Being a Global Citizen

It was a provoking question that came up in the International Network Universities (INU) Master’s Summer School on Global Citizenship and Peace in Hiroshima, Japan, 3-11th August, 2015. Honestly, at first, I had no idea about being a global citizen. One thing that I knew at the time was the idea of global citizenship being too abstract to be achieved; something far beyond me.
The analogy circulated by Peter Singer, an Australian philosopher, about ‘the shallow pond’ and ‘the envelope’ came in the first introduction about the idea of global citizenship at the event. Explaining the first analogy Singer gave his students a situation which involved a student named John, who, while on his way to university one morning, noticed a child had fallen and appeared to be drowning in a shallow pond. Helping this child would mean that his clothes would get wet and muddy, meaning that if John went home and changed clothes, he would miss his first class. Singer then asked his students whether, based on this analogy, they had obligations to rescue that child or not. The students unanimously agreed that the importance of saving the child’s life surpassed the cost of getting John’s clothes muddy and missing a class. However, another analogy of ‘the envelope’ described a situation in which people received a letter from UNICEF which appealed to them to contribute $100 of their own money to help starving children. After reading the letter, they threw it in their wastebasket and, although aware of the situation, they send nothing.

Both analogies are familiar to us. The way we react to something bad happening is unlikely to be the same depending on whether it happened in front of us or beyond our reach. Singer pointed out that ‘if it is in our power to prevent something bad from happening, without thereby sacrificing anything of comparable moral importance, we ought, morally, to do it.’  However, on the second analogy, we have a different reaction. We assume that since donating money is regarded as charity, there is nothing wrong with not giving. Moreover, we are sceptical beings and, as such, we are not sure that our donation will really get to the people who need it. It appears, then, that we tend to show care in the situations in which we are present but failing this, we often feel too detached from the situation that happened beyond our reach.

The idea of global citizenship is basically ensuring that we are part of a global world. We cannot choose where we were born, we cannot choose our colour and race, but all of us have the same responsibility to create a just world. As said by Bikhu Parekh, Professor of Political Philosophy, ‘we are similar in dissimilar ways or human in our own unique manner’. Parekh raised the idea of a globally oriented citizen; that our citizenship has an inescapable global dimension in which we have moral obligations to our fellow citizens as well as to those in distant parts of the world. According to Parekh, globally oriented citizens are different from global or cosmopolitan citizens. The latter is considered an impractical concept because it ignores special ties and attachments to one political community. For Parekh, we can be an effective, globally oriented citizen by ‘energising our national citizenship’ and having strong ties with the community, meaning we can protest when leaders behave badly or creates injustice in other countries.
Parekh raised three important ideas that can be utilised as globally oriented citizens. First, constantly examining our own country’s policies and ensuring that they do not ruin the interest of humanity in other countries. Second, actively addressing other countries’ affairs and mobilising international public opinion or protests if their governments engage in human rights violations. Third, working together with many friends around the world to create a just world order in the spirit of mutual concern.
On top of that, whether we agree with Parekh and his term globally oriented citizenship or still agree with global citizenship or cosmopolitanism, the sense of responsibility for the interest of humankind is the primary issue we should be concerned about as global citizens. We have this responsibility because most of us contribute to structural injustice, although in different ways; especially if we are apathetic with the world around us. Furthermore, as argued by Iris Marion Young, Professor of Political Science, responsibility is shared through collective action. By raising the idea of ‘political responsibility’, She explained the possibility of being responsible for something that we only indirectly or unintentionally helped to create and sustain. Young mentioned three obligations regarding our responsibility: learning our role in the structural injustice; lessening of unjust world in the future; and acting collectively.

Therefore, the next question is: what should we do collectively? There are so many problems around us that emerge from structural injustice. But sometimes we ignore them as something that is not our business nor something that affects our lives. For instance, the development of nuclear weapons or the fate of asylum seekers.

As one of the various learning methods in global citizenship, INU Summer School offered the opportunity to attend a Peace Memorial Ceremony to commemorate the dropping of the atomic bomb in Hiroshima on the 6th August 1945. We also had the opportunity to visit the Peace Memorial Museum and attend the Lantern Ceremony. All of these activities essentially reminded us about the effects of human-made disaster in world history. By experiencing this, we realised how innocent people—most of whom were children and women—became the victims of the atomic bomb’s destruction and cruelty. It may have ended the war at the time but it did not end the agony of the victims—their pain compounded by discrimination and prejudice throughout the rest of their lives. However, the call for the abolishment of nuclear weapons has been, for the most part, ignored and the reality is a large number of nuclear weapons exist in the world and continue to threaten humanity. The 2015 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) failed to agree on denuclearisation in the Middle East.

Unsurprisingly, in the Peace Declaration that was declared by the Mayor of the City of Hiroshima, it said ‘President Obama and other policymakers, please come to the A-bombed cities, hear the hibakusha (survivors of the atomic bombings) with your own ears, and encounter the reality of the atomic bombings. Surely, you will be impelled to start discussing a legal framework, including a nuclear weapons convention.’

All of these facts bring about the question; are we still thinking these issues are not our business? Am I responsible for changing the world? Yes, I am. We can all do something that will have impact beyond our limits. In the social media era, the case is not only about ‘the envelope’ that comes to you, but the facts that you read and see every minute on your social media accounts. In addition, the power of the internet can unite us and collectively make the walk toward peace, a process which is possible as long as we have the willingness to do so. It is no longer you and I, but we. It is no longer yours, but ours. We only have one world so let us find strength together.

Words by Lidya Singa