Acceptance Remarks and apres speech Conversation with the Right Honourable Adrienne Clarkson — Accepting the Adrienne Clarkson Prize for Global Citizenship (Toronto, Canada)
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These are just a few thoughts as I look to the future of Global Citizenship. The challenges, in sum, will be many and continuing. What will they require of us? A short list might include these strengths: a vital sense of balance, an abundant capacity for compromise, more than a little sense of patience, an appropriate degree of humility, a good measure of forgiveness, and, of course, a genuine welcoming of human difference. It will mean hard work. It will never be completed. But no work will be more important….
I have been very impressed since 1957, in developing countries, when elections had to be held or were held in circumstances where you would assume that the population didn’t have access to the information they would’ve, in our view, needed to express themselves rationally and competently. Well, I got it wrong. They are very, very wise. Public wisdom is not dependent on education.
PARTIAL TRANSLATION REQUIRED: A portion of this item requires translation and we regret only a Google machine translation of these portions is available in the Archive. We would be very grateful if any of our readers, fluent in the original language, would be kind enough to translate the text that follows. Please click here for information on making submissions to NanoWisdoms; we thank you for your assistance.
Full Event Video
Video segment index:
- 00:50:00 Start of the event ceremonies.
- 00:59:30 The Prime Minister of Canada’s, the Right Honourable Justin Trudeau, video message.
- 1:01:00 Video introduction to the His Highness the Aga Khan narrated by the Right Honourable Adrienne Clarkson (a co-founder Institute for Canadian Citizenship) followed by her opening remarks.
- 1:15:30 The Aga Khan’s speech.
- 1:37:00 Apres speech conversation with Adrienne Clarkson.
- 2:06:00 John Ralston Saul’s, a co-founder of the ICC, concluding remarks.
Bismillah ir-Rahman ir-Rahim.
Madame Adrienne Clarkson,
Dr. John Ralston Saul,
Premier Kathleen Wynne,
Madame Reid, First Lady of Iceland,
Your Honour Elizabeth Dowdeswell,
Your Worship John Tory,
Ladies and Gentlemen:
This is a deeply memorable moment for me. My warmest thanks go to Adrienne Clarkson, John Ralston Saul and the Institute for Canadian Citizenship for this wonderful Award, and to all of you for sharing in this important moment in my life. Imagine the honour one feels to receive an Award named after Adrienne Clarkson, presented by Adrienne Clarkson, and dedicated to the ideals of which Adrienne Clarkson is such a leading example.
As you know, Madame Clarkson has experienced, in her own life, what the concept of Global Citizenship really means. Arriving as a two-year old refugee from outside Canada, she became a Canadian citizen in the fullest and best sense. And she also became an extraordinary advocate for what Global Citizenship truly means. In so many roles over so many years, as a thoughtful journalist and broadcaster, as Canada’s distinguished Governor General, and as a forceful national matriarch, she has continually been reaching out to diverse peoples in Canada, and around the world, not only in eloquent words but also in decisive action.
Madame Clarkson ne s’est pas contentée d’être une amie et une inspiratrice ; elle a aussi été pour moi un partenaire pour qui j’ai la plus grande estime. Sa contribution aux travaux de notre Réseau de Développement a été marquée par son mandat d’Administratrice du Centre Mondial du Pluralisme à Ottawa, l’un des nombreux projets collaboratifs dans lesquels mes institutions, avec une profonde reconnaissance, se sont engagées aux côtés du gouvernement canadien.
[Google translation] Madame Clarkson was not content to be a friend and an inspiration, she was also for me a partner for whom I have the highest regard. Her contribution to the work of our network development was marked by its mandate to administrator of the Central world of the pluralism in Ottawa, one of the many collaborative projects in which my institutions, with deep gratitude, are engaged alongside the Canadian Government.
One might say that to receive an Award for Global Citizenship from Adrienne Clarkson is a bit like receiving an Excellence in Hockey Award from Wayne Gretzky!
As for the concept of Global Citizenship, that was something I began to think about seriously when I became the Imam of the Ismaili Muslims almost 60 years ago. Happily, I was able to share my thinking about Global Citizenship with the dedicated people of the Aga Khan Development Network with whom I want to share this honour today. What we learned from the very start was that advancing our development agenda, we would be required to respect the immense diversity of ethnicities, of languages and of cultures, of faiths, of philosophies. In short, we learned to embrace the values of Global Citizenship.
As we discuss this concept, and the spirit of Pluralism on which it rests, it is only realistic, in my view, to acknowledge an increasing frustration concerning the pluralism story. We talk sincerely about the values of diversity, about living with complexity. But in too many cases more diversity seems to mean more division; greater complexity, more fragmentation, and more fragmentation can bring us closer to conflict. The stakes seem to be getting higher as time goes by, but so do the obstacles. And that is why I will focus my brief remarks today on the continuing challenges to the ideals of Global Citizenship.
One enormous challenge, of course, is the simple fact that diversity is increasing around the world. The task is not merely learning to live with that diversity, but learning to live with greater diversity with each passing year.
And old habits of mind, including narrow, exclusionary definitions of citizenship, have not met the challenge. That was true three months ago when Great Britain voted to leave the European Union.
One aspect of this changing reality is the challenge of human migration. More people are moving, willingly and unwillingly, across national frontiers than ever before. In country after country, the migration question is a central issue of political life. Often it is the central issue. And old habits of mind, including narrow, exclusionary definitions of citizenship, have not met the challenge. That was true three months ago when Great Britain voted to leave the European Union. It is true in pre-election debates in France, where I now live, and in the United States, where I went to university. It is true in Canada, as you well know, though Canada has certainly been a world leader in expanding the concept of citizenship. But the challenge is felt everywhere. Nor is the migration challenge likely to dissipate any time soon, especially as war, and violence, and economic deprivation, displace more and more people.
In such a world, the “Other” is no longer a distant someone whom we encounter primarily in the pages of a magazine, or on a video screen, or an exotic holiday trip. The “Other” increasingly is someone who appears in what we think of as “our space”, or even, “in our face.” And that reality can be hard to handle.
When the Other is seen as a potential competitor, for a job for example, even when this fear is unfounded, then the challenge of pluralistic attitudes becomes even more difficult. For those who feel insecure, it is tempting to look for scapegoats, for someone to blame, when their self-esteem seems threatened. Often, we then find it easier to define our identity by what we are against, than by what we are for. Such fears may be culturally based, or economically driven, or psychologically rooted. But they should not be underestimated. And they will not be driven away by nice sounding words proclaiming lofty ideals.
This is why I would emphasise, as Adrienne Clarkson has always done, our responsibility to improve the quality of life in places throughout the world where that quality is unsatisfactory — fighting poverty, improving health and education, expanding opportunity — as the first manifestation of a healthy pluralistic ethic. Pluralism means responding to diversity not only at home, but on a global basis, creating genuine “visions of opportunity” wherever constraints or reversals are in the air.
As new technologies shrink the planet, distant forces become dire threats. We worry about the perils of environmental degradation, for example, including the spectre of climate change.
But the growing challenge to pluralistic values does not happen only when people move physically from one place to another. As new technologies shrink the planet, distant forces become dire threats. We worry about the perils of environmental degradation, for example, including the spectre of climate change. We see how every local economy can be affected by distant economies. We realise how dangerous forces can spread across national borders — deadly diseases, or deadly weaponry, criminal networks or terrorist threats. And often, the human impulse is not to work across borders to meet these dangers, but to withdraw from a threatening world.
One element that complicates this challenge is the way in which we communicate with our global neighbours. We think sometimes that the new technologies can save us. If we can connect faster, at lower cost, across greater distances, with more people, just think what could happen! We would all learn more about one another and perhaps understand one another better. But I am not sure that things are working out that way. The explosion of available information often means less focus on relevant information, and even a surfeit of misinformation. Thoughtful leadership often gives way to noisy chatter.
Media proliferation is another challenge: what it often means is media fragmentation. Many now live in their own media bubbles, resisting diverse views. New technologies can make communication seem easier, but they can also make pluralism much more difficult.
What worries me, however, is when some take that message to mean that our differences are trivial, that they can be ignored, and eventually erased. And that is not good advice.
Yet another dimension of the challenge has to do with the realities of human nature. We often hear in discussions of Global Citizenship that people are basically alike. Under the skin, deep in our hearts, we are all brothers and sisters — we are told — and the secret to a harmonious world is to ignore our differences and to emphasise our similarities. What worries me, however, is when some take that message to mean that our differences are trivial, that they can be ignored, and eventually erased. And that is not good advice. In fact, it is impossible. Yes, our understanding and our underlying humanity should motivate our quest for healthy pluralism. But such a quest must also be built on an empathetic response to our important differences. And that, again, is a point which Adrienne Clarkson has emphatically articulated.
Pretending that our differences are trivial will not persuade most people to embrace pluralistic attitudes. In fact, it might frighten them away. People know that differences can be challenging, that disagreements are inevitable, that our fellow-humans can sometimes be disagreeable. As Madame Clarkson has famously said, and I am quoting her here: “the secret to social harmony is learning to live with people you may not particularly like.” My fear is that talking only about our common humanity might seem to threaten people’s distinctive identities. And that can complicate the challenge of pluralism.
Who am I? Qui suis-je? We all must pose that question. Answers will grow out of basic loyalties to family, faith, community, language, which provide a healthy sense of security and worth. But if the call for pluralism seems to dilute those old loyalties, then that new call may not be effective. Embracing the values of Global Citizenship should not mean compromising the bonds of local or national citizenship. The call of pluralism should ask us to respect our differences, but not to ignore them, to integrate diversity, not to depreciate diversity. The call for cosmopolitanism is not a call to homogenisation. It means affirming social solidarity, without imposing social conformity. One’s identity need not be diluted in a pluralistic world, but rather fulfilled, as one bright thread in a cloth of many colours.
When Adrienne Clarkson gave the Massey Lectures on CBC two years ago, she used a phrase that became her book’s title: “Belonging, the Paradox of Citizenship.” The word “paradox” expresses precisely the challenge I have been discussing.
After all, one can honour a variety of loyalties to a faith, an ethnicity, a language, a nation, a city, a profession, a school, even to a sports team!
Perhaps the key to resolving the Paradox of Citizenship is to think about layers of overlapping identity. After all, one can honour a variety of loyalties to a faith, an ethnicity, a language, a nation, a city, a profession, a school, even to a sports team! One might share some of these identities with some people, and other identities with others. My own religious community identifies proudly as Ismaili Muslims, with our specific interpretation of Islamic faith and history. But we also feel a sense of belonging with the whole of the Muslim world, what we call the Ummah. Within the Ummah, the diversity of identities is immense, greater than most people realise — differences based on language, on history, on nationhood, ethnicity and a variety of local affiliations. But, at the same time, I observe a growing sense within the Ummah of a meaningful global bond.
When the question of human identity is seen in this context, then diversity itself can be seen as a gift. Diversity is not a reason to put up walls, but rather to open windows. It is not a burden, it is a blessing. In the end of course, we must realise that living with diversity is a challenging process. We are wrong to think it will be easy. The work of pluralism is always a work in progress.
Some of that work will be done in our schools. What I have called the Cosmopolitan Ethic is not something that we are born with, it is something that must be learned. Similarly, the Institute for Canadian Citizenship, under the inspirational leadership of Adrienne Clarkson and John Ralston Saul, has been working to give people who are new to Canada a sense of belonging. But this process does not simply take care of itself. It requires planning, it requires persistence and ever-fresh thinking. It is work that is never finished.
Finally, advancing the cause of Global Citizenship is not only a matter of building healthy, diversified societies, but also of maintaining them.
Finally, advancing the cause of Global Citizenship is not only a matter of building healthy, diversified societies, but also of maintaining them. Inevitably, new challenges will arise. Canada’s Chief Justice, the Right Honourable Beverly McLachlin, spoke of such challenges last year when she delivered the annual Lecture for our Global Centre for Pluralism. She spoke of how a cosmopolitan society needed, continually, to sort out the balance between healthy diversity and social cohesion. To do that well, she said, required a respect for human dignity, strong legal institutions, and a pluralistic institutional environment. For me, that latter strength implies a broadly diversified civil society — a healthy array of private organisations that are dedicated to public purposes. For pluralism to thrive will require the successful integration of diverse institutions and diverse leadership.
These are just a few thoughts as I look to the future of Global Citizenship. The challenges, in sum, will be many and continuing. What will they require of us? A short list might include these strengths: a vital sense of balance, an abundant capacity for compromise, more than a little sense of patience, an appropriate degree of humility, a good measure of forgiveness, and, of course, a genuine welcoming of human difference.
It will mean hard work. It will never be completed. But no work will be more important.
Apres speech conversation with the Right Honourable Adrienne Clarkson
The Right Honourable Adrienne Clarkson: Thank you so much for those words. They’re so well thought out, and over the years as we have known each other, I’m always impressed by your deep sense of humane commitment and the feeling that you have when you talk about things like forgiveness and that that is part of what we are as a society, if we are at our best. And that is what makes it possible for us to deal with difference and the fact that we don’t love everybody, but we have to let people live together.
One of the things I’m very interested in, and I think everybody here is interested [in] too, is in the fact that you have put so much faith in Canada. That you have put institutions in Canada, like the Global Centre for Pluralism in Ottawa, which is part of a partnership with the Government of Canada — a very substantial partnership. The Global Centre is redoing the old war museum for it to be the centre, the physical centre. And you have also put the [Delegation for the Ismaili] Imamat in Ottawa. And when I think about it, I think is that because in 1972 we welcomed so many Ismailis? Was that the beginning of it? Or is there something else about us? Is it that you are a secret fan of MacKenzie King’s?
I ask myself what would define countries where I would like to see my community reside. The first word that comes to my mind is countries of opportunity.
His Highness the Aga Khan: No, I think the answer to that is that as I look at the world around us, and I ask myself what would define countries where I would like to see my community reside. The first word that comes to my mind is countries of opportunity. And I believe Canada is one of the greatest countries of opportunity.
AC: I think that’s true. And certainly the Ismaili community, in Canada, has made the most of the opportunities which all people who come to this country have. That is the reason why I think people understand once they get here, that there lives are going to be different. And that’s one of the interesting things, too, about what you talk about to the Jamat, the community. And, I think, something that people should realise in the rest of Canada that you have your community — and it’s very important — but that you emphasise how important it is to be part of the world outside your community. And why do you do that?
AK: Well, I have to go back to 1957. In 1957, many of the countries where my community was living were colonies. And those countries needed to go through the process of independence, needed to find the pathways forwards towards peace, towards development, and I have asked myself, how do countries achieve that? And, if you go back to 1957, you look at the map of our world, and you try to define where all these countries — that have now become independent — have created opportunity, I think one has to say that that has not been very successful.
AC: What have been the barriers? What are the barriers?
AK: Oh, I think there’s a multitude of barriers. First of all, I suppose national resources would be a major issue. The second would be the level of human ability within a given country, whether it has the human ability to develop its resources, to build opportunity. So in that sense we’re looking at processes of change. And they have occurred. They have occurred. There are today countries of opportunity which either did not exist or one would not have thought of as being countries of opportunity in 1957 when my grandfather died.
AC: And that’s changed.
AK: That’s changed.
AC: Well, you have had a lifetime of opportunity to see that. It’s very rare to meet somebody who has had such an effect on the world, not only on a group of people, but in the world because that’s what you have made it in sixty years. Next year will be your sixtieth anniversary as Imam. And in sixty years you have seen development, you have made development happen, you made resources available to places where there were absolutely no resources. And in doing that, it can’t have been easy to decide where that would happen, to decide who would be the collaborators, to bring along people who could understand and have the capacity to help with that development. How did you go about doing that?
AK: I think what you try to do is look at circumstances on an on-going basis. And then you work through what I would call predictability, and you try to project into the future what countries have the ability to follow the path of peace and development. And where there are situations which are potentially difficult. And that, of course, is something which changes practically every day. And, of course, it has changed a lot since 1957.
I am not sure what they taught me at Harvard.
AC: And they didn’t teach you that at Harvard?
AK: I am not sure what they taught me at Harvard. [Hearty laughter and applause.]
AC: We all wonder what we learned at university and how that was relevant to anything that we are doing today. But, I think, what is interesting in what you have been saying — over the last, particularly over the last decade — in your speeches, in your writings, is that ignorance that we have. And I am always struck by the fact that we speak out of such ignorance in a so-called Western developed world, particularly about Islam. We do not know the varieties of the Muslim world at all, we seem not to be even interested in it, and the more people shout about it, the worse it becomes, because it’s as though we shut out everything that could be various, that could be different, that could have any kind of nuance in it. How do you mitigate against that?
AK: I think probably the first step would be to extract from Islamic history, from Islamic philosophy the great names, the great thinkers, the great astronomers, the great scientists, the great medical figures, who have influenced global knowledge. I remember courses which taught general humanities. And those general humanities caused one to read in French, or Italian, or German, or English. Arabic? Never heard of it! Urdu? Never heard of it! Farsi? We do not even know what that is! So, it was a frightening vacuum in general education at the time. And I think that that vacuum has had terrible results.
That I think is one of the really serious issues. That the cultures of Islam, of the Islamic world, are not present in global cultural let’s say — how would I call it — presence.
AC: No, of course it has. It’s ridiculous. I mean, we met only a few years ago … William Polk who was the first translator of the great epic Bedouin poem. And to think that only [just then], practically in the 21st century, did we have access to that, in translation, is frightening, almost. A lacunae of knowledge. Not even accessible to us in any way.
AK: That I think is one of the really serious issues. That the cultures of Islam, of the Islamic world, are not present in global cultural let’s say — how would I call it — presence.
AC: Well, of course, you have given this enormous gift to Toronto in the Aga Khan Museum and the Jamatkhana, which is now virtually in the geographic centre of Metropolitan Toronto and I think — by those wonderful Islamic gardens with the pools of water, but using native Canadian trees, and native Canadian plants — I always think of you as somebody with a motto of “no idea, too big; no detail, too small.” Because I know how you look at everything. The grouting in the marble, the bulbs that will be planted, the colours of the bulbs. And, of course, that is an enriching thing for you to have that detail in your life, but also I think it enriches us.
When I think of the role that beauty and culture play in the message that you have to the world, I think we are enormously grateful to you. You didn’t have to do that. People do development and they think of it as only of health and education, and the UN categories of that, but you have a Trust for Culture. I have been very fortunate to be able to visit the wonderful gift you gave to the people of India for the 50th anniversary of their independence, the Humyan’s Tomb. Oh, it was wonderful! And talk about detail. That is a magnificent place — which is like a model for the Taj Mahal — and the whole place, acres and acres of it, was lowered by three feet because that was the original level of the water courses. And all the old cement was taken out.
Then the other wonderful example was in Kabul. When I was Governor General and Commander in Chief, we went several times to Kabul several times for Christmas to visit our troops, when we were there, and the first time we went, we went to Babur’s Gardens and it was just a disaster. We wanted see it because Babur had been the great Mughal king and knew he wanted to be buried in Kabul, and have his tomb where the mountains met and the pass met. It was such a mess because the Soviets had left it just dilapidated. A dilapidated park of rest and culture. There were no windows in any of the buildings around it. There was hardly any electricity in Kabul. We were taken around it and they said “the Aga Khan is redoing Babur’s Gardens.” When went we back, two years later, the terracing had been restored. The fruit trees and flowering trees were starting to be planted.
And the al-Azhar gardens which we saw in the film. All of this, why do you think beauty is so important to us, even when there are so many other needs around?
AK: Well, I think, all faiths express themselves in some cultural form or the other. And Islam is a faith which has expressed itself in cultural manifestations over centuries in different parts of the world. And I think it’s very important that those manifestations should be seen and should be, I hope, admired, and that they should inspire young people — who are talented young architects, land planners, whatever it may be — so that they can inspire their own buildings with a sense of continuity, but of our time. I think it’s very important that we not try to plagiarise history. [Laughter]. I would get a, what would it be, a D or an E at Harvard for plagiarisation.
AC: Well, of course, when you restore things or you make things new, you have to always avoid that. You have to say I am making something new. And that does not seem to fill you with any kind of fear?
I think that every people in every given time should be encouraged to express themselves.
AK: No, I think that every people in every given time should be encouraged to express themselves. And I remember that when the pyramid was built in the Louvre, in the courtyard of the Louvre, there was immense debate as to whether this was appropriate or not. Well, it’s there!
AC: Yes, yes, it’s there. When we look at the world today, and of course there’s all …. we’ve had two and half days in our wonderful Six Degrees Citizen Space, where we have people from different parts of the world — we had Canadians as well — and we heard very discouraging comments from Europe, from people in Europe, who want to make things happen indeed, but the rise of the Hard Right, of really almost Fascist movements, reminds us sadly of times in the thirty’s, and we have to really watch that because all that, all of that, is to raise fear in people. And once fear rules people, they become blinded to all kinds of things. How do you deal with that? How do we deal with the fear?
AK: I think in this particular case, the issue is whether these countries have been willing to prepare themselves for this situation. Canada is a country that has permanent preparation. It is the way the country thinks. It welcomes people to come from outside. It has the institutions to support them when they arrive. It helps them integrate into Canadian society. That’s not true of many western European countries, because they are facing economic constraint, because there are social tensions, in various European countries also. Northern Europe does not speak the same language as Southern Europe, nor do they face the same problems. So I think we are living at a time when there are real difficulties, and my sense is that they’re going to have to be analysed and solutions are going to have to be found. Because the movement of people is not going to stop. I don’t see that stopping. It’s driven by a number of factors, and I think in many of the countries which are sending people to Europe today, are dealing with populations who are seeking opportunity. There is a great sense of lack of opportunity. Opportunity is next door. It’s not at home.
AC: When you were named as Imam, in your grandfather’s will, he said he felt that he had to appoint somebody who was a young man, a man who was born in the atomic age, that is, the age of our 20th and 21st Century. Has that influenced the way you think of things? Do you think of things in terms of a kind of millennial way, because you were appointed so young and you took on those duties so young; you knew you were expected to do something different; that is implicit in that will.
At the time and even today, many of the questions that I ask myself and that I discuss with members of my community [are] medium and long-term projecting.
AK: At the time and even today, many of the questions that I ask myself and that I discuss with members of my community [are] medium and long-term projecting. Where are we going? And are we going in the right direction in various countries? Are we being equitable in relation to the demography of the community? Are we over-committing in certain parts of the world and under-committing in others? Are there circumstances in regions which make it impossible for our institutions to function? Or, on the contrary, are there countries that would welcome them? So we are looking at, let’s say, a semi-global situation on an on-going basis. So, in that sense, we’re looking at how to plan and planning, I think, in our case requires institutional initiative. We need to get our institutions in place before people decide to move.
AC: Well, that’s the point. You’re there before!
AK: We try.
AC: You’re there before, because you have to then predict and you have to then say we’re going to be out front, and when the tide is ready we will have the port built, so that the ships can arrive. How do you do that? [Laughter.]
AK: You pray that Idi Amin never comes back! [Hearty laughter and applause!]
AC: Yes. Well, let’s hope that was only once in a hundred years, at least. But the idea of a threat to so many people comes up over and over again. I mean we know more about it now, because we have instant communications, so we know when whole groups are threatened, when things happen like that. But the ignorance that I talked about earlier is almost terrifying; that people do not understand the Muslim world whatsoever. And they do not understand — as you touched on in your speech — they do not understand the differences in the Muslim world. They have never read the Qur’an, they would not think of reading it or taking a study course in it. And I think that sort of thing really means that ignorance is promulgated and continued. And then, when very careless media add to that, then you really don’t understand.
Also, the other thing that I always like to point out is that Islam is six hundred years younger than Christianity. So, Christians should think what was Christianity like in the 15th century? And who was talking then? And how were they divided? It’s very interesting to think of it in the cycles of history, as opposed to just thinking it’s now and we’re all the same and we’re all equal, etc. We’re not, really, because we have different heritages.
AK: That’s true, but there was also a lot of inter-faith communication in the Middle Ages.
AC: That’s right. The inter-faith communication is ….
AK: A great deal [of inter-faith communication]. Particularly in the field of mystic faith.
AC: Linking Sufism and so on with Christian mysticism.
AK: Yes. Personal search.
AC: Why have we lost that?
AK: Probably, the requirements of modern life.
AC: Can we do anything about it? (Audience laughs.) Should we be trying? Is that one of the things we should be trying, besides thinking of development, besides thinking of, you know, creating universities and schools? Can we do that?
AK: I think what we need to reflect over is generosity in society. Our faith, the faith of Islam teaches generosity. But, I think it’s very important that generosity should be part of public psyche.
AC: And that means being brought up with it.
AK: Means being brought up with it. Means recognising those in need of help. Means creating institutions to deliver that help. And, obviously, in poor countries, it’s very difficult to achieve. But it should be a goal.
AC: Well, the problem is that the gap between rich and poor is growing and growing and growing, and not just in the developing world, but in the developed world. That is one of the real problems now for us, I think, as a society in the West, is that disparity between the haves and have-nots. And the more that grows, the more unjust society becomes. And there seems to be very little that people want to do about that, very little that they really want to do about it. And things become charity. Charity is not the right way to go about it; development is the right vehicle now, surely.
AK: Yes. Well, in the faith of Islam the best charity is to give, to enable an individual or a family to become independent of their economic destiny. That is known as the best charity.
AC: How often is it …. does it happen?
AK: I honestly don’t know. I’d have to ask our bankers. [Laughter.]
[With respect to future national governance] I think we have to offer rational people, options. I think it’s very important to put in front of public opinion, good options.
AC: As a final thing, I would like to ask you, what do you really think will happen now, in the medium term, for our future, as we see Britain wanting to leave Europe, as we see the rise of [the] very Hard Right in the European countries, as we see what’s happening in the United States, which is hardly even mentionable. What can we hope for now? How can we as individuals, who really want to make things better, as we’re faced with all of this, how does it happen, for us now?
AK: I think we have to offer rational people, options. I think it’s very important to put in front of public opinion, good options. Alternatives.
AC: Different ways of behaviour.
AK: Different ways of behaving.
AC: And how do we do that? How do we make …. is that through education? Is that through incentives? What is it? How is it done?
Public wisdom is not dependent on education.
AK: I think it’s through men and women coming forward to take positions of leadership. I think it’s institutions who need to engage, rather than let the field open to anything. And, I have been very impressed since 1957, in developing countries, when elections had to be held or were held in circumstances where you would assume that the population didn’t have access to the information they would’ve, in our view, needed to express themselves rationally and competently. Well, I got it wrong. They are very, very wise. Public wisdom is not dependent on education. [Applause.]
AC: You’re practically talking about Jung’s collective unconscious there. Is that, there is a kind of wisdom that people share?
AC: Because of their common humanity.
AK: Because of the common humanity. Because of the common circumstances in which they’re living.
AC: But does that bring us hope — as, you know, a collection of your speeches [in] “Where Hope Takes Root“; is that where hope will take root?
AK: Yes. I believe so. But it means that decision makers have to be responsive.
AC: Well, it’s very discouraging, often, when you look at the people who are elected [to] public office in different countries and the countries seem to vote for people that will harm them the most. Often, this is the most discouraging when you see in a democratic situation, even in free ones, where people will vote for something that is going to really harm them, and they do not seem to realise that. It’s very, very difficult, very difficult even because we have freedom of the press, we have enormous freedoms — particularly in North America and most of Europe — we have all those freedoms and yet we are in the dilemma that we are. So does that come back to the individual and their ability to do things?
Ultimately, the basic issue is: how does a family feed itself and educate its children, generation after generation? It’s that clear. It’s that important.
AK: I think it comes back to the way the individual, or the family, rather than the individual, evaluate their position in society at a given time. Ultimately, the basic issue is: how does a family feed itself and educate its children, generation after generation? It’s that clear. It’s that important. And, if society is able to provide that, for the totality of [the] population in a given country, that’s already a very sound foundation. But that is a condition sine qua non for a country to move ahead. If you have pockets of poverty, if you have populations or groups of populations who are marginalised, you’re looking at a series of issues that one year are going to blow up. The predictability of crisis, in my view, in Third World countries, is much higher than people would believe.
AC: You could predict them?
AK: You can predict them.
AC: Then why don’t we avert them?
AK: Ah, that is a different question. I think predicting them is something that you can do, averting them does depend on a lot of different issues. That’s not always easy.
AC: Thank you so much, Your Highness.
AK: Thank you. Thank you.
- Speech text: http://www.akdn.org/speech/his-highness-aga-khan/accepting-adrienne-clarkson-prize-global-citizenship
- Conversation text: Transcription by NanoWisdoms from video source
- Video and images: http://livestream.com/accounts/21069386/events/6381902
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