One foot in the past, look­ing to the fu­ture

The Globe and Mail (Alberta Edition) - - GLOBE FOCUS - writes the Aga Khan

The new Global Cen­tre for Plu­ral­ism is a trib­ute to open­ness,

The War Mu­seum Build­ing was de­signed well over a cen­tury ago by the great Cana­dian ar­chi­tect David Ewart. For its first half-cen­tury, it was the home of the Do­min­ion Archives, and then, for an­other half-cen­tury, we knew it as the War Mu­seum. For over one hun­dred years, all told, it was a place where the record of Canada’s proud and con­fi­dent past was pre­served and hon­oured.

The past still speaks to us in this place. The ar­chi­tects, de­sign­ers, en­gi­neers and so many oth­ers who have re­ha­bil­i­tated this won­der­ful Tu­dor Gothic build­ing have taken enor­mous care to re­spect its dis­tinc­tive his­toric char­ac­ter.

But even as we cel­e­brate the past today, we are also look­ing ahead, with joy and con­fi­dence, to a par­tic­u­larly ex­cit­ing fu­ture.

That fu­ture has also been sym­bol­ized by those who have re­newed this build­ing in two com­pelling ways.

First, they cre­ated a new gar­den in the fore­court, a tran­quil space for con­tem­plat­ing the past and think­ing about the fu­ture. And then, sec­ondly, they made a dra­matic new ges­ture for the fu­ture by open­ing this build­ing to the river.

When I first vis­ited this site, I went across the Ot­tawa River to see things from the op­po­site side. From that per­spec­tive, I no­ticed that many build­ings on the On­tario side had, over the years, turned their backs to the river. But as we be­gan to plan, an­other pos­si­bil­ity be­came ev­i­dent. It seemed in­creas­ingly sig­nif­i­cant to open the site to the water.

Water, af­ter all, has been seen, down through the ages, as the great source of life. When sci­en­tists search the uni­verse for signs of life, they be­gin by look­ing for water. Water re­stores and re­news and re­freshes. And open­ing our­selves and our lives to the water is to open our­selves and our lives to the fu­ture.

In ad­di­tion, the Ot­tawa River rep­re­sents a pow­er­ful con­nec­tion to other places, nearby and far away. It is not only a re­fresh­ing sym­bol, it is also a con­nect­ing sym­bol, con­nect­ing this site to the rest of Canada and the rest of the world.

Through­out the his­tory of Canada, the Ot­tawa River has been a meet­ing place for di­verse peo­ples, orig­i­nally the First Na­tions, and then the Bri­tish and the French, and, more re­cently, Cana­di­ans from many dif­fer­ent back­grounds. It sym­bol­izes the spirit of con­nec­tion. And the spirit of con­nec­tion, of course, is at the very heart of the Global Cen­tre for Plu­ral­ism.

The new fore­court gar­den sug­gests that the cen­tre will be a place for con­tem­pla­tion and re­flec­tion. And the open­ing to the river sug­gests that it will also be a place for con­nec­tion and en­gage­ment.

What hap­pens at 330 Sus­sex Drive in the years ahead will ra­di­ate out well be­yond its walls, to the en­tire world.

Let me em­pha­size a point about the con­cept of plu­ral­ism that is some­times mis­un­der­stood. Con­nec­tion does not nec­es­sar­ily mean agree­ment. It does not mean that we want to elim­i­nate our dif­fer­ences or erase our dis­tinc­tions. Far from it. What it does mean is that we con­nect with one an­other in or­der to learn from one an­other, and to build our fu­ture to­gether.

Plu­ral­ism does not mean the elim­i­na­tion of dif­fer­ence, but the em­brace of dif­fer­ence. Gen­uine plu­ral­ism un­der­stands that di­ver­sity does not weaken a so­ci­ety, it strength­ens it. In an ever-shrink­ing, ever more di­verse world, a gen­uine sense of plu­ral­ism is the in­dis­pens­able foun­da­tion for hu­man peace and progress.

From the start, this has been a vi­sion the Is­maili Ima­mat and the Gov­ern­ment of Canada have deeply shared.

My own close as­so­ci­a­tion with Canada be­gan more than five decades ago, with the com­ing to Canada of many thou­sands of Asian Is­mailis, es­sen­tially as the re­sult of Idi Amin’s anti-Asian poli­cies in Uganda. That re­la­tion­ship has been re-en­forced through the years as we have shared with our Cana­dian friends in so many great ad­ven­tures, here in Canada and in other lands, in­clud­ing the Global Cen­tre for Plu­ral­ism.

As we cel­e­brate the progress we have made today, we also rec­og­nize the grow­ing chal­lenges to our mis­sion, as na­tivist and na­tion­al­ist threats to plu­ral­ism rise up in so many cor­ners of the world. In re­spond­ing to th­ese chal­lenges, the Global Cen­tre for Plu­ral­ism has planned a va­ri­ety of new ini­tia­tives. Among them are the new Global Plu­ral­ism Awards which will rec­og­nize plu­ral­ism in ac­tion around the world, as well as a dis­tin­guished se­ries of new pub­li­ca­tions.

As we look today both to the past and to the fu­ture, we do so with grat­i­tude to all those who have shared in this jour­ney, and who now share in our pur­suit of new dreams.

This is a con­densed ver­sion of an ad­dress de­liv­ered this week in Ot­tawa by His High­ness the Aga Khan, on the oc­ca­sion of the open­ing of the Global Cen­tre for Plu­ral­ism.

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