Amsterdam, The Netherlands, 9 September 2002 - "The inability of human society to recognise pluralism as a fundamental value constitutes a serious danger for our future."
In a vigorous exhortation to "governments, civil societies and peoples of the world," His Highness the Aga Khan, Imam (spiritual leader) on Saturday night suggested that enhancing "pluralism is as critical for the welfare and progress of human society as are poverty alleviation and conflict prevention."
Addressing an international gathering of some 1800 in the presence of Her Majesty Queen Beatrix of The Netherlands, the Aga Khan sounded caution about the consequences of "the present level of global cultural ignorance ... particularly so in the number of functioning democracies where an informed public plays a central role." The Aga Khan was delivering the keynote speech at the conclusion of a conference on Culture and Development held to commemorate the sixth anniversary of the founding of the Prince Claus Fund.
Failure to recognise the essentially pluralist nature of human society was perhaps the most common ingredient of recent conflicts the Aga Khan said. "The attempt by communal groups, be they ethnic, religious or tribal groups, to impose themselves on others" aims to "eradicate the cultural basis of group identity" said the Aga Khan, citing Central Europe, the Great Lakes region in Africa and Afghanistan as examples. "Without cultural identity," he said, "social cohesion gradually dissolves."
"One of the principal reasons why today there is so much uninformed speculation about conflict between the Muslim world and others," said the Aga Khan, was insufficiently complete general education. "For instance, the historic root causes of conflict in the Middle East or Kashmir are not addressed at any level of general education in the most powerful western democracies that dominate world affairs."
Among the other ways of nurturing pluralism that the Aga Khan highlighted were documenting "best practices" in public policies and disseminating these lessons widely through institutional means. He also strongly encouraged influencing public opinion, helping organisations that promote pluralism and acting with "tolerance, openness and understanding towards other peoples' cultures, social structures, values and faiths."
"Actions to enhance pluralism,"the Aga Khan noted, "have to be matched in the developing world by programmes to alleviate poverty because, left alone, poverty will provide a context for special interests to pursue their goals in aggressive terms. "Urgent humanitarian assistance is indispensable," he said, "but should be conceived as part of a long-term strategy of helping the recipient community develop its own resources" to improve socio-economic conditions of the poorest. "Development," he warned, "is sustainable only if the beneficiaries become, in a gradual manner, the masters of the process."
The Prince Claus Fund stimulates the exchange of ideas among artists and thinkers throughout the world. It recognises innovative activities in culture and development in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean by granting awards, by funding and producing publications, and by financing and stimulating networks and cultural productions.
The Aga Khan Development Network is a group of private, non-denominational development agencies and institutions that seek to empower communities and individuals, often in disadvantaged circumstances, to improve living conditions and opportunities. Working in over 20 countries, the Network's underlying impulse is the ethic of compassion for the vulnerable in society and its agencies and institutions work for the common good of all citizens, regardless of origin, gender or religion. The Network's cultural activities are coordinated by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture whose activities include: administering the Aga Khan Award for Architecture, the world's largest architectural prize; revitalisation of historic buildings and spaces in Afghanistan, Bosnia, Egypt, India, Pakistan, Syria and Zanzibar; designing humanities curricula for universities in Central Asia; preserving and reviving traditional music of Central Asia; supporting architectural education and research at Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; and managing ArchNet, an Internet-based resource on architecture, urban design and related issues such as restoration, conservation and housing design and construction.
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