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His Highness the Aga Khan (Peter Power/Peter Power/The Globe and Mail)
His Highness the Aga Khan (Peter Power/Peter Power/The Globe and Mail)


Verbatim: The Aga Khan's LaFontaine-Baldwin Lecture Add to ...

Full text of the speech delivered Friday night in Toronto

The Right Honorable Adrienne Clarkson

Mr. John Ralston Saul

Distinguished Guests

Ladies and Gentlemen

Mesdames et Messieurs

Lorsque j'ai été invité à donner la conférence de ce symposium LaFontaine-Baldwin, ce fut pour moi un grand honneur et j'ai éprouvé beaucoup d'émotion. C'est également un grand plaisir de se retrouver parmi de si nombreux amis tant anciens que nouveaux, ici à Toronto - et je suis particulièrement heureux d'avoir été présenté si chaleureusement ce soir par mes bons amis John Ralston Saul et Adrienne Clarkson. Je me sens profondément reconnaissant de cette très aimable invitation et de votre généreux accueil.

When I first received this invitation, I was deeply honored. But I was also, perhaps, a bit intimidated.

I was impressed by the Lecture's prestigious history, the contributions of nine former Lecturers, and the Lecture's focus on Canada's civic culture.

As you may know, my close ties with Canada go back almost four decades, to the time when many thousands of Asian refugees from Uganda, including many Ismailis, were welcomed so generously in this society. These ties have continued through the cooperation of our Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) with several Canadian Institutions, including the establishment, four years ago, of the Global Centre for Pluralism in Ottawa. I had the opportunity last week to chair a highly productive meeting there of the Centre's Board of Directors.

Earlier this year, we also celebrated here in Toronto the Foundation Ceremony for the Aga Khan Museum and a new Ismaili Centre. So there are powerful chords of memory - from four decades ago, four years ago, and even four months ago, that tie me closely to Canada.

I was also deeply moved by Canada's extraordinary gift to me of honorary citizenship.

I always have felt at home when I come to Canada - but never more so than in the wake of this honour. And if I ever felt any trepidation about accepting this evening's invitation, it has been significantly reduced by the fact that I can now claim - however modestly - to be a Canadian!

My thanks go to all of you who are attending this Lecture - or are watching and listening from elsewhere. It is a busy autumn night, I know. For one thing, I believe the undefeated Maple Leafs are playing on television at this very hour!

My Canadian friends like to tell about a time when the Stanley Cup playoffs were in full swing, and a gentleman took his seat in the front row of the stadium - leaving a seat open next to him. His neighbor asked why such an excellent seat for such an important event was unclaimed, and the man explained that his wife normally sat there but that she had passed away. The neighbour expressed his sympathies, but asked whether a member of the family, or another relative or friend might have been able to use the ticket. "No," the man replied, "they're all at the funeral."

The subject of tonight's Lecture, pluralism, may not have quite the emotional hold of the Stanley Cup, but, for me, it has been a matter of immense importance.

One reason, no doubt, is that the Ismaili people have long shared in the experience of smaller groups everywhere - living in larger societies. In addition, my lifelong interest in development has focused my attention on the challenge of social diversity. My interest in launching the Global Centre for Pluralism reflected my sense that there was yet no institution dedicated to the question of diversity in our world, and that Canada's national experience made it a natural home for this venture.

The Centre plans, of course, to engage expert researchers to help in its work. Those plans remind me of a "think-tank" executive who found himself floating aimlessly across the sky one day in a hot air balloon. (I suspect he was the chairman!). As he hovered above he called down to a man below, "Can you tell me where I am?" The man shouted back, giving him his longitude, latitude and altitude. "Thanks," said the chairman, "that's interesting, but you must be a professor!" "Why do you say that?" asked the man below. "Well," the chairman responded, "you have given me a lot of precise information, which I'm sure is technically correct, but which is not of the faintest use to me."

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