I have had a feeling that in Europe, but also in Asia and Africa, many, many of the conflicts have been driven by peoples or faiths or tribes who do not accept the existence of others, who want power or who want to normatise religious attitudes or things of this sort. I don’t believe these societies are born into the acceptance of pluralism. I think societies get educated about pluralism. I think young children can be educated without even it being a process — to recognise and accept people of different backgrounds, of different faiths, etc….

I think our experience with rural development in mixed communities … is that in those contexts pluralism is equitable access to opportunity rather than monolithic carrying of despair. And if there is equitable access to opportunity, communities come together because they are looking to the future. And they are looking to that future with hope. And they are entitled to believe in that. And they are entitled actually to manage that. [Emphasis original]

Interviewer: Alison Smith

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Alison Smith: Your words are that the most preoccupying global threat is the failure of democracy. What do you mean?

His Highness the Aga Khan: I think there has been, for a number of years now, a lot of pressure particularly on the developing world that I know to bring in democracy. And while the notion is one I fully support, democracies don’t run themselves — people run them. And my sense is that in many, many countries the sorts of human capabilities that are necessary to make democracies function, in their multiple forms, are not there. There is a tendency to use democracy as a generic term, but it isn’t. There are so many different forms of democracy.

AS: So what does that suggest then about how you look at, for example, the efforts by the United States to bring democracy to Iraq and to Afghanistan?

There is a tendency to use democracy as a generic term, but it isn’t. There are so many different forms of democracy. If you look at Afghanistan or you look at Kenya or you look at other countries in the developing world and you think of the number of countries that are redesigning their constitutions today … Then they have to decide whether democracy, such as what is common in the West, can work.

AK: If you look at Afghanistan or you look at Kenya or you look at other countries in the developing world and you think of the number of countries that are redesigning their constitutions today, they have to make serious considered decisions as to the profile of the constitution they want, that suits their country, their demography. Then they have to decide whether democracy, such as what is common in the West, can work. I am not sure that democracies in countries which have have sixty or seventy political parties are going to be stable democracies. So I think the issue really is how to sustain and help these countries develop leadership which is able to function within the new constitutions that are coming forwards. One of the serious questions I have is, for example, in education. It is traditional in North America and much of Western Europe to educate on government. That doesn’t happen in a large number of countries in the developing world.

AS: Is this part of what you call the “clash of ignorance”?

AK: No. The “clash of ignorance” I apply really to the relations between the Muslim world and the rest.

AS: So what does the West have to do then because we now see the prospect of the Group of Eight leaders getting together and essentially talking about relieving the debt of the poorest countries in Africa? What kind of a commitment do they need to make in your view?

AK: I think they need to make a commitment to understand what are the inputs that would be required to assist these countries to develop functioning democracies. And that needs to be, in my understanding, or in my view, would be tailored to the requirements of each country or tailored to the region.

AS: One of the things you have done in Canada is establish this Global Centre for Pluralism.

AK: Right, right.

AS: Tell me what you mean by “pluralism” and how that fits into your notion of civil society?

I would hope that there could be a process in place drawn from Canadian experience — and I mean drawn from Canadian experience — where it becomes the psyche of these countries to base their development programs on the acceptance of pluralism, seen as an asset.

AK: In the past decades I have had a feeling that in Europe, but also in Asia and Africa, many, many of the conflicts have been driven by peoples or faiths or tribes who do not accept the existence of others, who want power or who want to normatise religious attitudes or things of this sort. And I don’t believe these societies are born into the acceptance of pluralism. I think societies get educated about pluralism. I think young children can be educated without even it being a process — to recognise and accept people of different backgrounds, of different faiths, etc. And I would hope that there could be a process in place drawn from Canadian experience — and I mean drawn from Canadian experience — where it becomes the psyche of these countries to base their development programs on the acceptance of pluralism, seen as an asset.

AS: Why Canada?

AK: Because you of all the developed countries that I know, have committed yourselves infinitely more than anybody else to this exercise. And Canadians are humble about it. They talk about it as a work in progress. They are right. It is always going to be a work in progress. And I think that you have accumulated experience over decades which we really can learn from.

AS: Well obviously that’s closely connected to your drive for democracy in all its forms as you put it. It’s also connected and I will go back to it, it is also connected to the “clash of ignorance” that you talk about too. Isn’t it?

AK: Absolutely. Absolutely you can’t really build pluralism unless it is based on education. It’s got to be based upon a minimum of understanding and knowledge.

AS: You know so much of education is about having a wider view of the world. And you have that, you travel, you have the Ismaili communities all over the globe, so often in countries where that wider view does not exist as you point out, they are rural communities, they are people who do not have an opportunity to go beyond their village in a sense. How do you inculcate that wider view without affording people, in a sense, the opportunity to get beyond the village?

AK: Right, right. I think our experience with rural development in mixed communities — and we have done a lot of that work in a large number of countries — in Africa, in Asia, Central Asia, with CIDA help amongst others, what we have learnt from that is that in those contexts pluralism is equitable access to opportunity rather than monolithic carrying of despair. And if there is equitable access to opportunity, communities come together because they are looking to the future. And they are looking to that future with hope. And they are entitled to believe in that. And they are entitled actually to manage that. [Emphasis original]

AS: It has been a real pleasure to talk with you. Thank you very much.

AK: Thank you.

SOURCES

  • Text (secondary source): ismaili.net

POSSIBLY RELATED READINGS (GENERATED AUTOMATICALLY)