The Long Journey To Global Citizenship

“I think Voltaire said something that applies to my perception. He said, I should be ready to die for what I believe, but I should not be ready to kill for what I believe. So, when you look at fundamentalism, that’s one of the problems, when you look just at the basic violence in society in the pursuit of individual interests, that’s one of the problems. When you’re looking at the world divided into pieces and somebody tries to take control of someone else, then there is another conflict and you’ve war.” –  Professor Carlos Alberto Torres

By Monzurul Huq* | IDN-InDepth NewsInterview

NAGOYA, Japan (IDN) – Education for global citizenship, funded among others through tax on financial speculation, will not only promote enlightened patriotism but also foster the cause of peace and counter nationalistic and fundamentalist trends, says Professor Carlos Alberto Torres in an exclusive interview.

Professor of Social Sciences and Comparative Education at the UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles) Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, Torres is a leading expert on issues related to global citizenship. For the last decade, he has been working from a global perspective on human rights, pluralism and citizenship. He has contributed significantly to defining the theoretical perspective of educating the global citizen. Together with some of his colleagues, he established in 1991 Paulo Freire Institute and is currently serving as its Director.

Professor Torres, who was in Nagoya in November 2014 to attend the UNESCO Conference on Education for Sustainable Development and talked to IDN-InDepthNews about the concept of global citizenship – its dimension, possibilities and also the difficulties that we face in transforming the idea into reality. Below extensive extracts from the interview:

IDN: How optimistic are you that global citizenship is achievable in the near future?

Torres:  If we were not optimistic we would not be talking about it. Paulo Freire (the Brazilian pedagogue pioneering the tradition of popular education in Latin America and an icon of social changes through education) used to say that we have to work on our own dreams. And he said there are dreams for today and there are dreams for tomorrow. My goal is that we have dreams for today.

The notion of global citizenship has several different aspects as a concept. One is to articulate a critical perspective. Second is to help replace the notion of a global model of neo-liberalism, which has produced an impact on education that I consider deleterious. And this impact is concentrated around the regime of high stake testing and models of accountability, which are usually more connected with the ways to manipulate power than actually to see what is happening and how you connect global citizenship education.

Having said that, what we need for this concept to be successful is clear conceptualization.  Secondly, we need what I’ll call a legal bind. There must be some legal elements in international law that defend some of the definitions proposed in this concept. Third, we need principles that articulate and will define the bases on which we’re operating; and in this context is to defend the planet, to defend the people and to defend peace.

When I use the term peace as an immaterial good, I’m serious about it because the moment we achieve some peace, even individual, we can move forward. I’m not sure if you’re a religious man or not, but my own perception of spirituality is connected with achieving inner peace. And by achieving inner peace, you achieve a sense of “perfection”. Otherwise, you’ll not have it. That does not mean you’re escaping reality. It means that you’re engaging in reality, trying to use this newfound peace to promote your struggles. It might look like a paradox, but it is not. So, I’ll say – peace is an immaterial good of society and we need to promote it as a global movement.

Once you have all these things in place, you have to create some revolutions. These revolutions could be used at several levels. Let me give you one example, why we have so much inequality. Because there are some people who are taking advantage of the way the system works and accumulate resources without saying that you need peace. Ok, so you can work on this and there is the notion of Tobin tax. It has been endorsed in Europe. Tobin tax is a very small percentage tax on speculation and currency, which means that if someone speculates, he has to pay a tax in every transaction. The amount of money involved is very small, but with the speed of circulation of financial capitalism, the amount involved can become immense. So what do we do with the money? I put it in education.  And why you do that? Because we want global citizenship education. So, you see, this is one example of a revolution, and I can give you several more.

Is it going to be a concept that is easily and immediately accepted? Of course not.  So we have to create a model of intellectual persuasion in which people begin to see the importance of this concept, the implications of this concept and how they can be applied in our daily life. Finally, one of the great dilemmas is, can we find the way in which this concept of global citizenship will help national citizenship. The answer is yes and I’m working on that with some other colleagues.

IDN: Doesn’t this idea come in conflict with nationalism?

Torres: Well, in a way it does not have to be in conflict because we’re looking at the local and the global. If the global works in the local and the local works in the global, then it does not have to be in conflict. But it will conflict with ethnic nationalism, because it is a model of nationalism that privileges a particular ethnic group.  It will also be in conflict with a model of nationalism that plunders resources of the environment that nobody should. And it will conflict with the model of nationalism in which pollution is allowed and this nationalism is usually also one sided, or if I may put it in this way, is controlled by economic elites that want to continue their model of capital accumulation without any concern about environment. In that regard it is in conflict with nationalism.

Does it get into conflict with nationalism in terms of patriotism? No, it does not. What kind of patriotism are we talking about? Here is one of the wonderful dilemmas of this discourse from a political and philosophical perspective. Think of this – patria means motherland. Patriotism is love for the motherland. So, love for the motherland could guide you into being essentially active in promoting attacks on other motherlands. So, this notion of helping global citizenship and peace is to moderate some irrational trends in some models of nationalism, not all of them. The second element is that nationalism is always attached to some founding documents. These founding documents are connected with some constitutional source. The US constitution has been the most successful one that inspired hundreds of other constitutions.  So, in the US what defines patriotism? The only answer that you have is the idea of freedom. Then how could you be emotionally attached to an idea?

IDN: Is it through the American way of life?

Torres: But how do you define that, the idea of freedom? You want to be more specific and want to say ok, the American notion is an exception. But I think you have to create some kind of a narrative to explain this notion of patriotism attached to freedom. Another example very much in discussion in some European countries, but has reached also the US. It is constitutional patriotism. You really look at the constitution and you try to live by the principles of the constitution. What happens when nationalism triumphs over constitution? What happens when nationalism takes a political perception of patriotism that is extremely damaging to the basic socialization inside a country? Answer to all such assumptions is, you need global citizenship. It works as a moderator.

IDN: How will this perception work in reality?

Torres: I said that you need some global laws. I think what we need to do is to persuade people, I think we need to create more interest groups that are concerned about this. We do have lot of global citizens already.

IDN: But we have other the side as well, like the fundamentalist trend, nationalistic trend and so on.

Torres: You have to face that trend, confront that trend peacefully and try to persuade. But we do have already the global citizenship. Imagine all those people connected with environmental struggles. They are global citizens. Are they pursuing interests independent of you or me? No. They are pursuing independent interests of the planet. Then you have businessmen, people who live on airplanes, who cut a deal today in Osaka and then they go tomorrow to Malaysia, cut another deal there and then come back to London. And in less than three weeks they have been in five different continents cutting all sorts of deals. These people are also global citizens. I want them to abide by a global citizen ethic, not a business ethic. So, it’s a long haul, it has to start somewhere. My first work on this was in 2002. Academics have meanwhile written a lot about the contradictions and all sorts of things. Now I want people to begin to look at how we change the world.

I come from a perspective which is critical theory. In critical theory we don’t teach or do research to reproduce the world. We do teach and do research to change the world. This is a fundamental principle.  And if we can achieve some of that, living more and more in peace and creating better and better defenses for the planet, then we would have achieved what I call the idea of the global commons – the planet, the people and the peace.

IDN: I guess one of the difficulties we face in understanding global citizenship is the existence of military forces. Armies are usually trained from a narrow national perspective of defending the patria from presumed enemies. Do you think we can become true global citizens without demilitarization?

Torres: I will love to say one day that there is no more need for military men. I will love to say that. But I know this is not going to happen ever. Psychoanalytically speaking, individuals are built on pressures – we can modify them, we can control them, we can supplement them. But they are in us. We may diffuse some of the pressures, but they are in us. One is the sexual stimuli, which correlates with so many things from good and bad to violence, but which also correlates from good and bad; because if suddenly somebody attacks you or attacks your wife or your daughter and you react with violence defending someone else, your ability to react will obviously be seen as positive. But if you, without any provocation and for no particular reason, attack somebody then it’ll not be seen as a good thing. But you and I, and everybody around have these two portions – the libido and the violence. Because of this, it will be absolutely impossible to eliminate the option of violence.

Revolutions take place because people decide to end a state of affairs in which they are denied, some of them are violent and some of them are non-violent, but changes occur. My view is that, when you look at citizenship, one of the real questions that you come across is: are you ready to die for your citizenship? Are you ready to die for your belonging to the patria? If you were not in this job, say in Bangladesh army; then you probably have to tell me yes. If I’m forced through conscription into the Bangladesh army and I did not join voluntarily, I probably could say no. But I would rather prefer not to be that bold.

I think Voltaire said something that applies to my perception. He said, I should be ready to die for what I believe, but I should not be ready to kill for what I believe. So, when you look at fundamentalism, that’s one of the problems, when you look just at the basic violence in society in the pursuit of individual interests, that’s one of the problems. When you’re looking at the world divided into pieces and somebody tries to take control of someone else, then there is another conflict and you’ve war.

But look at what has been happening in Europe. Think historically. The incredible amount of wars was connected with the constitution of the nation states in Europe. Look now. I mean there is no guarantee. We have the Crimean Republic or we have Russia – there is no guarantee. But we have come a long way.

*Monzurul Huq is a Bangladesh journalist, who has authored a number of books in Bengali on Japan and other subjects. He moved to Japan in 1994 after working at the United Nations Information Center in Dhaka and BBC World Service in London. He represents two leading national dailies of Bangladesh – Prothom Alo and the Daily Star – and contributes regularly to a number of other important publications in Bangladesh. He has written extensively both in English and Bengali on matters related to Japan and East Asia. He is also a visiting professor at the Tokyo University of Foreign Studies, Keisen University and Seishin University, teaching subjects related to Japanese politics, Japanese media, the developing world and world affairs. He also works as a radio broadcaster for NHK. A member of the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan since 2000, he has served at the Board of Directors of the Club for two consecutive terms and was elected president of the Club in 2009. [IDN-InDepthNews – November 25, 2014]

Photo: Professor Carlos Alberto Torres | Credit: Monzurul Huq

2014 IDN-InDepthNews | Analysis That Matters

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