Roaring or toothless tigers?

Emeritus Professor Tan Sri Dato' Dzulkifli Abdul Razak
My View - The Sun Daily
November 7, 2018

AFTER about 50 years in the education sector, I had the privilege of being invited to Wisma Putra for a Town Hall session with newly minted Foreign Minister Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah and his top officers.

It was held as part of the consultative-participatory processes that the new government is earnestly advocating.

We have heard before that the days of the government knows best is over, but that is more talk without much walk. This time it looks different.

The minister briefed the audience regarding the items that make up the framework of our foreign policies and then invited the floor to respond and intervene.

It seems unreal too because usually, it tends to be a monologue (top-down) as though all else is cast in stone.

Perhaps that is true to a certain extent but in reality, there is always room for improvement. Three aspects were cited to make this possible.

First, where Malaysia is in a position to make and shape policies at the global. We must be active in articulating our views beyond the usual in recognition of our own worldview and experiences.

Second, where such privileges are not readily forthcoming. Malaysia can help by extending strong support for the desired outcome using its stature. This can at least help in balancing the outcome accordingly.

Lastly, where we are in neither capacity, we still can assert our influence by putting forward our arguments given our vision and thought leadership. In other words, Malaysia must have the courage to be involved actively in all situations as part of its leadership role globally. Particularly in representing the Asian and Islamic perspectives.

That said, the two hours allocated passed rather quickly. The responses were plenty and varied.

I took the opportunity to further highlight an item dear to my heart – the diplomacy on sustainable development, more specifically Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) – since there were many academics present.

More so there seems to be dismal interest in giving ESD centre stage as an educational platform in any ministry as far as I can tell.

So not only is the Wisma Town Hall a uniquely golden opportunity to breathe life into ESD, what more to craft it in diplomatic terms and outcomes that could change the future of the world and its inhabitants.

Bearing in mind that since ESD has been successfully promoted as the "buzzword" globally over the last two decades, it has now acquired a notion of "soft power" to create global change.

While this is welcomed, it can be worrying too as it has the tendency to be "hegemonic" in imposing what ESD is all about from a given (western) perspective derived from some dominant worldview that is prevailing today.

While for the last 20 years this may not be so apparent as each country is grappling to make sense of what ESD is all about, now the situation is clearer and dangerously so.

Certain economic interests have been persistently interpreting ESD as a form of "green consumerism", leaning to a thinking that would be beneficial to one side and not the other.

More often than not, the "other" is a weaker counterpart that has little choice but to make unreasonable compromises when it comes to hard bargaining for resources to sustain a basic livelihood.

The recent campaign against palm oil is a good case in point when some quarters seem to champion an ecocentric viewpoint over a human-centric one in arguing their position.

Lest we forget, ESD is foremost contextualised on the basis of attaining "equality" and "justice" worldwide. The growth of inequality reportedly made it harder for people to achieve justice relative to others due to less sustainable behaviour and livelihood.

Consumerism (green or otherwise) shows how we are readily affected by others – an expression mostly of outward appearances devoid of deeper knowledge of each other.

Evidently, the more one spends the more likely it is to contribute to an unsustainable phenomenon like global warming.

As such if diplomacy is directed to the issues of global equality, ESD must be well understood to enable one to demonstrate how an issue at hand can be diplomatically dealt with.

This is even more relevant now that Budget 2019 is also in the same way, that is, similarly contextualised to mainly target the poor (the so-called B40) while at the same time keeping the economy viable despite global uncertainties.

No doubt ESD fits into this framework very well involving a wide range of situations.

Invariably, it is about closing the prevailing inequitable gaps and (historical) injustice among members of the communities without being unsustainable in the socio-economic realms particularly in an attempt to restore Malaysia's dignity (not just about fiscal health) as an Asian tiger that it once was.

It is interesting to note tigers in Asia are generally heading for extinction due to the many unsustainable practices.

Metaphorically speaking, there will be no roaring Asian tiger to speak of should ESD fail to be properly understood as an important item of diplomacy. We have far too many toothless tigers when it comes to the fight for ESD.