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Aga Khan praises Canada for finding right balance - 2008-11-24

Date: 
Monday, 2008, November 24
Location: 
Source: 
canada.com
Author: 
Don Cayo - Canwest News Service

What may often sound to Canadians like a discordant cacophony of voices from our diverse cultures and interest groups is apparently music to the ears of the Aga Khan.

In an exclusive interview on Sunday with Canwest News Service, the hereditary leader of the world's 15 million Shia Ismaili Muslims held up Canada -- a country he has visited often and has maintained a close relationship with throughout his 50-year reign -- as a model with much to teach the world.

Not that the Aga Khan, long a champion of the urgent need for pluralism in every society, thinks the rest of the world can be, should be or wants to be just like us. The lesson is not to export a cookie-cutter replica of our society, but rather it's in our method -- the way Canadians have learned to craft workable accommodations for the huge diversity of our citizens.

The absence of pluralism is, in his view, a root cause of much of the world's discord. About 40 per cent of the countries in the UN are what he calls "failed democracies" -- countries where ethnic or tribal concerns routinely trump the greater good.

The idea of including those who are outside a core group doesn't come naturally to the human species, he said. It is learned.

Canada, he said, "can do an enormous amount" to impart the lesson of its success.

"You have, as far as I can tell, made a wise divide between the economics of the country and the politics of the country," he said.

"There is a respect for the notion that economic management today is a science. It's not a political football."

In addition, "You have created a democratic context in which various groups feel comfortable. You have created a genuine pluralist society, and you have looked for leadership in all your groups. That leadership, which is very diverse, gives all these groups a sense of comfort."

Conversely, "If you look at African states or Asian states you can see that there are communities that have been totally marginalized, whether they have competent individuals or not."

As a Muslim leader, the Aga Khan took care to explain, his role differs from religious leaders in the Judeo-Christian tradition in that his duty includes addressing quality-of-life issues for his followers, not just spiritual matters.

In his role as a temporal leader, he moves as an equal among world leaders, but he has no country.

His followers are spread among 25 countries. As a minority in the Shia tradition, which is itself a minority in the Muslim faith, Ismailis have often been persecuted and many remain vulnerable in some of the countries where they live.


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