Entries with content relating to ‘History (Political)’, in chronological order.

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Keynote Address, Athens Democracy Forum (Athens, Greece)

But what can we say then, about why democratic systems often fall short in their efforts to improve the quality of their constituents’ lives? Let me suggest four elements that could help strengthen democracy’s effectiveness in meeting this central challenge. They are: improved constitutional understanding, independent and pluralistic media, the potential of civil society, and a genuine democratic ethic….

This leads me to my third observation. Government, while critical, can only take us so far. At a time of democratic disappointment, we must re-emphasise the immense potential of those non-governmental institutions that we call “civil society.” Too often, our thinking is trapped in a false dichotomy. We talk about the public sector and the private sector, but we often undervalue a third sector — that of civil society…. Civil society is powered by private energies, committed to the public good. It draws on the ancient, classical link between democracy and the publicly-committed citizen. It includes institutions of education, health, science and research, embracing professional, commercial, labour, ethnic and arts organisations, and others devoted to religion, communication, and the environment. It seeks consensus through genuine consent. It can experiment, adapt and accommodate diversity. It can in the fullest sense be “of, by and for the people.” It can in the fullest sense be a remarkable support — but only on condition that is it sustained, accepted and encouraged by government….

One ultimate requirement for any effective democracy is the capacity to compromise. Social order rests in the end either on oppression or accommodation. But we can never find that balancing point — where the interests of all parties are recognised — unless competing leaders and their diverse followers alike, are committed to finding common ground. That common ground, in my view, is the global aspiration for a better quality of life — from the reduction of poverty to quality longevity — built upon opportunities that will provide genuine hope for the future. Democracy can only survive if it demonstrates — across the years and across the planet — that it is the best way to achieve that goal.

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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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‘A Life in the Service of Development’ published in Politique Internationale (Paris, France)

Practically no countries [sic] in Asia, Africa or the Middle East have a political landscape rooted in a strong two-party system as do many Western democracies. The probable consequence is that in many if not most countries of the developing world, coalition government will be omnipresent in the decades ahead. Yet few of these countries have any established experience with coalition governance (this is true of even the most powerful countries of the industrialised world). This critical challenge will become even more complex in countries where functioning compromises must be found between secular and theocratic forces.

A possible common ground could be found if all the political forces accepted over-arching responsibility to nourish a cosmopolitan ethic among their peoples. This would be an ethic for all peoples, one that offers equitable and measurable opportunities for the improvement of their lives, measured in terms of their own criteria for quality living. Clearly, different peoples will have different visions about a desirable quality of life, in urban versus rural areas, for example.

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10th Annual LaFontaine-Baldwin Lecture, Institute for Canadian Citizenship, ‘Pluralism’, and apres lecture conversation with John Ralston Saul (Toronto, Canada)

The variety of the world is not only more available, it is nearly inescapable. Human difference is more proximate and more intense. What was once beyond our view is now at our side and, indeed, to use the popular expression, “in our face.” … The challenge of diversity is now a global challenge and how we address it will have global consequences….

I believe that the challenge of pluralism is never completely met. Pluralism is a process and not a product. It is a mentality, a way of looking at a diverse and changing world. A pluralistic environment is a kaleidoscope that history shakes every day. Responding to pluralism is an exercise in constant re-adaptation. Identities are not fixed in stone. What we imagine our communities to be must also evolve with the tides of history. As we think about pluralism, we should be open to the fact that there may be a variety of “best practices,” a “diversity of diversities,” and a “pluralism of pluralisms.”

In sum, what we must seek and share is what I have called “a cosmopolitan ethic,” a readiness to accept the complexity of human society. It is an ethic which balances rights and duties. It is an ethic for all peoples.

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Address to the Conference Marking Nation Media Group’s 50th Anniversary, ‘Media and the African Promise’ (Nairobi, Kenya)

I am convinced that the best way for media, in Africa and elsewhere, to maintain their independence is to prove their indispensability. This is not an easy task. Information flows more quickly, over longer distances at lower cost than ever before. But sometimes more information, in and of itself, can also mean more misinformation, more confusion, more manipulation, more superficial snapshots of events, lacking nuance, lacking context, or hiding agendas….

In my view the time has come when a sometimes dysfunctional relationship born out of government inexperience or media shallowness can be replaced by a new level of constructive intellectual empathy. I am convinced that an improved relationship is now possible. No! It is essential if African development is to progress at the pace African peoples need and want….

I am pleased to tell you that The Aga Khan University is planning to establish a new Graduate School of Media and Communications, based in East Africa and dedicated to advancing the excellence of media performance and the strengthening of ethical media practices throughout the developing world. The School will be driven, above all, by an absolute commitment to quality.

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ZDF (Enterprises) Interview (2nd) for the documentary ‘Islam and the West’, ‘Morgenland’ (‘Orient’) (Germany) ·· incomplete

[As] a Muslim we don’t make the divide between faith and life in the same way as parts of the Christian world do, not all of it but there are large parts of the Christian world which make that divide. We don’t make that divide. Islam doesn’t allow you to make that divide. You reflect your belief, your faith in the faith of Islam, not only by your attitude to the faith itself but to the society in which you live — to poverty, to the family, to ethics in your civil behaviour. It’s part of your everyday life. You live the faith. And I think that’s why many, many Muslims, not me but others, including myself, define the faith as, a way of life because it is a way of life. [Emphasis original]

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Financial Times Interview, Rachel Morarjee, ‘Coffee with the FT: His Highness the Aga Khan’ (London, United Kingdom) ·· incomplete

“If you try to put social development ahead of economic support, it doesn’t work. You have to do both together. A community whose economics don’t change is not one that can support community structures, education, healthcare, it doesn’t have the wherewithal.”

I ask whether he thinks this long-term view is key to his success and he says that many projects can take 25 years to come to fruition. He cites a hospital in Pakistan that now produces world class doctors a quarter of a century after it opened. It would be hard to find Western donors who would remain with a project for that long.

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Paroquias de Portugal Interview, António Marujo and Faranaz Keshavjee, ‘The West should accept that Islam does not separate the world and faith’ (Lisbon, Portugal)

Does daily life carry the same importance as eternal life?

In Islam, they are the same thing. One cannot separate faith from the world. [Emphasis added.]

This is one of the greatest difficulties that the non-Muslim world has, because the Judaic Christian societies developed with that notion of separation. For the Muslims, that separation is not possible. We are expected to live our faith every day, in every hour. One of the difficulties that we are facing in the Muslim and non-Muslim worlds, is the articulation of the difference in values in a comprehensive form. However, this does not mean that we are in conflict. They are just different values.

I would like the non-Muslim societies to accept the values of Islam. If Islam says that we do not separate the world from faith, the Western world should accept that. I would go further and say: it is a wonderful way to live! It is an extraordinary blessing to be able to live our faith everyday! Making ethic the way in which you live your daily life, and not only in occasions such as death, a marriage or a birth.

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Irish Times Interview, Alison Healy, ‘Jubilee for an imam among equals’ (Maynooth, Ireland) ·· incomplete

He is interested in the current debate on whether the hijab, the Muslim headscarf, should be worn in Irish schools and cautions against the issue being used to create division. “My own sense is that if an individual wishes to associate publicly with a faith, that’s the right of that individual to do that, whether he’s a Christian or a Jew or a Muslim. That is, to me, something which is important.” But he says that people should not be forced to wear the hijab. “To go from there to an imposed process by forces in society, to me is unacceptable. It’s got to be the choice of the individual who wishes to associate with his faith or her faith. I have great respect for any individual who wants in the right way to be associated with his own faith. I accept that totally and I would never challenge it.”

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Gulf News Interview, Ashfaq Ahmed, ‘Aga Khan: The architect of universal good’ (Dubai, United Arab Emirates) ·· incomplete

Do you think the world is heading towards a “clash of capturing natural resources”? … I think we are seeing a concentration of wealth in a number of countries. There is a search for new resources to exploit for national or strategic purposes. The situation can be changed by making a move towards using nuclear power, as it has the potential to change the global economic scenario. (1) …

Any message for the community? The spirit of Islam is to share knowledge and I always tell the community not to think in material terms. Think in terms of knowledge and think what you can offer our institutions in various parts of the world. Raise our performance in healthcare, education, financial services and in civil society. Many minorities from the Middle East countries are living in the West. Just think how wonderful it would be if young women and men return to their respective countries to strengthen institutions and do voluntary work for their countries.

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L’Express Interview, Eric Chol and Christian Makarian, ‘The ethic of Islam rests on generosity’ (Paris, France)

[Google translation] It is necessary to constantly consider the relationship between the Ummah and the knowledge society. One realises that countries that have succeeded in reconciling both develop most quickly. On the other hand, those that reject or limit access to the knowledge society get left behind. My concept of Islam is a faith for all time, not backward looking.

In the Qur’an it is written that one must seek education to know Allah better, and share knowledge for the betterment of society. That is to say that in Islam, the links between faith and knowledge are very strong and we are constantly encouraged to learn. This is an extraordinary message for humanity.

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Masters of Public Affairs Programme, Institut d’Etudes Politiques de Paris (Sciences Po), Graduation Ceremony (Paris, France)

The question that must be asked, I believe, is not whether democracy is a good thing in the abstract, but rather how to help democracy perform better in practice. Do we really know what is going wrong? And why? Do we know what corrective steps should be taken? And by whom? These are massive questions, and I do not claim to know the answers. But I do believe that significantly more thought must be given to these issues, by the intelligentsia of our world, yourselves included….

As history demonstrates, so-called backward places can move forward over time. It is not unrealistic to plan for progress…. One of the reasons that I am more optimistic than some about the future of the developing world is my faith that a host of new institutions can play a larger role in that future. I am especially enthusiastic about the potential of what I call “civil society”….

Bringing a new sense of peace and order to [the complex situation of Islamic-Western relations] will require great subtlety, patience, understanding and knowledge. Sadly, none, I repeat none, of these requirements are sufficiently available amongst the main players today. There is clumsiness, not subtlety, there is impatience, not patience, there is a massive deficit in understanding and an enormous knowledge vacuum.

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Preface to the book ‘Syria, Medieval Citadels Between East and West’ by Stefano Bianca (Aiglemont)

Such deep and abiding affinities [between Christendom and the Muslim world] demonstrate that so-called conflicts between East and West — whether past or present — are political or ideological constructs that have no real basis in deeper cultural and religious fact. Beyond and apart from the controversies highlighted by contemporary observers (and acerbated by modern nationalistic concepts originally alien to Islam) there has always been a tradition of cultural exchange, tolerance and mutual understanding — even during conflictual situations such as the invasion by the Crusaders. It is this ‘subterranean’ tradition of multicultural symbiosis and of tolerant pluralism, as exemplified by the cultural history of Syria, which needs to be brought to light again, in order to overcome stereotypical prejudices that aggravate any real or imaginary conflicts that may still exist.

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CBC Interview (3rd), One-on-One (1st) with Peter Mansbridge (Ottawa, Canada)

Baghdad is one of the great historic cities of the Islamic world. Iraq is not a new country. It’s part of the history of our civilisation. It’s been a pluralist country. Great philosophers, great historians, great scientists. Reverse the question again. What would the Christian world think if a Muslim army attacked Rome? I think there would be a general reaction in the Christian world, not just an Italian reaction….

Well, that [conflict, between the Shia and Sunni in Iraq,] was entirely predictable. Entirely predictable. There was nothing unpredictable. What you were effectively doing is replacing a Sunni minority government in a country that had a Shia demographic majority. And again, take the case out of its situation. What would happen — and I’m sorry to come back to this, but it’s important — if a Muslim army went into Northern Ireland and replaced one Christian interpretation by another? Imagine the fallout that that would cause in the Christian world itself.

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Spiegel Online Interview (2nd), Stefan Aust and Erich Follath, ‘Islam Is a Faith of Reason’ (Berlin, Germany)

Does Islam have a problem with reason? Not at all. Indeed, I would say the contrary. Of the Abrahamic faiths, Islam is probably the one that places the greatest emphasis on knowledge. The purpose is to understand God’s creation, and therefore it is a faith which is eminently logical. Islam is a faith of reason…. I am not opposed to secularism as such. But I am opposed to unilateral secularism where the notions of faith and ethics just disappear from society.

What are the root causes of terrorism? Unsolved political conflicts, frustration and, above all, ignorance. Nothing that was born out of a theological conflict…. Take away the causes of extremism and extremists can come back to a more reasonable political agenda. That change to me is one of the wonderful things about the human race.

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Aga Khan Academy, Hyderabad, Foundation Stone Ceremony (Hyderabad, India)

What we begin here may not have its full impact in any of our lifetimes. But the beginnings we undertake today may well be among the most important things we will ever do….

I would like to speak initially about the logic behind the Aga Khan Academies programme — to look at its philosophical underpinnings…. At the very heart of our conclusions — is one, central conviction: the key to future progress in the developing world will be its ability to identify, to develop, and to retain expert and effective home-grown leadership….

As the pace of history has accelerated, agility and adaptability have become more important qualities than mere size or strength, and the race of life has gone increasingly to the nimble and the knowledgeable. As the economic arena has been globalising, openness and flexibility have become prerequisites for progress, and success has gone more and more to those who can connect and respond.

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Interview/Round Table Discussion with the German Press following the 2005 Die Quadriga Prize award ceremony (Berlin, Germany) ·· incomplete

[Translation] Islam and terror have not the slightest thing in common. Islam does not teach terrorism any more than Christianity or Judaism. He who blows himself and others up is a criminal and cannot claim to be a servant of God, praise be to Allah. The world religion of Islam teaches peace, compassion and tolerance….

The West must move away from the idea of wanting to transpose its vision of democracy identically into the Islamic world. This cannot work. The West cannot simply erase 1400 years of Muslim history. Islam is by no means a contradiction to democracy, quite the contrary.

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Jeune Afrique Interview (2nd), Coumba Diop, ‘Ethics of Islam guides all my work’ (Mali or Côte d’Ivoire)

[Google translation] If you were to go on a desert island, what three things would you take?

[Google translation] [Laughs.] Oh my! I do not know what to say! I wish I could feed myself, dress and live as long as possible! And I’ll take what practice my faith.

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Toronto Star Interview (2nd), Haroon Siddiqui, ‘Selling a Canadian idea to the world’ (Toronto, Canada) ·· incomplete

We have seen, in the last quarter of a century, many pluralistic nations pay a horrible price because they were unable to manage conflicts between different communities. (Canada, on the other hand) has a long and highly successful track record of pluralism. It is a sophisticated democracy where people of different backgrounds feel they have an equitable voice in the country and have achieved positions of real leadership.

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