The religious leader — imam — of the world’s 14 million Shia Ismaili Muslims praised this country for allowing citizens to keep their identity as they become Canadian.
“What the Canadian experience suggests to me is that honouring one’s own identity need not mean rejecting others,” he said Friday in the keynote address to the Institute for Canadian Citizenship’s prestigious annual LaFontaine-Baldwin Symposium.
He spoke to more than 1,000 of Toronto’s intellectual class at the glittering new Koerner Hall at the Royal Conservatory of Music, a setting he did not fail to note as he described the theme of pluralism.
“We might talk not just about the ideal of harmony — the sounding of a single chord — but also about counterpoint,” he said. “In counterpoint, each voice follows a separate musical line, but always as part of a single work of art, with a sense both of independence and belonging.”
It’s no surprise the globetrotting philanthropist chose to locate his new think tank on pluralism in Canada, a nation he noted was built on two European cultures but has exploded in diversity.
“I am impressed by the fact that some 44 per cent of Canadians today are of neither French nor British descent,” he said. “I am told, in fact, that a typical Canadian citizenship ceremony might now include people from two dozen different countries.”
With quips about the Maple Leafs’ recent winning streak and Canada’s fall colours, the Harvard graduate said he felt like a local — especially considering the Canadian government has made him an honorary citizen.
But while he praised Canada and other multicultural nations such as Portugal for celebrating diversity, he also warned that the flip side of pluralism — tribalism and hyper nationalism — threatens to divide people unless we are vigilant by promoting mutual understanding.
He warned the West not to underestimate the diversity of the Muslim world, or the lesser-known rural communities of developing nations.
Pluralism is a concept dear to the heart of the 49th hereditary leader of the Ismaili faith. The concept of people of different backgrounds living in harmony is the focus of a think tank he is creating in Ottawa in a building once home to the Canadian War Museum.
In Toronto, he also announced earlier this year he will build a new Ismaili Centre and Aga Khan Museum and Gardens at Eglinton Ave. and Wynford Dr.
Both centres – in Toronto and Ottawa – reflect the ties the Aga Khan said he has felt with Canada for nearly 40 years, since this country welcomed thousands of Asian refugees from Uganda, including many Ismailis.
By Louise Brown, Staff Reporter
Kevin Libin in Calgary, National Post · Tuesday, Oct. 19, 2010
Calgarians had a distinct choice to make on Monday in their selection of a mayor. The frontrunners came down to a nine-year city councillor with a small business background and a reputation for championing taxpayers. There was also the trusted, spunky TV anchorwoman Calgarians had relied on for the last 21 years. And then there was the guy who, up until a few months ago, almost no one in the city had ever heard of.
That guy won.
So unknown was Naheed Nenshi that early in the campaign he released a YouTube video explaining how to properly pronounce his name. A lot of people still get it wrong.
Polling numbers only a month earlier had Mr. Nenshi, a 38-year-old professor of non-profit management at Mount Royal University, with just eight per cent support, well behind conservative councillor Ric McIver’s 43 per cent, and CTV’s Barb Higgins 28%.
Just before midnight Monday, Mr. Nenshi had raked in 40% of votes counted. Mr. McIver had 33% and Ms. Higgins 27%.
Mr. Nenshi’s soaring popularity, his ethnic complexion (he’s an Ismaili Muslim), his academic inclinations, and his potent deployment of social media like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, invited — as so many political campaigns must, it seems — comparisons to Barack Obama’s presidential campaign.
It’s a theme Mr. Nenshi himself seemed more than happy to embrace.
“Today, Calgary is a different place than it was yesterday,” announced Mr. Nenshi to a room thronged with supporters on Monday night. “A better place.”
He was grateful, he said, that Calgarians had shown they were willing “to believe in government again, and believe that government can be a good force in our lives.”
He called his campaign the start of a “movement.” One that was “about revitalizing the public conversation in this city. It was about talking to the person next to you on the bus. Taking an extra minute with the cashier at Safeway.”
Mr. Nenshi may have mobilized more voters than any other candidate. Turnout soared from 33% in 2007 to 42% of eligible voters. Still, all three front runners activated highly sophisticated get-out-the-vote campaigns and the lack of an incumbent, since mayor David Bronconnier, who had served since 2001, was stepping down, snapped Calgarians out of their habitual political napping. But ultimately, Mr. Nenshi didn’t just bring out new voters; he converted old ones.
Jason Kenney, the Conservative cabinet minister, called it “a brilliant idea-based campaign.”
And yet, the ideas were hardly revolutionary.
In a city that runs, all things considered, pretty smoothly and relatively cheaply — Calgary’s property taxes are still lower than most Canadian cities’— what Calgarians got was a fiercely fought election campaign between three candidates who, basically, stood for pretty well the same things: lower taxes and more efficient services.
It’s true, Mr. Nenshi, a Kennedy scholar from Harvard who, early in his career, worked for consultancy giant McKinsey and Co., added some flair to the formula. He seemed willing to speak truth to power when he angered Calgary’s police chief by fingering the force as one of the most expensive, and administratively bloated, in the country. The other candidates only tsk-tsked at his disruptiveness.
He sang from Alberta’s fiscally conservative song sheet, insisting that “people deserve to feel burned because our city council has burned them. It has thrown money away. It is a city council that has forgotten why they are there.” And thundered populism as well as any Tea Partier when he vowed he would “stand up to the forces arrayed against helping people get better lives.”
He argued in favour of greater transparency of council activities. And he delivered Canadian multicultural folksiness, reminding people that coming from a clan of hard-working immigrants, “I know how to talk to the guy in the muffler shop because he’s my cousin.”
For the suburbs there were promises of new arenas and lower budgeting; for the urbane liberals he offered up prescriptions, taken from the pages of Jane Jacobs and Richard Florida, to stop building urban sprawl and start building creative classes. He talked of privatizing snow plowing services and funding for the arts in almost the same breath. And, as a wonk with a possibly unhealthy obsession with municipal governance, he backed it all up with the kind of substantive arguments and statistics that made it hard for anyone to argue.
“This was a stark choice between big city and little city,” says Mount Royal University political scientist Keith Brownsey. Mr. Nenshi, he says, could come off at times as fiscally conservative as even Mr. McIver, the councillor nicknamed Dr. No for his reputed habit of blocking spending decisions before council. And yet Mr. Nenshi could still be seen as the one promoting “expensive cultural programs, rebuilding the cultural infrastructure” offering an “encompassing and broad” vision for the city.
With no political record to dig through, Mr. Nenshi was unencumbered by the tricky questions that dogged, for instance, Mr. McIver about instances where his actions appeared to diverge from his professed fiscal conservatism—questions that were, more often than not, leveled by Mr. Nenshi (who, in fact, adopted not a few of his the ideas in his campaign from Mr. McIver’s own policies). And yet, because of that lack of political record, Mr. Nenshi hasn’t yet, either, been asked to demonstrate how effectively he will really be able to deliver, at a level of government where, with no party system, horse-trading is so often the rule, so many ideals to so many people. That may truly be where a movement truly begins—if it can begin. For Mr. Nenshi, that more formidable task begins now.
TORONTO— The Aga Khan Museum, scheduled to open in 2013, is the centerpiece in a new $300-million complex set within a landscaped park based on Islamic design principles and that will also include a new Ismaili Center. The museum will showcase treasures from the Aga Khan’s collection of outstanding works of art drawn from all over the Islamic world, while the Ismaili Center will provide a social, educational, and religious focal point for Toronto’s 30,000-strong Ismaili community.
In a foundation ceremony attended by almost 1,000 people, the Aga Khan was joined by Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper, who granted honorary Canadian citizenship to him. The event also marked the unveiling of the design and layout of the new museum complex, which will be built on a seven-hectare site in the Don Mills area of Toronto. The Aga Khan, spiritual leader to 15 million Ismaili Muslims worldwide, has repeatedly affirmed his belief that art and culture should serve as platforms of understanding between cultures.
Designed by Japanese architect Fumihiko Maki, the museum will include a large permanent gallery housing works of art from the collection acquired over the years by the Aga Khan and his family, as well as extensive exhibition spaces to accommodate temporary shows, a 350-seat auditorium, a reference library, multimedia center, classrooms, and workshop spaces. It will have a defined educational vocation, covering different periods and geographic areas of the Muslim world, with a focus on their preservation and display, alongside further collecting and research.
The construction of the museum in North America represents a blow for London, which lost out to Paris 30 years ago in the race to be the venue for what is now l’Institut du Monde Arabe. The British capital has now missed the boat again, despite being the frontrunner in the early years of the project, which started life over a decade ago. The choice of Canada generally, and Toronto specifically, as the location for the new museum has raised some eyebrows, something the Aga Khan was eager to address in his foundation ceremony speech. Citing the context of “Canada’s pluralism… and historic welcome to displaced Ismailis in the 1970s and later,” he drew particular attention to the values he believes that Ismailis share with Canadians. Perhaps equally pertinent is Toronto’s location: 50 million potential museum visitors live within a two-hour journey of the city, which is North America’s fifth largest.
Members of the Aga Khan’s family have long been recognized as important collectors of Islamic art, none more so than the late Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan. On permanent display in the new museum will be a replica of the Bellerive room in Prince Sadruddin’s home in Geneva, as well as up to 200 flagship pieces from the collection. The Aga Khan Trust for Culture‘s director-general, Luis Monreal, explained that while the acquisition of works of art for the museum collection will continue, there would not be an unbridled shopping spree as undertaken in recent years by some museums in the Middle East. Pending construction of the new museum, objects from the collection will continue to be featured in a series of traveling exhibitions, with the next show scheduled to open in Istanbul’s Sakip Sabanci Museum in October.
For more information, visit akdn.org