The Globe and Mail
Thursday, May 20, 2004 - Page A8


Aga Khan to build centre for pluralism

West often poorly informed about history, diversity of Islamic world, philanthropist says

OTTAWA -- The Aga Khan, spiritual leader of millions of Ismaili Muslims, says an international centre to promote pluralism will be established in Ottawa.

The wealthy philanthropist, known for his support of development projects in poor Asian and African nations, said yesterday Canada is an ideal place for a secular and non-denominational Global Centre for Pluralism because of this country's rich cultural mosaic and strong democratic tradition.

The centre will conduct research and develop education programs, he said.

"Canada has established strong institutions to sustain her democracy, the cornerstone of which is your multifaceted, robust civil society," he said last night in a speech at the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Gatineau, Que.

He was attending a conference of Canadian civic leaders with Governor-General Adrienne Clarkson.

The Aga Khan Foundation of Canada has been trying to secure federal financing for a portion of the cost for such a centre. Sources have said the foundation would contribute $40-million if Canada could kick in $30-million. The speech made no mention of cost-sharing with the government.

Western political leaders, journalists and educators are often ignorant of the history and diversity of the Islamic world, he said.

Humanities programs in Western universities rarely feature great Muslim philosophers, scientists and writers. The West also is poorly informed about the origins of conflicts in the Middle East, Kashmir and Afghanistan, he said.

"This lack of knowledge and appreciation of the civilization of the Muslim world is a major factor that colours media stereotypes, concentrating on political hot spots in the Muslim world, and referring to organizations as terrorist and Islamic first, and only obliquely, if at all, to their national origins or political goals."

Canada, he said, is trying to bridge the gap between the West and the Islamic world with a number of development projects. The country is in an almost unique position to bridge that gap by sharing its experience in "humane governance to support pluralism, [and] the development of civil society."