A RECIPE FOR PEACE
Harmony is possible when people learn to respect diversity, says Prof
Story by SANITSUDA EKACHAI (The Bangkok Post, Thailand)
Smiles cross ethnic bounderies. It's one of this century's biggest
questions: How to raise children to be a force for peace in a world
divided by so many explosive ethnic conflicts? That challenge may
discourage many educators, but not Prof Kasem Watanachai, a member of
the Privy Council.
"We need to teach people to take pride in themselves, but also have a
global perspective," says Prof Kasem, whose humanitarian concerns and
commitment to education reform during his previous missions as
physician, university president, permanent-secretary of the Ministry
of University Affairs, and Education Minister have won him wide
To do so, we first must understand the new global situation brought
about by rapid globalisation, he advises.
Globalisation is nothing new, he says. What is new today, however, is
the unprecedented speed and coverage of advanced communications
Consequently no nation is an island. Like it or not, each country's
politics, military security, trade and finance, communications,
cultures, and ecological systems have become entertwined.
"The catchword is interdependence," he explains. But the
unprecedented speed of globalisation has also brought about an
unprecendented scale of conflicts because it has suddenly thrown
peoples of different backgrounds together.
"If we continue to use ethnicity or our religious beliefs as the
basis to judge others, there will be more misunderstandings and
conflicts," he says.
Privy Councillor Kasem Watanachai: "Local pride can lead toward
global understanding."This does not mean that one must dispense with
one's own cultural roots to merge with the world, though. On the
contrary. Globalisation has always been hand-in-glove with
Westernisation, bringing with it a myriad of Western values such as
cultural tastes, technology, democracy, human rights and
individualism. "But our Eastern societies stress communalism, group
collectiveness and families. Given such differences, our challenge is
how to live peacefully amidst diversities and differences. This is a
big question for all politicians, religious leaders and educators."
Prof Kasem believes the answer lies in local pride with a global view
marked by tolerance for the cultures of others.
Fortunately, he says, the world does not lack international
mechanisms to mediate conflicts, although the task would be more
effective if the voices of smaller countries were better represented.
More urgently needed, he says, is a set of shared universal moral
principles for the global village. To be able to transcend people's
primordial ties, the new global values must be based on truth, human
value and compassion, he says.
There are three levels of truths, he elaborates.
First comes truth by faith in one's religious beliefs, which should
never be debated. Second are scientific truths, which should be
treated as universal assets to serve mankind _ they should be open to
constant debate to nurture new innovations. And third comes the truth
learned from one's own personal experiences, such as one's view on
beauty. These should likewise be left out of debates.
Respect for human value or human dignity is also indispensable for
peace, he adds.
Despite different social standings, people must be equal under the
rule of law and public policies. More often than not, conflicts are
rooted in double standards.
Since compassion is the pillar of all religions, it can be used as a
common thread to transcend ethnic barriers, he suggests.
In Buddhism, for example, the concept of compassion is evident in the
teaching of brahma-vihara, which urges people to develop goodwill for
all, empathy for those in distress, joy for other's happiness and
equanimity when one cannot help others.
This teaching, he said, aims at nurturing human relations while
ensuring that personal relationships do not erode society and its
principles of justice and equality.
The difficult part, he says, is ethnicity.
"The problem is that we've come to signify identity with ethnicity
and nation-state," he says, touching on the current conflicts in the
To ease the conflicts, "we must leave ethnicity behind and focus
instead on citizenship. We need to realise that, be they sea gypsies,
ethnic Malays, or ethnic Thais, they are all equal citizens."
He believes civic education is the key to unlocking past ethnic
misunderstandings by instilling in young minds their responsibility
toward society and to nurture harmony with other citizens.
Civic education is also the key instrument to nurture local pride and
an acceptance of others' cultures in order to operate in a globalised
As to how and who will undertake such civic education, Prof Kasem has
full trust in local communities.
People in local communities must come together to think about their
problems, many of which come from globalisation, he says. "People
must think together what it takes to overcome impediments and design
their civic education to form desirable values for their children
The problem is that the public still sees it as a non-issue. If they
allow the central government to design their civic education, the
power of knowledge will continue to be monopolised and the people
will go on being ordered around by dictators, he explains.
Should local needs conflict with central policies, Prof Kasem insists
that local communities prevail since community rights are endorsed by
If Bangkokians have their say, for example, the type of education
they would support may be the one that produces human resources to
service the city, which is bursting at its seams, more effectively.
Amid rising ethnic tensions, civic education that encourages inter-
religious understanding can also help youngsters transcend different
ethnic and religious beliefs.
Like most other countries, Thailand attaches national identity to its
dominant ethnic group, leading to sweeping disregard for ethnic
Contrary to the myth of racial homogeneity, Thailand is actually a
land rich with ethnicities, he says. "There are indigenous and ethnic
peoples in every province. But we don't get to learn about them.
Schools should start providing courses that encourage children to
learn about ethnicity and other ethnic groups."
Civic education that transcends ethnic borders, he says, is necessary
to tackle the conflicts in the South. If one's citizenship is
respected regardless of one's race, ethnicity or religious beliefs,
if there is mutual understanding among different ethnic groups, and
if they are all subject to equal treatment, then there is certainly
hope for peace.
A die-hard optimist, Prof Kasem believes that peace is within reach _
if the educational, economic and political systems work together to
foster full citizenship and tolerance for diversity.
"The southern Muslims have no problem being Thai citizens. But they
suffer from not receiving equal treatment. Our problem, therefore, is
whether our concepts of our Thai state and Thainess are broad enough
to embrace them or not."