Things become possible - 2009-06-13
When the Aga Khan stepped onto the University of Alberta campus Tuesday to speak to graduates, he brought a message of ethics, citizenship and respect for diversity.
Addressing a "knowledge deficit" in these areas is essential for pushing global development in the right direction, he told graduates, noting his Aga Khan Development Network has made such virtues a key part of its educational mission.
In an interview with The Journal's Keith Gerein, he expanded upon his remarks, sharing his views on the way forward both for political leaders and ordinary citizens.
Here are excerpts from three of the questions and answers:
Q: What do you ask of these graduates in terms of aiding global development? What obligation do they have to the less fortunate?
A: I wouldn't call it an obligation. I think it's something young people want to do if they have had the benefit of a good education. It's a sense of generosity, a sense of returning to society what society offered you.
What do we want of them? One thing is to improve standards of education, which in much of the developing world is very, very low. Many of the graduates I saw (Tuesday) would have a massive impact.
Q: Why are so many people unmoved at the suffering of others around the world, and what can be done to change such attitudes?
A: I'm not sure they are unmoved. People's horizons are governed by their own context, and what is not in their context is outside their notions of perception.
Unfortunately, I would say it is crisis-driven situations which are still dominating people's attention. What we need to do is go into areas of high risk before they become critical. If you go in after they are critical, it's too late. But the notion that many of these of crises can be reduced or avoided through anticipatory work is not part of strategic thinking in many parts of the world.
Q: In your speech, you remarked on U. S. President Barack Obama's attempts to reach out to Islam. Do you sense a substantive change emerging in the relationship between the West and Muslim societies?
A: It's early days, so I can't say there is anything mature yet in that process of change. What I can say is there is a strong sense of new empathy, and if there is empathy, things become possible that were not possible before. Now it's going to be up to the president and his government to build on that and to translate that into effective results. But he has a very, very demanding agenda.
As part of the leader's visit, the U of A and Aga Khan University announced an expanded partnership involving research collaborations, student exchanges and knowledge sharing. While a previous agreement was mainly limited to health sciences, the new deal will expand the relationship into a much larger set of academic disciplines.
The Aga Khan also announced a gift for the U of A, promising to build a traditional Islamic garden at the Devonian Botanic Garden.