Interview WorldPaper


Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, who was the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees from 1965 to 1977, heads the "Groupe de Bellerive," an independent commission studying world problems. While in New York in December 1980 to work with U.N. Secretary Kurt Waldheim on resolving the crisis in Iran, Prince Sadruddin was interviewed by WorldPaper about his views on Iran and about the 1980s.

Commenting on the situation in Iran, Prince Sadruddin said that it was understandable and it could have been foreseen.

Since World War II, countries in the developing world have chosen one of two models to follow. Most chose the Western, materialistic path to development; others the socialist, Marxist one. The problem lies not so much in one system or the other, but in the fact that, by following the models, many developing societies abandoned their own traditions and customs.

Today, developing countries have begun to turn inward, partly as a negative reaction to having adopted a model they now find unsuitable - a model that may only serve the elite, or that may require giving up some basic cultural traditions.

Bach and Beethoven symbolize all the good things the West has to offer - the Hellenistic tradition of democracy, the social and political ethics that govern society, art, culture, science and so much more. These are the things, unfortunately, that many people in the Third World know nothing about. But the bad things from the West are everywhere.

WP: Is there not more awareness now of the need to choose a form of government more suitable to people's traditions instead of following some alien model?

Yes, this also has happened here in the US where blacks and North American Indians are increasingly proud and aware of their roots and their backgrounds. There is more and more regionalism in Europe, too, an example of the reaction of local populations against centralized authority.

Nation states are now being challenged in many parts of the world. It is happening in Germany, Holland, with the Basques, the Scottish nationalist groups, the Welsh and the French in Brittany. There is a desire for self-rule, for regional autonomy which only a federal system like that in the US or Switzerland can provide.

You wonder if the whole concept of the Super Nation States is not terribly wrong. Is a centralized form of government not responsible for alienation because it is unable to give the people the right motivation and incentive to participate?

WP: In the next decade will there be reasons for optimism?

If we'll recognize them.

For twelve years I was in charge of the UN program for refugees, and had the opportunity to talk with young people all over the world. Whether in Africa, Asia or Latin America, or indeed in the Western countries, their attitudes were remarkably similar. They all had problems with their leaders, with the establishment, with the privileged few, and all asked questions which sometimes their elders were unable to answer.

Born after World War II, the young people have grown up in a completely different world from their elders. They have grown up in a postcolonial world and intuitively sense the aspirations of new nations.

I would like to see governments in the rich industrial nations mirror the interests of their young people. Amongst the young I find great concern about the values and traditions of people in other parts of the world.

Throughout the West young people seem to have an inherent respect for other cultures. Except for the inevitable lunatic fringe, they have a gut resentment about racism: Everywhere young men and women seem to be interested in peace, in disarmament, and in developing a deeper dialogue between regions of the world.

WP: Does this spell a new type of political leadership?

Who knows? What disturbs me is that in many parts of the world, the young generation is not assuming political responsibility. In many countries there still is a gerontological situation - rule by the old - which is unfortunate.

With the exception of the United States and some Third World counties, the young seem to be kept out of power by the old guard. In Western Europe, there is a desperate need for young blood and a reawakening of interest in political leadership. Without such participation inside the system, the result is violent offshoots like the Red Brigades in Italy and the Baader-Meinhof in Germany.

WP: Can the armaments race be brought to an end in the next ten years?

It can only stop through political will or by recognition of economic obligations. If it is to be political will, politicians would have to feel the winds of change among their constituencies.

This is why it is so important that people understand what it's all about.

They must understand, for instance, when they are told that a nuclear deterrent is only defensive, that it is just absolutely a lie. How can you use nuclear weapons on your own soil without contaminating your own population? By definition they can be used only either to destroy an attack from another country in such a way that your own population isn't touched, or for offensive purposes.

Public opinion should be informed of the link between the arms race and the economy. This has a great deal to do with the type of political leadership we should try to develop in the next decade. In countries with a large military industrial complex, it's going to be very difficult for people to really know what their government is deciding.

WP: You're talking about public education more than anything else?

Certainly, perhaps the most challenging task for any responsible government official concerned about the future is in the field of education. Our children are suffering from an education policy that is not at all adapted to the Eighties.

I think we could gain by taking lessons from everyone and by learning from every country. We can learn a lot from the socialist countries which have done a very fine job in some aspects of education. I'm not talking about their teaching false historical concepts or twisting the truth to breed patriotism and national fervor, but rather about the ways to condition and teach young people to bring out the good things in them, and to refrain from appealing to their lower instincts.

The media and education should be combined together very carefully.

In socialist countries, it isn't only because their society is more controlled, or because there is less political freedom that you have less unrest and less permissiveness among the school-age generation. It may also be due to their educational pattern and system. This is worth looking at. We stand to gain by learning from all countries. The aim is to try to take the good things and forego the bad.

WP: What can the West learn?

I'm not sure. Humility perhaps. All your Western "progress", for example, depends on the continuous supply of fuel, and we know that this can dry up overnight. It shows how fragile the whole thing is, how vulnerable.

You'll remember that here in New York there was a big blackout, and people suddenly realized that without electricity everything would stop. This is something to think about in comparing the developed world to the developing.

At least in underdeveloped countries, life goes on when you have a power failure.

Another example: such detestable things as "old age homes" and "orphanages" are only a product of the developed world. In the developing world, people are taken care of by the extended family in much more humane ways.

WP: So what are the answers for the 1980s?

It's not a question of capitalism versus Marxism or those blueprints for development that one is supposed to follow. This is all very retrograde.

What one has to develop is a new approach adapted to the realities.

Today it is futile to speak of these traditional philosophies. Both the Vietnamese and the Kampucheans claim they are communists. Whether they belong to the Ho Chi Minh or the Pol Pot crowd, they claim to be upholders of the truth. Yet, they are fighting each other and killing each other. You see this in other parts of the world. It could happen between the Sunnis and the Shiites if there were problems in the Islamic countries of the Gulf.

WP: The names we turn to most often are names from the nineteenth century: Karl Marx, Adam Smith, Malthus and maybe Freud. Are these the thinkers who will determine out future?

It is very stupid to stick to old approaches. The 1980s will again be a period of reassessment and revaluation of old political concepts in favor of new ideas and a new approach. Maybe this is the real revolution.

We have to learn to appreciate Karl Marx and Groucho Marx.

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