Sunday, October 16, 2016


Here is the truth about the true Muslims and their work in this world.
As spiritual leader of Ismaili Muslims, the Aga Khan
uses recent Koerner Hall address to make global pitch for pluralism.

(Pluralism is defined as a situation in which people of different social classes, religions, races, etc. are together in a society...
but continue to have their different traditions and religions.)

His Highness, the Aga Khan was given the inaugural Adrienne Clarkson Prize for Global Citizenship at a ceremony at Toronto's Koemer Hall, Tuesday, September20. In his acceptance speech, the spiritual leader of Ismaili Muslims around theworld warned of the threats to pluralism in Canada and abroad in the age of mass migration...Brexit...Donald Trump and the explosion of information technology. Below is a slightly edited and condensed excerpt from his address. The subheads have been edited.

OF DIVERSITY AND DIVISION: We talk sincerely about the values of diversity...about living with complexity. But in too many cases, diversity seems to mean more division...greater complexity and more fragmentation...and more fragmentation can bring us closer to conflict.
The stakes seem to be getting higher to the ideals of global citizenship.
One enormous challenge, 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. 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. And old habits of mind, including narrow, exclusionary definitions of citizenship, have not met the challenge!

That was true 3 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, though Canada has certainly been a world leader in expanding the concept of citizenship. But the challenge is felt exerywhere. Nor is the migration challenge likely to dissipate any time soon...especially as war, violence...and economic deprivation displace more and more people

FEAR OF THE “OTHER”: 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”.
When the other is seen as a potential competitor, for a job, as example, even when this fear is unfounded, it is tempting to look for scapegoats...for someone to blame...when our self-esteem seems to be threatened. Often, we then find it easier to define our identity by what we are against.
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.
That is why I would emphasize our responsibility to improve the quality of life in places throughout the world...fighting poverty...improving health and education...expanding the first manifestation of a healthy 'pluralistic' ethic. Pluralism means responding to diversity not only at home, but on a global basis.

TECHNOLOGY WON'T SAVE US: As new technologies shrink the planet, distant forces become dire threats. We worry about the perils of environmental degration, for example. We see how every local economay can be affected by distant economies. We realize how dangerous forces...deadly diseases...or deadly weaponry...criminal networks...or terrorist threats...can spread across the national borders. And often, the human impulse is to withdraw from a threatening world.
One element that complicates this challenge is the way
we communicate with our global neighbours.
We think sometimes that the new technologies can save us. If we can connect lower cost...across greater distances with more people, just think what could happen! We would all learn to understand one another better. But I am not sure that things are working out that way. The explosion of availabe information often means less focus on relevant information...and even a surfeit of misinformation. Thoughful 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 bubble...resisting diverse views.

REALITIES OF IDENTITY ARE MORE THAN SKIN DEEP: With the reality of human nature, we often hear in dicussions 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 emphasize our similarities. Yes, our understanding and our underlying humanity should motivate our quest for healthy pluralism. Yet, talking only about our common humanity might seem to threaten people's distinctive idenitities.

WHO AM I?: We all must pose that question. Answers grow out of basic loyalties to family faith, language, which provide a healthy sense of security and worth. Embracing the values of global citizenship should mean compromising the bonds of local or national citizenship. The call of pluralism should ask us to integrate diversity...not to depreciate diversity.
One's identity need not be diluted in a pluralistic world,
but rather fulfilled, as one bright thread in a cloth of many colours.

My own religious community identifies proudly as Ismaili Muslims, with our 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...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.
In this context, diversity itself can be seen as a gift.
In the end, of course, we must realize 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!

The challenges will be many and continuing. What will they require of us? A short list might include:
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 a genuine welcoming of human difference.
It will never be completed...but no work will be more important!

Merle Baird-Kerr...written October 5, 2016

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