Speech by His Highness the Aga Khan
Remarks by His Highness the Aga Khan
on the occasion of the Signing of the Funding Agreement
for the Global Centre for Pluralism
Ottawa, Canada, 25 October 2006
Prime Minister Harper
Ladies and Gentlemen
It was just eighteen months ago that the Government of Canada announced its decision to partner with the Ismaili Imamat and the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) in our Global Centre for Pluralism. What we welcomed at that time was a multi-faceted partnership—financial, yes, but also institutional and intellectual.
But our sense of partnership was not a new development. In fact, the AKDN and Canada have built a unique collaboration over nearly a quarter century– on a wide variety of projects in a wide variety of places—especially in South and Central Asia, East and West Africa, and the Middle East. We have a long history of path-breaking cooperation.
This successful collaboration, moreover, is deeply rooted in a remarkable convergence of values—our strong mutual dedication to the concept and practice of pluralism.
In my own role as Imam of the Shia Ismaili Muslims over the past half century, I have come to appreciate the importance of pluralism in ever-expanding ways. The Ismaili community, after all, is itself a global family, spanning many geographies, cultures, languages and ethnicities—and sharing its life with people of many faiths. In addition, much of my work over this time has dealt with highly diverse societies in the developing world, often suffering from poverty, violence and despair. In such circumstances, a commitment to pluralism comes as no accident. For pluralism, in essence, is a deliberate set of choices that a society must make if it is to avoid costly conflict and harness the power of its diversity in solving human problems.
It will not surprise you that I am fascinated by Canada’s experience as a successful pluralistic society. My active engagement with Canada began in the 1970’s when many Ismailis found a welcoming refuge here in Canada from East African ethnic strife. Since that time, the Ismaili community has planted deep roots here, become self-sufficient, and can now make its own contributions to Canada’s pluralistic model. That model, in turn, is one which can help to teach, and inspire the entire world.
Comme les Canadiens le savent si bien, l’idéal du pluralisme n’est pas nouveau en ce monde. Il a des fondations honorables et anciennes, y compris des racines profondes dans la tradition islamique. Ce qui est sans précédent aujourd’hui, c’est une société mondialisée, intimement interconnectée et extraordinairement interdépendante.
De nombreux facteurs ont contribué à ce nouvel ordre: la fin de la Guerre froide, les avancées techniques des transports et des communications, les migrations accélérées des peuples. Or l’impact de ces forces va probablement s’intensifier à l’avenir. A mon avis, ce à quoi nous faisons face actuellement, c’est à une nouvelle et éprouvante période de l’histoire humaine, où les valeurs et les pratiques pluralistes séculaires ne sont plus tout simplement désirables – elles sont devenues absolument essentielles – et pas seulement pour l’évolution future du monde mais également pour notre survie même.
The Ismaili Imamat and the Aga Khan Development Network are deeply grateful to the Government and the people of Canada for the continuing spirit of vision, generosity and mutual respect which has brought us to this landmark moment.
Indeed, our agreement itself exemplifies pluralism at work. It brings together people, ideas and resources from different continents and cultures, from religious and secular traditions, and from the public and the private sectors. And it continues in that spirit today.
The sense of momentum we feel at this hour will surely give us renewed confidence as we seek to connect our diversified pasts with our common future.
Our hope and expectation is that the Global Centre for Pluralism will become a vital force in our world for research, learning and dialogue, engaging Canadians from all walks of life, and joining hands with a widening array of partners.
I am grateful that the Government of Canada has contributed so generously to its material and intellectual resources. Making available the Old War Museum is a particularly generous and symbolic gesture. Our own commitment is to invest in this building so that it becomes a worthy testament to Canada’s global leadership in the cause of pluralism.
Those who talk about an inevitable “clash of civilizations” can point today to an accumulating array of symptoms which sometimes seems to reflect their diagnosis.
I believe, however, that this diagnosis is wrong—that its symptoms are more dramatic than they are representative—and that these symptoms are rooted in human ignorance rather than human character.
The problem of ignorance is a problem that can be addressed. Perhaps it can even be ameliorated—but only if we go to work on our educational tasks with sustained energy, creativity and intelligence.
That is why we felt the Global Centre for Pluralism was needed. That is why the Global Centre for Pluralism exists today. And that is why the Global Centre for Pluralism holds such enormous promise for all of our tomorrows.