Contents of the ‘By Theme’ category in chronological order.

88th Stephen A. Ogden, Jr. ’60 Memorial Lecture on International Affairs and apres lecture conversation with Christina Paxson, Brown University (Providence, USA)

[T]he key to human cooperation and concord has not depended on advances in the technologies of communication, but rather on how human beings go about using — or abusing — their technological tools.

Among the risks of our new communications world is its potential contribution to what I would call the growing “centrifugal forces” in our time — the forces of “fragmentation.” These forces, I believe, can threaten the coherence of democratic societies and the effectiveness of democratic institutions. Yes, the Information Revolution, for individuals and for communities, can be a great liberating influence. But it also carries some important risks.

More information at our fingertips can mean more knowledge and understanding. But it can also mean more fleeting attention-spans, more impulsive judgements, and more dependence on superficial snapshots of events. Communicating more often and more easily can bring people closer together, but it can also tempt us to live more of our lives inside smaller information bubbles, in more intense but often more isolated groupings. We see more people everywhere these days, standing or sitting or walking alone, absorbed in their hand-held screens. But, I wonder whether, in some larger sense, they are really more “in touch?” Greater “connectivity” does not necessarily mean greater “connection.”

Information travels more quickly, in greater quantities these days. But the incalculable multiplication of information can also mean more error, more exaggeration, more misinformation, more disinformation, more propaganda. The world may be right there on our laptops, but the truth about the world may be further and further away. The problem of fragmentation in our world is not a problem of diversity. Diversity itself should be a source of enrichment. The problem comes when diverse elements spin off on their own, when the bonds that connect us across our diversities begin to weaken.

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Globe and Mail Interview (5th), John Stackhouse, ‘”Without a doubt, I am seriously worried” about the world’ (Toronto, Canada) ·· incomplete

Without a doubt, I am seriously worried [about the world]. I think we are seeing new problems that originally looked to be local problems but now are becoming regional problems and regional problems that are becoming global problems. One of them is frustration with governments that have stayed in power too long and underperformed. Another, the Shia-Sunni divide is a serious one. It’s not one country called Ireland. It’s nine countries. That’s a lot of countries. So we have a serious problem there. I think we have a situation where new mega-powers are coming up on the world screen. I’m thinking of China, and, from my point of view, predictability is a problem. If you’re looking at the global map and you’re asking what’s ahead, I find predictability with respect to China quite difficult. Their policy toward Africa has been very supportive. I don’t know where that will go in the next 10 years. To me there are more questions on the radar screen than there was a year ago.

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CBC Interview (4th), One-on-One (2nd) with Peter Mansbridge (Toronto, Canada)

What are the continuing consequences of the situation in Iraq?

Well I think one of them obviously is crisis between the Shia and Sunni communities. I think that crisis is now extending throughout the region, and I mentioned today [in my speech to Parliament], that it’s actually active in nine countries. I mean, if you make a parallel with the Christian world, what would have been the Christian world’s reaction if the Irish crisis had been active in nine countries. (Pause) It would have been a very, very serious issue. That’s what we’re facing today. That crisis is in nine countries and it is likely to expand further. (Emphasis original)

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Address at Massey Hall (Toronto, Canada)

It is a particularly happy day, for me, that we are extending this partnership, strengthening it, giving it new opportunities, in areas of development needs that are essential — young children, isolated peoples, post conflict situations. So we have a partner, a wonderful partner, who works with us not in the easy, comfortable parts of the world, but who works with us where there are challenges, where there are difficulties, where people fight, and where people seek to develop just a simple life of survival. And that is a unique partnership because it’s a partnership for people. It’s a partnership for people in difficulty. It’s a partnership where imagination is essential if you want to build strong programmes.

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Address to both Houses of the Parliament of Canada in the House of Commons Chamber (Ottawa, Canada)

When the clashes of modern times have come, they have most often grown out of particular political circumstances, the twists and turns of power relationships and economic ambitions, rather than deep theological divides. Yet sadly, what is highly abnormal in the Islamic world gets mistaken for what is normal. Of course, media perceptions of our world in recent years have often been conveyed through a lens of war. But that is all the more reason to shape global conversation in a more informed direction. I am personally aware of the efforts the Prime Minister has made to achieve this. Thank you, Prime Minister….

Perhaps the most important area of incomprehension, outside the Ummah, is the conflict between Sunni and Shia interpretations of Islam and the consequences for the Sunni and Shia peoples. This powerful tension is sometimes even more profound than conflicts between Muslims and other faiths. It has increased massively in scope and intensity recently, and has been further exacerbated by external interventions. In Pakistan and Malaysia, in Iraq and Syria, in Lebanon and Bahrain, in Yemen and Somalia and Afghanistan it is becoming a disaster. It is important, therefore, for non-Muslims who are dealing with the Ummah to communicate with both Sunni and Shia voices. To be oblivious to this reality would be like ignoring over many centuries that there were differences between Catholics and Protestants, or trying to resolve the civil war in Northern Ireland without engaging both Christian communities. What would have been the consequences if the Protestant-Catholic struggle in Ireland had spread throughout the Christian world, as is happening today between Shia and Sunni Muslims in more than nine countries? It is of the highest priority that these dangerous trends be well understood and resisted, and that the fundamental legitimacy of pluralistic outlooks be honoured in all aspects of our lives together, including matters of faith.

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2013 Aga Khan University Convocation Ceremony (Karachi, Pakistan)

We are planning now to build new undergraduate Faculties of Arts and Sciences, one in Karachi and one in Arusha in Tanzania. We plan to achieve this goal progressively as circumstances and resources allow. Yes, it will be a time-consuming exercise, but our planning has been advancing very quickly indeed.

Again, developing a liberal arts capacity will not only fulfil AKU’s founding vision, but it will also follow in the tradition of the great Islamic Universities of past centuries and their effort to expand, and to integrate, a wide array of knowledge. At that time, of course, comprehending the full expanse of knowledge was seen as an achievable goal; today, the explosion of knowledge seems overwhelming. But the knowledge explosion is precisely what makes a liberal arts platform even more valuable. The liberal arts, I believe, can provide an ideal context for fostering inter-disciplinary learning, nurturing critical thinking, inculcating ethical values, and helping students to learn how to go on learning about our ever-evolving universe.

A liberal arts orientation will also help prepare students for leadership in a world where the forces of civil society will play an increasingly pivotal role….

In places where government has been ineffective, or in post-conflict situations, civil society has demonstrated its potential value for maintaining, and even enhancing, the quality of human life. But civil society requires leaders who possess not only well-honed specialised skills, but also a welcoming attitude to a broad array of disciplines and outlooks.

This is why we believe that an investment in liberal arts education is also an investment in strengthening civil society. And this is also true of another, complementary investment we will be making at AKU — the creation of seven new graduate professional schools.

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Acceptance Address – Royal Architectural Institute of Canada’s Gold Medal (Ottawa, Canada)

Is it not true that the quality of our lives is fundamentally shaped by the spaces in which we live, spaces that provide physical security, and spaces where we seek spiritual enrichment? They are spaces where we work, and where we pause from work; where we expand our minds and restore our health, places where we congregate and where we meditate; and they are places where we are born, as well as places of final rest….

People everywhere — independent of their particular background or educational level — almost instinctively understand the importance of place, and how the spaces of our lives are shaped and reshaped, for better or for worse. I thought about this universal capacity for comprehension again, these past weeks, as the world reacted to photographs of the Haiyan typhoon in the Philippines.

This universal sensitivity to changes in the built environment also helps explain the profound impact of architecture on the way we think about our lives. Few other forces, in my view, have such transformational potential.

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India Today Interview (2nd), Sandeep Unnithan, ‘What keeps him on course with reviving cultural heritage in developing world’ (Delhi, India)

I think what drives our network is to enable people to manage their destinies. Once they manage their destinies, you will see, generally speaking, a take-off situation. It’s when they cannot manage their destinies and cannot achieve a level of economic independence that they are indebted in a terrible way or are subject to climate change because they are in agriculture or because they are high-risk and they have an earthquake — these are situations which we try to assist. We are not interested in philanthropy in a Western terminology as I would call it, because philanthropy or what they call it, charity, is not our notion of development. Our notion of development is to assist people to go from a notion of an unsatisfactory position of development to an autonomous position. That to us is what is important. Once they are autonomous, our role is finished. They can manage their destiny….

I think about what I used to read about India, China — you remember, the word most used by the Western media was “basket-case” (laughs). I think over and muse over the stupidity of that word, and how silly it looks today, in relation to India and China. I wonder where the basket is nowadays, probably it is moving to other places.

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The Indian Express/NDTV ‘Walk the Talk’ Interview, Shekhar Gupta (Hyderabad, India)

So what do you tell your friends in the Western world about their new stereotypes of Islam and what do you tell your Muslim brothers and sisters and followers about their stereotypes of the Western world?

Well I would start by asking a very simple question: in 2013 what is the definition of an educated person? What is the knowledge that that person should have and how is that person going to use it? And the knowledge that that person requires, in my view, is more and more understanding the world not understanding little parts of it. And I think that understanding the world is a massively complex goal but I think that we’ve got to admit that that’s what’s necessary. It’s unavoidable. We’re more of one world than ever before.

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Times of India Interview, Ranjan Roy, ‘Civil society has to be driven by competence as well as ethics: Aga Khan’ (Hyderabad, India)

Do individuals increasingly lack an ethical compass?

Which is why most freedoms go past a certain set of limits. Freedom has been taken to a point where unethical behaviour has become acceptable. That is what I am apprehensive about and we see it many parts of the world. That kind of freedom enables the individual to behave in ways that are unhelpful to society, to its institutions. You can see it the banking world, you see it in the media world, and you can see it in social relations.

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Jamati Institutional Leaders Dinner (Mumbai, India) ·· incomplete

As you know I attach great importance to Indian history and to the great caliphates, the great empires of the Muslim world, because I believe there’s always something to learn. The past is a place to learn, even if the future is different, and this is why I have spent considerable time in trying to enhance in India the Mughal history and to learn how the Mughals achieved global leadership.

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Aga Khan Academy, Hyderabad, Inaugural Ceremony (Hyderabad, India)

The network concept that I have mentioned is something that makes our academy endeavour a unique and distinctive one. And if there is one central thought I would like to have you take away from this day, it is the interconnected, international dimension of our envisioned academy experience. Our planning is that there eventually will be 18 Academies, situated in 14 countries….

It has become commonplace to talk of an inter-connected planet, with global communities of trade and finance, science and medicine, governance and diplomacy, education and culture. It is our intention that our Academy graduates will eventually become accomplished leaders in all of these fields. But why should a profound immersion into global experience come only when one reaches the higher levels of education or actually begins a career? Why should world awareness and active international participation be thought of as something that is supplemental, rather than essential, to education throughout one’s early life?

We believe that our Academies network will foster a lively sense of world awareness among all its students. Our student body already includes people from a variety of economic and social backgrounds, as our financial aid programme enables us to admit excellent students without regard to their economic resources. Nor is admission geared in any way to the national, religious or ethnic background of any applicant. Our faculties will be similarly diverse. And, of course, the goal of global engagement will be powerfully re-enforced by the integrated flow of people and ideas among the various Academies.

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Inauguration Ceremony for the Restoration of Humayun’s Tomb (Delhi, India)

The word “partnership,” in fact, could be the watchword of this celebration. What we honour today, above all else is the spirit of partnership in which this work has unfolded.

In my view, an Ethic of Partnership must be at the centre of any successful project of this sort. Among other things, an Ethic of Partnership means that traditional separations between public and private domains must be set aside, so that public-private partnerships can thrive as an essential keystone for effective development.

The role of governments, including municipalities, is essential, of course, in providing an “enabling environment” for development. But the public sector cannot do this work alone. A creative mix of participants is needed: corporations and development agencies, foundations and universities, faith communities and local community groups.

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2013 Aga Khan Award for Architecture Prize Ceremony (Lisbon, Portugal)

As I think back to the origins of this Award almost four decades ago, I recall my own growing realisation at that time that the proud architectural heritage of the Islamic world was endangered. Here was one of the world’s great architectural traditions, often inspired, as major architectural flowerings are so often, by one of the world’s great religious faiths.

And yet, this flowering had been allowed to decay, and in some cases almost to disappear. Nowhere else, in no other great cultural tradition, had this sort of compromise threatened such a rich inheritance. The result was that, for huge segments of the world’s population, cultural memory was fading, and an enormous cultural disaster seemed to be looming.

One part of the issue had been the effect of the colonial experience on Islamic cultures. But even in post-colonial or non-colonial settings, much of the Islamic architectural practice seemed to be consumed by a growing passion to be truly “modern”, or by a rudderless quest to be fashionably “global”.

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Preface to ‘The Museum of the Horse’ edited by Philip Jodidio (Aiglemont)

I have become convinced that the human and economic action implied in the conservation or rehabilitation of cultural heritage is closely related, no matter where they occur…. The renewal or restoration of a place of culture always implies the necessity of considering the economic potential destined to ensure the sustainability of the effort in the long term. The concept is simple. The complexity lies in the need to develop a strategy and a management model that will ensure sustainable economic development over the long term….

The whole idea is to give Chantilly new life, to put it back on the map; indeed, to put it on the map as one of France’s great cultural centres. It probably has the second best collection after the Louvre of various types of works of art…. The idea was to show Chantilly, as the Duc d’Aumale had asked, to the largest number of people possible. It was necessary to wake up this city, to coordinate the action of those responsible for the racecourse, the Chateau, the buildings and the park, the city, and the Ministry of Culture. The Museum of the Horse is an integral part of this scheme. The kings of France came to Chantilly to hunt, the Grandes Ecuries are the rival of the Royal Stables at Versailles, and the Hippodrome saw the birth of horse racing in France.

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The Museum of The Horse Opening Ceremony (Chantilly, France) ·· missing

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CNN Interview on the inauguration of The Museum of The Horse, Francesca Cumani (Chantilly, France) ·· incomplete

The mayor came to me and said, ‘Would you join us in financing the saving of Chantilly’s race course?’ And I said, ‘But I’m not interested in only saving the race course. I’d like to widen the spectrum to the whole of Chantilly.’ …

It’s an exciting project and I think it will be one of the few museums totally dedicated to the horse in all its aspects in life.

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Remarks introducing Kofi Annan, The Global Centre for Pluralism’s Second Annual Lecturer (Ottawa, Canada)

In welcoming Kofi Annan this evening, I want to emphasise what his personal example has meant to all of us. He has truly been an inspiration, demonstrating the power of patience and persistence, of a willingness always to listen and a refusal to give up hope….

As Kofi Annan has taught us, pluralism requires constant dialogue, a readiness to compromise, and an understanding that pluralism is not an end in itself, but a continuous process.

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UNESCO Conference on Culture and Development Keynote Address (Hangzhou, China)

For all of these journeys [of cultural projects], the development process has been long and complex, but filled with stimulating lessons. Let me briefly summarise five of them.

First, these cultural projects depend upon an ethic of partnership. This means that traditional separations between public and private domains must be set aside. The concept of public-private partnership is an essential keystone for effective cultural development. The role of governments, including municipalities, is fundamental in providing what we often term “an enabling environment” for development. But the public sector cannot do this work alone…. I have one more comment to make about partnerships. It is absolutely essential that effective partnerships are maintained throughout the life of a project, including the post-completion period….

This discussion leads me to a second conclusion: while cultural development often begins with physical legacies, planning must focus well beyond the cultural goals. We cannot somehow assume that a favourable social and economic impact will flow naturally as a by-product of cultural commitments. Issues relating to the quality of life must be considered from the beginning and monitored throughout the project’s life.

A third point in this list of lessons learned is that the engagement of the local community from the earliest stages is imperative for success. Cultural endeavours, in particular, involve risks that go beyond external, economic factors. Their progress can depend heavily on variable qualities of human nature, including the pride and confidence of the peoples involved….

There is a fourth point that is also special to historic restoration projects. That is the fact that we can never be sure just what we will encounter as the work of rediscovery moves along. There are many unknowns going in, and we must be ready for surprises….

Let me finally highlight a fifth lesson. Planning for such projects must anticipate how they will operate on a continuing basis after they are completed…. Up-front investment will be on everyone’s mind at the start. But our financial strategies should include eventual income streams that will sustain the project over the long run. One of the least happy outcomes for any cultural initiative is that it becomes a net drain on the local population.

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Vanity Fair Interview, James Reginato, ‘The Aga Khan’s Earthly Kingdom’ (USA) ·· incomplete

We have no notion of the accumulation of wealth being evil … It’s how you use it. The Islamic ethic is that if God has given you the capacity or good fortune to be a privileged individual in society, you have a moral responsibility to society.

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