Contents of the ‘Where Hope takes Root (book)’ category in chronological order.

‘Where Hope Takes Root – Democracy and Pluralism in an Interdependent World’: Book of His Highness the Aga Khan’s speeches and interviews (Canada)

NanoWisdoms’ Introduction

Published in 2008, Where Hope Takes Root is a collection of 13 of His Highness the Aga Khan’s principal speeches, made between 2002 and 2006 (links below), along with his important 2006 interview with the CBC’s Peter Mansbridge. Focused on the theme “democracy and pluralism in an interdependent world,” the book — which deserves to be read repeatedly — could arguably be characterised as “The Essential Aga Khan.” The NanoWisdoms Archive is pleased to make this seminal collection available for those who have not yet had the opportunity to read it.

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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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Funding Agreement for the Global Centre for Pluralism Signing Ceremony (Ottawa, Canada)

As Canadians know so well, the idea of pluralism is not a new one in this world. It has honourable and ancient foundations, including deep roots in Islamic tradition. What is new, today, is that society is globalised, intimately interconnected and extraordinarily interdependent. (1)

[Google translation] Many factors have contributed to this new order: the end of the Cold War, the advanced techniques of transport and communications, accelerated migration of peoples. But the impact of these forces is likely to intensify in the future. In my opinion, what we face now is a new and challenging period in human history, where the values and practices are more pluralistic secular just desirable — they have become absolutely essential — not only for the future of the world but also for our very survival.

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Acceptance Address – Tutzing Evangelical Academy’s ‘Tolerance’ Award (Tutzing, Germany + [USA])

There is a human impulse it seems — fed by fear — to define “identity” in negative terms. We often determine “who we are” by determining who we are against. This fragmenting impulse not only separates peoples from one another, it also subdivides communities and then it subdivides the subdivisions…. But the human inclination to divisiveness is accompanied, I deeply believe, by a profound human impulse to bridge divisions. And often the more secure we are in our own identities, the more effective we can be in reaching out to others.

If our animosities are born out of fear, then confident generosity is born out of hope. One of the central lessons I have learned after a half century of working in the developing world is that the replacement of fear by hope is probably the single most powerful trampoline of progress. Even in the poorest and most isolated communities, we have found that decades, if not centuries, of angry conflict can be turned around by giving people reasons to work together toward a better future — in other words, by giving them reasons to hope. And when hope takes root, then a new level of tolerance is possible, though it may have been unknown for years, and years, and years.

Tolerance which grows out of hope is more than a negative virtue, more than a convenient way to ease sectarian tensions or foster social stability, more than a sense of forbearance when the views of others clash with our own. Instead, seen not as a pallid religious compromise but as a sacred religious imperative, tolerance can become a powerful, positive force, one which allows all of us to expand our horizons and enrich our lives.

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School of International and Public Affairs, Columbia University, Commencement Ceremony (New York, USA)

[D]emocratic institutions have not lived up to their potential. In both the developed and the developing world, the promise of democracy has too often been disappointed. For many centuries, enlightened people have argued that democracy was the key to social progress. But today, that contention is in dispute.

Our challenge is not to find alternatives to democracy, but to find more and better ways to make democracy work. In responding to that challenge today, I would like to make four observations — four suggestions for addressing our democratic disappointments and advancing our democratic hopes…. [F]irst, the need for greater flexibility in defining the paths to democracy; secondly, the need for greater diversity in the institutions which participate in democratic life; thirdly, the need to expand the public’s capacity for democracy; and finally, the need to strengthen public integrity, on which democracy rests.

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Address to the Evora University Symposium, ‘Cosmopolitan Society, Human Safety and Rights in Plural and Peaceful Societies’ (Evora, Portugal + [Canada])

A deepening sense of spiritual commitment, and the ethical framework that goes with it, will be a central requirement if we are to find our way through the minefields and the quick sands of modern life. A strengthening of religious institutions should be a vital part of this process. To be sure, freedom of religion is a critical value in a pluralistic society. But if freedom of religion deteriorates into freedom from religion, then societies will find themselves lost in a bleak and unpromising landscape with no compass, no roadmap and no sense of ultimate direction.

What I am calling for, in sum, is an ethical sensibility which can be shared across denominational lines and which can foster a universal moral outlook.

In conclusion, then, I would ask you think with me about these three requirements: a new emphasis on civil institutions, a more rigorous concern for educational excellence, and a renewed commitment to ethical standards. For these are all ways in which we can encourage a climate of positive pluralism in our world and thus help meet the current crisis of democracy.

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The Delegation of the Ismaili Imamat Foundation Stone Ceremony (Ottawa, Canada)

The Delegation will serve a representational role for the Imamat and its non-denominational, philanthropic and development agencies which constitute the Aga Khan Development Network — the AKDN. An open, secular facility, the Delegation will be a sanctuary for peaceful, quiet diplomacy, informed by the Imamat’s outlook of global convergence and the development of civil society. It will be an enabling venue for fruitful public engagements, information services and educational programmes, all backed up by high quality research, to sustain a vibrant intellectual centre, and a key policy-informing institution….

The building will be a metaphor for humanism and enlightenment and for the humility that comes from the constant search for answers that leads inevitably to more questions…. An epitome of friendship to one and all, it will radiate Islam’s precepts of one humanity, the dignity of man, and the nobility of joint striving in deeds of goodness.

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Keynote Address to the Nobel Institute’s Seminar: ‘Democratic Development, Pluralism and Civil Society’ (Oslo, Norway)

Just as we read about the supposed clash of civilisations, we read about so-called “failed states.” In fact, at least in my definition of a state, it cannot fail. What we are observing in reality is the massive failure of democracy around the world.

I estimate that some 40% of the states of the United Nations are failed democracies. Depending upon the definitions applied, between 450 million and 900 million people currently live in countries under severe or moderate stress as a result of these failures. To me, therefore, a central question is why these democracies are failing and what can the world’s nations and international organisations do to sustain their competence and stability….

As long as the developed world hesitates to commit long term investment towards education for democracy, and instead laments the issue of so-called failed states, much of the developing world will continue to face bleak prospects for democracy.

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Ninth Aga Khan Award for Architecture Prize Ceremony (New Delhi, India)

The issues we have been attempting to address through the process of the Aga Khan Award for Architecture are not exclusive to the Muslim world. The non-Muslim world struggles equally with explosive population growth, poverty, environmental degradation, exodus from rural areas, globalisation and the impact on cultural identity of new forms of media. I hope that the lessons learned in the process we have established would be applicable to the many others in similar circumstances. Perhaps these lessons will one day be seen as an important contribution from the Muslim world: A contribution to the broader cause of maintaining and enhancing a multi-cultural, pluralist world and a responsive, appropriate human habitat.

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Keynote Address to the Annual Conference of German Ambassadors (Berlin, Germany)

I would like to focus today on what I believe are three essential pre-conditions for the successful transition of the poorest areas of the world into modern, peaceful societies. They are:

  • First, stable and competent democratic governance;
  • Second, an environment that respects and encourages pluralism;
  • And third, a diverse and engaged civil society.

In my view, these must be critical components of any global development policy. Not only are they mutually reinforcing, they also permit developing societies to gradually become masters of the process and to make that process ultimately sustainable.

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Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto, Convocation Ceremony (Toronto, Canada)

Whatever definition is used, a quality civil society is independent of government, pluralist and led by merit-based educated leadership. Not only does Canadian civil society eminently meet these three criteria of being non-governmental pluralist and merit-led, I know of no country where civil society is more empathetic with the needs of civil society of the countries of Africa and Asia in which I have been working for some 45 years. I have, therefore, asked myself, not once, but hundreds of times, if and how Canadian civil society can mobilise its resources more vigorously to help improve the quality of life of the peoples of Africa and Asia.

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Keynote Address to the Governor General’s 2004 Canadian Leadership Conference: ‘Leadership and Diversity’ (Gatineau, Canada)

[D]emocracy cannot function reasonably without two preconditions. The first is a healthy, civil society…. The second precondition is pluralism….

The rejection of pluralism is pervasive across the globe and plays a significant role in breeding destructive conflicts. Examples are scattered across the world map: in Asia, in the Middle East, in Africa, in Europe, in the Americas. No continent has been spared from the tragedies of death, of misery and of the persecution of minorities. Are such high-risk situations predictable? If the answer is, “Yes”, then what can be done about them, to pre-empt the risk that the rejection of pluralism will become the spark that sets human conflict aflame? Is the onus not on leadership, in all parts of the world, to build a knowledge base about such situations and consider strategies for preventing them? For, I deeply believe that our collective conscience must accept that pluralism is no less important than human rights for ensuring peace, successful democracy and a better quality of life.

A secure pluralistic society requires communities that are educated and confident both in the identity and depth of their own traditions and in those of their neighbours. Democracies must be educated if they are to express themselves competently, and their electorates are to reach informed opinions about the great issues at stake. Perhaps the greatest obstacle to pluralism and democracy, however, is the lacuna in the general education of the populations involved.

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2003 Aga Khan University Convocation Ceremony (Karachi, Pakistan)

[AKU] must continue to expand its programmes of research. The true sign of maturity and excellence in a university is its ability to contribute to the knowledge of mankind, in its own society and beyond. It is equally essential that its faculty be challenged, as a matter of university policy, to expand the boundaries of human knowledge. Any vestige of dependence is cast off, any suspicion of a young scientist or scholar that he or she may sacrifice intellectual excitement by leaving the West is allayed, when a university becomes known for generating new ideas, making new discoveries and influencing events….

Much AKU research, however, will focus on pressing issues of public policy. This naturally follows the precepts of Islam, that the scientific application of reason, the building of society and the refining of human aspirations and ethics should always reinforce one another…. So important is this growing research capacity and informed discourse with policy makers, that the university must strengthen its public policy commitment…. AKU will pledge its energies and imagination to advancing effective public policy.

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Address to the Annual Meeting of The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (Tashkent, Uzbekistan)

[I]t is not at all clear that the quality of life has a direct, one-to-one relationship with the level of production or even the breadth of access to what an economy produces. Without doubt growth plays a central role in the increasing of human welfare and the dignity of life. But other dimensions and challenges to development play at least an equally important role. Unfortunately, many of them are not easily measured in conventional economic terms, nor addressed through usual economic programmes and policies…. The non-economic dimensions of development often escape the attention they deserve because the degree of risk of not doing something is often under-estimated. Secondly, when dealt with competently and over time, they actually support and sustain the health of the economy as well as other aspects of society.

From the perspective of forty years of work, and the experience of the agencies of the Aga Khan Development Network, institutional development stands out as critically important to broad-based sustainable change. By institutional development, I mean the strengthening and refocusing of existing institutions, as well as the creation of new institutions and policies to support them…. No country to my knowledge can achieve stable continuous growth if its civil society is constrained by inherent institutional instability.

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Prince Claus Fund Conference on Culture and Development, Concluding Address (Amsterdam, The Netherlands)

[T]he strengthening of institutions supporting pluralism is as critical for the welfare and progress of human society as are poverty alleviation and conflict prevention. In fact all three are intimately related…. The actions to enhance pluralism have to be matched in the developing world by programmes to alleviate poverty because, left alone, poverty will provide a context for special interests to pursue their goals in aggressive terms…. [Emphasis original]

Is it not high time — perhaps even past time, that a systematic effort be undertaken to document “best practices” by looking closely at the array of public policies and structures that support pluralism in particular national settings? As lessons are extracted and models identified, should not a process be put in place to share them widely for replication? Should not this effort reach out to as many countries as possible, and in as many organisational and institutional settings as can be mobilised? …

My hope is that society as a whole will not only accept the fact of its plurality, but, as a consequence, will undertake, as a solemn responsibility, to preserve and enhance it as one of its fundamental values, and an inescapable condition for world peace and further human development. [Emphasis original]

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