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Bashir Azizi: ‘Not war or civil war, but a global civil war’

These days we do not just have wars and civil wars – more of a global civil war, says Bashir Azizi, who received a PhD in April 2020 for his thesis on global citizenship. The second edition of his thesis was recently published.

Global citizenship is a central theme in the life of Azizi (63), who teaches social studies. He was born in Afghanistan and graduated with a master’s degree in biology in the Soviet Union. After returning to Afghanistan, he was forced to flee the country because of the rise of the mujahideen. He eventually came to the Netherlands in 1993.

In an interview in Dutch education journal Maatschappij & Politiek Azizi speaks about the political history of Afghanistan and the lessons that education in the Netherlands can learn from it. To understand his PhD thesis, you have to know about the background, he says.  ‘In the 1970s, life in Afghanistan was completely different and religion also played a very different role then. Though people were religious, it was in a different way: religion was subordinate to the State and had no political interference.’ The invasions, first by Russia and later by the United States, changed everything: ‘Those interventions changed Afghanistan from being a neutral and  hospitable country, to a bloody battle scene.’

Azizi views the problems in the world today through the lens of citizenship. ‘Today, we don’t just have wars and civil wars. We have something more like a global civil war. Citizens coming from all over the world are hired to fight in Afghanistan and other global trouble spots. They come from Chechenya, Pakistan, the Gulf States, Africans from Mali and from lots more coutries.’

Awareness in education

Taking, among other things, the current relations between the Netherlands and Afghanistan as a starting point, Azizi considered in his PhD thesis the notion of global citizenship and the lack of awareness about this in education in the Netherlands. He claims that the current global situation calls for a new concept of citizenship that goes beyond classical citizenship of the nation-state. Therefore, if education is to shape young people in how they become citizens, then it also has the important task of shaping them to become global citizens in our current globalising world. Global citizenship should therefore not be considered as a replacement for national citizenship, but as a necessary supplement.  

‘In my book, I tried to set out the developments since 2006. What has happened since then, and why has this stagnated? In 2013, the Dutch Inspectorate of Education concluded that little progress was being made in schools.  Problems included a lack of explicit learning objectives and vision in schools, and insufficient quality. Schools were not aware what the final level should be. The recommendations at that time were more support for schools, more knowledge and skills related to citizenship and a better defined curriculum. The first two recommendations have not been achieved yet. The Curriculum.nu project has been set up to work on the third recommendation.’

Bashir Azizi and Paul Cliteur (r)

If citizenship is not part of pupils’ classroom ‘menu’, they will think it is of no importance in their development, Azizi continues. ‘As a result, they are not aware of what citizenship involves. In addition, pupils are never involved in the establishment of national laws or a school’s own vision on citizenship. How can you achieve a democratic culture if school policy is established in a non-democratic way? Pupils must be involved.’

Azizi’s doctorate was the result of a collaboration between Leiden University and the University of Humanistic Studies, and was supervised by Paul Cliteur and Wiel Veugelers. Azizi was awarded his PhD in April 2020 and it was one of the first defence ceremonies to be held online. ‘His defence ceremony took place right at the start of the lockdown, so it was a bit odd as we were all sitting behind our computers. But everything went well’, says Cliteur looking back on the ceremony.

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