The rise of right-wing populism leaves us in no doubt how easy it is to distract a tremulous population from the real causes of their problems. 

Against all these odds, a just transition is gaining ground in some parts of the world and may well become inevitable. Employment trends are altering as industries respond to societal changes and innovations in working practise. In the same way that agriculture made way for the industrial revolution, and manufacturing was decimated by the service industry, the service industry, which fuelled consumption lifestyles, is now wavering to the power of tech. The transformative impact of technology is being felt all around the world. With economies impacted, it follows that social, cultural and religious spaces become sites of change too and the final frontier is political transition. Much has been made of the impact of technology on our lives. Synth pop, drum machines and the death of imperfect sounds were touted as the future. Pete de Freitas navigated his own encounter with trans-humanism before succumbing to nature’s volition. Is it true that nothing lasts forever? Or will a dystopian horizon inadvertently help to herald a just and green transition that saves future civilisation on earth from both an ultimate and, indeed, a final transition?

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