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Aga Khan becomes sixth person in history to become honorary Canadian citizen - 2009-06-09

Tuesday, 2009, June 9
The Canadian Press
Jim Macdolald

OTTAWA - Canada will grant the Aga Khan honorary citizenship for what Prime Minister Stephen Harper describes as his exemplary humanitarianism and long friendship with Canada.

Born in Geneva, Shah Karim al-Hussayni is the 49th hereditary imam of the Shia Ismaili Muslims and is widely recognized for his work against poverty and his promotion of tolerance.

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Now 72, he is the founder and chairman of the Aga Khan Development Network, which works in Asia and Africa and is one of the world's largest private development networks.

Harper told the House of Commons the Aga Khan is "a beacon of humanitarianism, of pluralism and of tolerance throughout the entire world."

The Aga Khan was in Edmonton on Tuesday to receive an honorary doctor of laws degree from the University of Alberta.

He gave an impassioned speech that touched on several global issues, including what he described as "faltering instruments of government in many countries of Asia and Africa."

"We have learned that simplistic systems don't work, whether built around the arrogance of colonialism, the rigidities of communism, the romantic dreams of nationalism or the naive promises of untrammeled capitalism."

The Aga Khan also spoke at length about ethics, not only in government but in all areas of society and the need for leaders and academics to provide an ethical example for people to follow.

"We know from recent headlines about scoundrels from the American financial scene to the halls of European parliaments - and we can certainly do without either," he said.

"When a construction company cheats on the quality of materials for a school or a bridge, when a teacher skimps on class work in order to sell his time privately, when a doctor recommends a drug because of incentives from a pharmaceutical company, when a bank loan is skewed by kickbacks, or a student paper is plagiarized from the Internet - when the norms of fairness and decency are violated in any way, then the foundations of society are undermined."

The Aga Khan also mentioned last week's landmark speech in Cairo by U.S. President Barack Obama who reached out for a fresh start with the Islamic world.

"It continually amazes me...how little is understood about the Muslim civilizations and cultures in the non-Islamic world and how little is taught," he said.

"When President Obama described the richness of that history in his Cairo speech, he was telling a story which is unfamiliar to many in the West.

"As the world shrinks and as contact among diverse peoples increases, some would argue that we face an inevitable clash of civilizations. My own conviction, however, is that we face today a clash of ignorances."

Honorary Canadian citizenship is bestowed by the governor general and requires the unanimous approval of all voting MPs.

It has been given to four others: Swedish diplomat and Holocaust hero Raoul Wallenberg (posthumously in 1985); former South Africa president and Nobel laureate Nelson Mandela (2001); the Dalai Lama (2006); and pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi (2007), a Nobel laureate who has spent most of the last 20 years under house arrest in her native Myanmar.

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