Educating for a Just and Sustainable World 

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Development Education's Doppelganger

Naomi Klein’s latest book, Doppelganger: A Trip into the Mirror World, asks some searching questions of the political left during the pandemic.  Did it do enough to challenge the conspiracy theories and hoaxes emanating from the far-right that undermined the already flawed state response to the spread of COVID-19?  Did it agitate enough to have patent waivers enforced at the World Trade Organisation to ensure that everyone across the world received the vaccine while citizens in the global North had already received two or three doses?  Did it work hard enough to protect the rights (and lives) of frontline workers when they risked everything to sustain healthcare, transport, food distribution and retail during the pandemic?  Does the left work hard enough at building alliances with people who are not in our movements?  As I read these questions and applied them to development education (DE), I recognised that the DE sector had become a doppelganger of its former self.  As a sector with its radical origins in the global South governed by an impulse toward tackling injustice wherever it exists, we know that ‘true solidarity with the oppressed means fighting at their side to transform the objective reality which has made them “beings for another”’. 

That solidarity has been missing in what Henry Giroux describes as the ‘moral litmus test of our time’, the genocide in Gaza and settler colonialism of Palestine.  The sector has mostly ignored the inequality created by oligarchic wealth, the threats to democracy posed by techno-capitalism, the mortgaging of our natural environment by fossil fuel multinationals, and the cruelty visited on the most vulnerable amongst us by austerity.  How much of this is not known by the development education sector and currently ignored by practitioners and policy-makers?  To what extent has development education acknowledged historical injustices caused by colonialism, slavery, ecocide and the eradication of Indigenous peoples?  Where has our solidarity been evident in the struggle against neoliberalism, the rise of the far-right and coat trailing racism?

For the most part, the development education sector has looked away or wilfully ignored these converging crises enveloping our world with no silence being more conspicuous than that surrounding the genocide in Gaza, which is approaching its seventh month.  In her latest report, Anatomy of a Genocide, Francesca Albanese, the United Nations Special Rapporteur for the Occupied Palestinian Territories, concludes ‘that there are reasonable grounds to believe that the threshold indicating Israel’s commission of genocide is met’.  Yet, it took our national development education network five months from the start of Israel’s genocide in Gaza to organise its first event on the crisis and it was titled ‘We Need to Talk About Gaza’ (my italics).  There has been no advance on that to date (2 May): no statement calling for a ceasefire; no exhortation to members to participate in national demonstrations to end the war; no government advocacy work; and no statement of solidarity extended to Palestinians either in Ireland or in Gaza and the West Bank.  I thought of this dreadful litany of inaction when reading this sentence in Doppelganger: ‘one of the hardest habits of thought to shake is the reflex to look away, to not see what is in front of us, and to not know what we know’. 

Many Irish international development agencies, too, have been content to support the Irish government’s minimalist position on Gaza.  However, during a recent visit to Galway, Francesca Albanese said this about the Irish government’s response to the genocide:

“There’s this tendency to be very supportive with rhetoric, as Ireland has, but when it comes to taking concrete actions, there is zero. Not a little. Zero. The countries that have been most outspoken, like Ireland, what have they done in practice? Nothing. And this is shameful. It is disgraceful”.

Yara Hawari, a Policy Fellow of Al-Shabaka, the Palestinian Policy Network, wrote that ‘Ireland’s exports (to Israel) of restricted “dual-use” goods that have potential military purposes grew nearly sevenfold in 2023, from 11 million euros ($11.8m) to more than 70 million euros ($75m)’.  While Ireland has indicated that it will make the optically symbolic move of recognising Palestinian Statehood, Hawari asks ‘What does recognition of a people’s statehood mean when you remain complicit in funding, arming and equipping the regime that is destroying the very people of that state?’

We can contrast this inaction and complicity with the hundreds of thousands of Irish citizens who have protested, week after week, demanding a ceasefire and calling for concrete government action.  This includes: passing into law the Occupied Territories Bill and Illegal Israeli Settlements Divestment Bill; closing Shannon Airport to the US military for the transport of military personnel and equipment; expelling the Israeli Ambassador to Dublin; stopping the export to Israel of ‘dual-use’ equipment; and supporting suspension of the EU-Israel Association Agreement.

The world has witnessed these past weeks, the solidarity of thousands of students on university campuses across America with their Palestinian peers.  They have risked suspension, expulsion and losing their higher education qualification while putting their bodies on the line in the face of aggressive policing.  Students in Gaza have drawn strength from these protests but Palestinians need no lessons on the value of popular resistance.  For over a century, they have been resisting racism, occupation and colonialism.  The abolitionist and activist, Frederick Douglass, who became a great friend of Ireland, wrote that ‘power concedes nothing without a struggle.  It never did and it never will’.  Development education needs to join that struggle whether it be ending the genocide in Gaza, confronting neoliberalism, challenging racism or tackling inequality.  As the trade unionist Bob Crowe said: ‘If you fight you won’t always win.  But if you don’t fight you will always lose’.

Stephen McCloskey is Director of the Centre for Global Education.