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OPINION: From Paris to Baga, old pathologies remain

Barely two weeks into a new year, we circle on familiar pathologies - the preoccupations that continue to haunt our societies. Numerous think pieces and articles have attempted to make sense of the events in Paris and Baga, exploring their dynamics and pondering the value and worth of human life and dignity in our times.

In one of the most remarkable of these, writer and art historian Teju Cole unfolds the logic of " unmournable bodies" and the need to stay awake to multiple atrocities committed around the world. To quote Cole on both the murders at French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and in Nigeria: "The enormity of these crimes will shock us all for a long time".

These events serve as reminders of the issues that continue to remain fundamental in our societies, and will not disappear under the cloak of this year's newness, nor be abated by hashtag activism. They demand both an incredible amount of endurance, and a commitment to nuance in the way we speak about the world.

These issues continue to haunt our societies, our conceptualisation of who we are, our reflection of both what this world has become and what future is both necessary and possible. Against this backdrop and in spite of a bleak present, we attempt to construct other imaginings of the world we would like to create, as we wrestle with the different permutations of oppression, be they gender, class, race, bigotry or any other, and challenge the idea of what freedom and equality mean and how they translate in the context of our democracies. Our structural issues will not go away. They are remarkably resilient.

In last week's column, I quoted a line from the poet TS Eliot's Little Gidding, that reads: "For last year's words belong to last year's language/And next year's words await another voice". This week it remains relevant. There are numerous lessons in these words that speak of the importance of hearing voices from the margins, of the importance of different ways of speaking about the world, and of a new way of challenging the pathologies that remain.

Grant Farred, an academic at Cornel University, often comments that issues need both to be "taken seriously" and given "direct address" - which means understanding their contexts, historical roots, dynamics, the ways we speak about them, and how they operate in society. It demands not taking the easy route, and looking at whatever issues will emerge in 2015 through a commitment to complexity in our understandings.

As Tariq Ramadan commented in The Guardian: "The attack on Charlie Hebdo compels us to be clear and to be consistent. We have to condemn what happened in Paris absolutely" and "It is particularly important to be clear about where we stand" with the knowledge of the "wider political sides". These lessons carry over to numerous issues that we will face this year, because structural issues remain, and because many democratic ideals are yet to be fully realised.

Our critiques will need to be turned on ourselves, demanding an introspection as to what we can do - even when these moments seem too big, terrifying or relentless. As a friend recently commented, it's not enough to ask where the solidarity marches are for Baga; we need to be organising them and drawing attention to them in public discourse. We need to both ask why #BringBackOurGirls has been forgotten, and to be making sure that we are working to ensure they are not relegated to the realms of distant public memory. To quote Mark Twain: "There is no easy road to the future, but we go round or we scramble over the obstacles".

Danielle Bowler holds a master's degree from Rhodes University and is a Mandela Rhodes scholar. She likes to think critically about the world around her, which includes often making complex political arguments about pop culture and Beyonce. Follow her on Twitter: @daniellebowler

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