Fostering global citizenship

(Edmonton)  The Wall Street crash of 2008 may have cast a shadow of cynicism over the world, but that only makes it more crucial than ever for students to become politically engaged, said author, filmmaker and public intellectual Tariq Ali at the keynote lecture for U of A International Week Jan. 30.

“There’s no running away from politics. Even in difficult times when political alternatives don’t appear obvious, they have to be found,” said Ali in his talk, Capitalism and Democracy: Economic Crisis and Democratic Deficit.

“I’m not one of those who believe that the ideals of socialism are dead and gone. They failed once and we abandoned them. Why? Capitalism has failed sixty times, and people go on with it as it is,” he said.

A Pakistani expatriate living in London, Ali has published more than two dozen books on world history and politics and seven novels translated into over a dozen languages, as well as scripts for the stage and screen. He is an editor of New Left Review and regularly contributes to The Guardian, CounterPunch, and the London Review of Books.

“While it’s the case that capital and the rule of capital has spread to most parts of the globe, the actual level of historical and cultural knowledge has been reduced considerably. That’s why events like [International Week] that work against the grain are extremely important today,” he said.

According to Britta Baron, U of A vice-provost and associate vice-president international, I-Week is just one of several opportunities the university provides students in helping them understand the complexities of global systems. She says by providing students a broad set of opportunities for engaging with the rest of the world, the university is creating an enriching environment that will open students’ eyes and minds and enable them to effectively position themselves in the world. This year’s theme for I-Week is Living Democracy: Citizen Power in a Global Age.

“On all levels, each of us, and the younger generations likely more so, are affected in every facet of our lives by the global environment,” said Baron.

That’s one reason Ali makes a point of speaking to young people, he said, stressing that the younger generation needs to engage with politics. “They’re the future, especially now that we live in times where, despite all the talks of globalization, one effect of this globalization has really been to make cultures and countries much more provincial than they were before."

International Week, which aims to foster global citizenship, is organized by the University of Alberta International Education Abroad program and is the largest annual extracurricular activity, with more than 60 events held at various venues on campus during the week.

Notable speakers this year include Anishinaabe author and former U.S. vice-presidential contender, Winona LaDuke, who spoke Jan. 30 on economy, empire and the environment. Bill Ryerson will talk about global health and the media on Feb. 1. On Feb. 2 Edmontonians Michael Phair, former city councillor; Sarah Hoffman, Trustee in Ward G, and Michael Walters, a local community organizer, will discuss issues of urban planning closer to home. And on Friday, Edmonton singer-songwriter Maria Dunn will lead an international team of musicians to close the week with the Good People Concert.

“As an institution, the university is a global citizen, and we want to live up to our responsibility to the world,” says Baron. “We’re committed to research and teaching, but we’re also committed to citizenship.”

Visit International Week 2012 for the full program.