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Driving Home The Concept Of Global Citizenship

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By Jaya Ramachandran | IDN-InDepth NewsAnalysis

NEW YORK (IDN)  - Education for Global Citizenship and Sustainable Development (EGCSD) is far from having become a buzzword. In fact, beyond the domain of experts, the concept has yet to gain currency. Though, while explaining it, even those well versed in the theme do not find it easy to drive home the message.

“As technology advances and governance is increasingly conducted beyond the parameters of the nation-state, the concept of global citizenship remains mysteriously absent. What does the term mean in historical terms and what practices might help its evolution into a coherent and democratic political practice?” asked Ron Israel, co-founder of The Global Citizens' Initiative (TGCI), in a recent article.

A global citizen, he says, is someone who identifies with being part of an emerging world community and whose actions contribute to building this community’s values and practices. Sounds a simple definition. But the devil is in the detail.

Anwarul Karim Chowdhury, a Bangladesh diplomat most noted for his work on development in the poorest nations, global peace and championing the rights of women and children, is of the view that the concept of global citizenship is “an idea, a way of behavior” for individuals.

In fact, the basic change Ban Ki-moon wants in his Global Education First Initiative launched in September 2012, is to change the mindset, notes Chowdhury: “To prepare the younger generation, in this case, to feel that we are part of a bigger world, to feel that we cannot just think very parochially, we cannot achieve our broader objectives, objectives that are in the best interest of humanity, without feeling as a part of one whole world, that we are part of this bigger planet and we should feel the same way.”

Arsenio Rodriguez, Chairman and CEO of DEVNET International, who has worked with the World Bank and the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), finds the essence of global citizenship in the fact that “when we are born we inherit a common home, a sun for energy, an Earth for all commodities, shelter and nourishment, a sustaining milieu for body, mind and spirit, and our fellow beings to share the extraordinary experience of life”.

Life is thus in its ultimate essence, a relationship between peoples and between people with the planet and its sustaining wealth. “To make this relationship a productive and fruitful one for all is our challenge. Whereas new concepts and models are beginning to sprout they have not yet taken hold to steer us fully into sustainability and global citizenship,” he adds.

Going into historical detail, Palitha Kohona, Sri Lanka’s Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the United Nations says, the concept of global citizenship has challenged the minds of humans for a very long time not only in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Universal acceptance evaded

Despite all the philosophical and religious exhortations, the concept of global citizenship has continued to evade universal acceptance.  Historically, the world has witnessed the growth of many empires, which encouraged subjects to become accustomed to the common factors of being part of such empires.

“Perhaps, not as equals but as individuals who were subject to the same ruler. The result was not what most would imagine to be global citizenship,” argues Kohona.

Nevertheless, a much wider perception of the world became established in the minds of many as a consequence. Around 330 B.C., Alexander the Great expanded little Macedonia’s sway almost to the shores of the Indus River and left, as his legacy, a concept of oneness with the culture of Greece in the minds of his subjects.

Later a bigger empire centred in Rome brought under its umbrella vast areas of Asia Minor, North Africa and Europe. A type of political unity that did not exist in the Western world before now prevailed. The political and socio-cultural footprint left behind by Imperial Rome is a factor even today in the psyche of many.

Kohona recalls that a much bigger empire resulted from the expansion of the Caliphates of Baghdad and Damascus. The oneness of belonging to one regime, which encompassed economic relations, and religion and culture, was evident from Spain to Northern India during this period. The underpinning framework of religion was a tangible factor in this case.

In more recent times, says Kohona, the world witnessed the Portuguese and Spanish empires, which straddled the globe creating a sense of oneness among citizens and subjects. Religion, culture and trade relations were essential factors of these empires.

The Ottomans, the Dutch, the English, and the French created more recent empires. They said that that the sun never set on the British Empire and its legacy is far reaching. The Chinese empire which expanded, at one time to Poland and Syria under Genghis Khan and his sons, was so unified, that a laissez passer issued by an official in Khanbalik was honoured all the way to the Middle East.

“However, the oneness created by these empires, for various reasons, including geographical reality and the limits of physical power, did not encompass the whole world,” says Kohona.

Besides, one empire was often challenged by another and fell in due course. Nor did they create a feeling of global citizenship in a true sense. In fact, empires competed with each other and in certain empires the concept of oneness did not exist at all as there were different categories of subjects.

“One result, however, of these global empires was that they had the effect of bringing together different peoples, cultures, philosophies, religious beliefs, scientific ideas, political concepts and economic systems, helping to generate, at least in certain respects, feelings that there were common strands among us humans or the desire to bring them under one common umbrella,” says Kohona.

While the 20th century witnessed the emergence of sub-regional, regional and international organizations based on human rights and democratic norms – a process that has continued into the 21st century, experts believe that it is through education that the concept of global citizenship can be anchored in the minds and lives of people at several levels. [IDN-InDepthNews – January 11, 2015]

2015 IDN-InDepthNews | Analysis That Matters

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

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