His Highness the Aga Khan, Imam of the worldwide Shi’a Ismaili community and Chairman of the Aga Khan Development Network, was awarded the inaugural Adrienne Clarkson prize Global Citizenship for his his commitment in advancing pluralism.
Clarkson, Canada’s former governor general, earlier said that when picking a recipient for the new award in her name she was looking for an international figure who models the qualities of a good citizen and who makes the lives of others better.
“He has become a light in much of the world’s conflicting darkness, Clarkson remarked as she was speaking of the Aga Khan’s commitment to enhancing the quality of life of millions of people from around the world at a time when poverty and displacement from war and natural disasters are ravaging many of the world’s underprivileged regions.
In his turn Aga Khan emphasized on the need to respect the immense diversity of ethnicities, of languages and of cultures, of faiths, of philosophies.
“What we learned from the very start was that advancing our development agenda, we would be required to respect the immense diversity of ethnicities, of languages and of cultures, of faiths, of philosophies. In short, we learned to embrace the values of Global Citizenship,” he said
However he observed that “One enormous challenge, of course, is the simple fact that diversity is increasing around the world. The task is not merely learning to live with that diversity, but learning to live with greater diversity with each passing year.”
Acknowledging an increasing frustration concerning the pluralism story, Aga Khan noted that the challenge was that as we become aware of the diversity of the world we live in and come into contact with people who are different than us, difference becomes a source of conflict rather than an opportunity.
“We talk sincerely about the values of diversity, about living with complexity. But in too many cases more diversity seems to mean more division; greater complexity, more fragmentation, and more fragmentation can bring us closer to conflict,” he added.
In other parts of his speech, Aga Khan said the growing challenge to pluralistic values does not happen only when people move physically from one place to another, adding that technology and media, while seemingly bringing us together, often pull us apart, feeding ignorance and insularity.
“We often hear in discussions of Global Citizenship that people are basically alike. Under the skin, deep in our hearts, we are all brothers and sisters – we are told – and the secret to a harmonious world is to ignore our differences and to emphasize our similarities,” Aga Khan said, adding that “What worries me, however, is when some take that message to mean that our differences are trivial, that they can be ignored, and eventually erased. And that is not good advice. In fact, it is impossible.”
He also added “Pretending that our differences are trivial will not persuade most people to embrace pluralistic attitudes. In fact, it might frighten them away. People know that differences can be challenging, that disagreements are inevitable, that our fellow-humans can sometimes be disagreeable.”
According to Aga Khan too often people think that embracing the values of Global Citizenship means diluting or compromising one’s own bonds to country or peoples. However, he said this is not the case, emphasizing that “the call of pluralism should ask us to respect our differences, but not to ignore them, to integrate diversity, not to depreciate diversity. The call for cosmopolitanism is not a call to homogenization. It means affirming social solidarity, without imposing social conformity. One’s identity need not be diluted in a pluralistic world, but rather fulfilled, as one bright thread in a cloth of many colours.”
Aga Khan concluded his speech at the event by offering his thoughts to the future of Global Citizenship, insisting that challenges, in sum, will be many and continuing.
“A short list might include these strengths: a vital sense of balance, an abundant capacity for compromise, more than a little sense of patience, an appropriate degree of humility, a good measure of forgiveness, and, of course, a genuine welcoming of human difference,” he said.