IN WHAT IS SOMETHING of a major coup, Toronto has landed an exciting cultural and intellectual investment — what has been called an educational and cultural complex "of international pre-eminence" in the Western world.
This is the plan by the Aga Khan Development Network to build a concentration of resources in humanities and human development, incorporating education and medicine, in Toronto, on a 7-hectare site adjacent to the proposed Ismaili Centre, which is to be the largest such centre in the English-speaking world.
Alongside the Aga Khan's plan for his development network's own activities, the Aga Kahn Development Network is negotiating with the Canadian government for the establishment of an institute for the study and practice of human pluralism.
This would make Toronto a major centre bridging the East-West divide, building collaboration and understanding, and advancing knowledge in a world where many fear a clash of civilizations. But there could also be scope for collaboration in research in human development as well.
Toronto is the beneficiary of another city's mistake, namely London, which was the first choice. The Aga Khan Development Network had spent much time and effort pursuing two different sites in London, but British authorities turned it down twice. So Toronto was the other choice.
It helped a lot that the Aga Khan and his various organizations had a long history of collaboration with Canada, through agencies such as the Canadian International Development Agency and Canadian universities.
The Aga Khan Development Network, through the Aga Khan University in Karachi, Pakistan, has long-standing connections with the University of Toronto, McMaster University and McGill University, as well as Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children. McMaster University, for example, helped the Aga Khan University establish its school of nursing, which has transformed the education of nurses in that country.
It didn't hurt, either, that Fraser Mustard, founding president of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research, has close ties to the Aga Khan and has served on the board of the Aga Khan University in Pakistan since its inception. The plan to establish an Institute of Human Development at the Aga Khan University, combining medicine and education, is based on the work of the human development program at the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research.
In addition, the Aga Khan has admired the way in which Canada has managed multiculturalism and he has visited Canada in the past. This fitted with his belief that the importance of "environments in which diversity of background, opinion, culture, faith, language, learning and heritage can be fostered, encouraged and studied and taught has never been more vital than it is today."
In a statement this week, he said, "it has been my strong conviction that there are places in the Western world where the resources, scholarship and civic conscience necessary to help create such environments are present and willing. These are places where societal structures, elected representatives, guardians of academia as well as public citizenry attach profound and sincere value to physical and intellectual space — for its immediate and future potential, for its capacity to nurture innovation and for its scope to be of service to humankind, at the most local and the most global levels."
So, he announced, Toronto is such a site and will be the location of the major academic and cultural complex originally envisaged for London. The core components of what had been planned for London will be located in Toronto, and will also accommodate academic and administrative resources now in London. This could mean the relocation of the Institute of Muslim Studies here.
The complex will house a museum of Islamic art and heritage that will incorporate the collection of the Institute of Islamic Studies, the Aga Khan's personal art collection and that of other family members. It will also include an educational and administrative centre, offices of the Aga Khan Development Network, an auditorium and conference facilities.
The planned institute for the study of pluralism will become a global centre, working with universities and other institutions on research programs, studies and professional development, drawing on Canada's experience with multiculturalism.
While many details of the planned Toronto investment have yet to be explained, this nonetheless will be a project that will attract researchers and visitors to the city and create the opportunity to advance Toronto as an international centre of research and collaboration. This will further strengthen the city, and Canada, as an important location for understanding globalization in the 21st century.