Diversity is a reason to open windows, not put up walls, says Aga Khan upon receiving the Prize for Global Citizenship
Toronto, Canada, 21 September 2016 - His Highness the Aga Khan, today received the inaugural Adrienne Clarkson Prize for Global Citizenship in a ceremony which concluded the three-day 6 Degrees Citizen Space conference, the new public initiative of the Institute for Canadian Citizenship. The award recognizes an individual whose life has demonstrated a steadfast commitment to the ideals of belonging and inclusion.
Accepting the Prize in Toronto, the Aga Khan focused his remarks on the values of global citizenship and the spirit of pluralism on which it rests. He noted that embracing such values “should not mean compromising the bonds of local or national citizenship. The call of pluralism should ask us to respect our differences, but not to ignore them; to integrate diversity, not to depreciate diversity,” he remarked.
The Aga Khan also reflected on the responsibility to improve quality of life in places around the world where it is unsatisfactory. A “healthy pluralistic ethic,” he suggested, can be instrumental in fighting poverty, improving health and education, and expanding opportunity.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expressed his own warm sentiments in a video message played during the ceremony. “Thank you, Your Highness. Canada and the world are stronger and richer because of your commitment to diversity and to finding common ground, to helping those most vulnerable and to believing in a better, closer, more inclusive world.”
In his address, the Aga Khan acknowledged that “living with diversity is a challenging process” but that “the work of pluralism is always a work in progress.” In speaking about these challenges, he reinforced that “one’s identity need not be diluted in a pluralistic world, but rather fulfilled, as one bright thread in a cloth of many colours.”
His Highness also noted that challenges to identity, to embracing the “Other”, and to accepting difference may not stem simply from physical displacement, but also from technological changes, which may be alienating, and from a tendency to gloss over difference. “Yes,” he said, “our underlying humanity should motivate our quest for healthy pluralism. But such a quest must also be built on an empathetic response to our important differences.”
Acknowledging that many critics currently view diversity as a social nuisance resulting in more complexity and division, His Highness nonetheless offered a note of optimism, suggesting that in the end, perspective is everything, and from his vantage point, “diversity itself can be seen as a gift. Diversity is not a reason to put up walls, but rather to open windows. It is not a burden but a blessing.” And this openness must be extended beyond our own borders as “pluralism means responding to diversity not only at home, but on a global basis, creating genuine ‘visions of opportunity’ wherever constraints or reversals are in the air.”
His Highness concluded by commenting on the future of global citizenship, reinforcing that, no matter how difficult it is to achieve a pluralistic mindset, the attempt to integrate these values into everyday life is one of the most important tasks facing the world today: “It will mean hard work. It will never be completed. But no work will be more important.”
For more information about the Adrienne Clarkson Prize for Global Citizenship and 6 Degrees, please visit www.6degreesto.com. For more information on the Aga Khan Development Network, please visit http://www.akdn.org/.
Nadia Somani: Nadia.Somani@iicanada.net
Semin Abdulla, Communications Manager
His Highness the Aga Khan, an honorary Canadian citizen and Companion of the Order of Canada, is the 49th hereditary imam of the Shia Ismaili Muslims and founder and chair of the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN). The AKDN is active in 30 countries and employs approximately 80,000 people. Its non-denominational agencies are responsible for areas ranging from health and education to rural development, architecture, culture and economic sustainability. Through his work and the institutions he has established, the Aga Khan has emphasized the importance of pluralism in fostering global harmony.
In Canada, initiatives include the Global Centre for Pluralism in partnership with the Government of Canada, the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto and Ismaili Centres in Vancouver and Toronto. Each of these serves, in various ways, as a platform for dialogue and education where understanding among one another is promoted and where bridges are built across cultures.