“A pluralist, cosmopolitan society is a society which not only accepts difference, but actively seeks to understand it and to learn from it. In this perspective, diversity is not a burden to be endured, but an opportunity to be welcomed.” – His Highness the Aga Khan
With the rise of identity politics, groups form and recruit based on singular identities, based on race, ethnicity, religion, or narrow nationalistic views. As the world is more divided than ever, and societies contract and shrink on themselves pushing out “the other”, pluralism is the only answer to fix this ailment.
If people truly reflect on their societies, they would realize that diversity exists in every society, and with today’s interdependent world, there is no place for singularity, for one race, culture, ethnicity or religion. As Meredith Preston McGhie, Secretary General of the Global Center for Pluralism said, “Pluralism is different from diversity, in that it is a choice, it is the conscious decision to see the diversity in your society and positively engage with it.”
Pluralism is not about tolerating or accepting the other. Pluralism is about actively engaging to better understand, and eventually achieve harmony and social cohesion among different groups. It is a conscious decision to act, to challenge our unconscious biases, and to better manage diversity. As Meredith says, it can teach us how to govern ourselves, how to manage our differences, how to interact as a society, and how to embrace these differences and build positively on them.
I am grateful for Canada and proud of the work Canadians do to effect change. Canada has been consistent in its message and actions on a national and on a global level, to ensure that we live in a world that sees the positive aspects of diversity and use them to reach harmony.
In 2006, former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and His Highness the Aga Khan signed a funding agreement between the Canadian government and the Aga Khan Development Network to establish the Global Centre for Pluralism. The Centre is dedicated to research, education and exchange about the values, practices and policies that underpin pluralist societies.
In 2017, the Center introduced the Global Pluralism Award to honour and celebrate the work of people around the world to build inclusive peaceful societies. The award nominees, winners and honourable mentions are an inspiration for all of us. They are proof that positive change can be achieved if people decide to act in their communities and change the wrongs.
In November 2019, during the award ceremony in Ottawa, I met with some of the winners and they inspired me and gave me hope in a better world. A world where differences do not garner exclusion, but on the contrary, they would open possibilities.
As His Highness the Aga Khan said, “Diversity is not a reason to put up walls, but rather to open windows. It is not a burden, it is a blessing”