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Aga Khan hails Canada for getting pluralism right - 2010-10-15

Date: 
Friday, 2010, October 15
Location: 
Source: 
www.thestar.com
Author: 
Louise Brown

In a world where technology and human migration push people of differing backgrounds increasingly “in each other’s face,” spiritual leader the Aga Khan hailed Canada as a country that has got pluralism right.

The religious leader — imam — of the world’s 14 million Shia Ismaili Muslims praised this country for allowing citizens to keep their identity as they become Canadian.

“What the Canadian experience suggests to me is that honouring one’s own identity need not mean rejecting others,” he said Friday in the keynote address to the Institute for Canadian Citizenship’s prestigious annual LaFontaine-Baldwin Symposium.

He spoke to more than 1,000 of Toronto’s intellectual class at the glittering new Koerner Hall at the Royal Conservatory of Music, a setting he did not fail to note as he described the theme of pluralism.

“We might talk not just about the ideal of harmony — the sounding of a single chord — but also about counterpoint,” he said. “In counterpoint, each voice follows a separate musical line, but always as part of a single work of art, with a sense both of independence and belonging.”

It’s no surprise the globetrotting philanthropist chose to locate his new think tank on pluralism in Canada, a nation he noted was built on two European cultures but has exploded in diversity.

“I am impressed by the fact that some 44 per cent of Canadians today are of neither French nor British descent,” he said. “I am told, in fact, that a typical Canadian citizenship ceremony might now include people from two dozen different countries.”

With quips about the Maple Leafs’ recent winning streak and Canada’s fall colours, the Harvard graduate said he felt like a local — especially considering the Canadian government has made him an honorary citizen.

But while he praised Canada and other multicultural nations such as Portugal for celebrating diversity, he also warned that the flip side of pluralism — tribalism and hyper nationalism — threatens to divide people unless we are vigilant by promoting mutual understanding.

He warned the West not to underestimate the diversity of the Muslim world, or the lesser-known rural communities of developing nations.

Pluralism is a concept dear to the heart of the 49th hereditary leader of the Ismaili faith. The concept of people of different backgrounds living in harmony is the focus of a think tank he is creating in Ottawa in a building once home to the Canadian War Museum.

In Toronto, he also announced earlier this year he will build a new Ismaili Centre and Aga Khan Museum and Gardens at Eglinton Ave. and Wynford Dr.

Both centres – in Toronto and Ottawa – reflect the ties the Aga Khan said he has felt with Canada for nearly 40 years, since this country welcomed thousands of Asian refugees from Uganda, including many Ismailis.

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