Toronto, Canada, 21 September 2016 – His Highness the Aga Khan was presented the inaugural Adrienne Clarkson Prize for Global Citizenship at a ceremony at Toronto’s Koerner Hall.
The prize was presented by the Right Honourable Adrienne Clarkson, the 26th Governor General of Canada and co-founder of the Institute for Canadian Citizenship. The Aga Khan addressed the gathering and took part in an onstage conversation with Madame Clarkson. The internationally-acclaimed vocalist and songwriter Rufus Wainwright performed in his honour.
The annual Adrienne Clarkson Prize for Global Citizenship recognises an individual who has, through thought and dialogue, encouraged approaches and strategies that strive to remove barriers, change attitudes, and reinforce the principles of tolerance and respect.
Diversity is a reason to open windows, not put up walls, says Aga Khan upon receiving the Prize for Global Citizenship
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.”