Posted: Sun Apr 18, 2004 10:14 pm Post subject: English translation of La Croix interview
English translation of H.H. the Aga Khan's interview with La Croix, France, published April 8, 2003
The World: The war in Iraq
"It will be difficult to establish democracy in Iraq"
In an exclusive interview with La Croix, the Aga Khan underlines how much the war has shaken up the Middle East. He estimates that the roots of democracy should take a while to establish and require the respecting of diversity of the country.
Karim Aga Khan
Spiritual Head of the World's Shia Ismailis
How do you see the current conflict in Iraq?
Karim Aga Khan: This conflict is the most dangerous that we have experienced for a long time. Its consequences will be extremely difficult to manage, because they have impacted a number of structures: political, theological, economic, in this part of the world. Iraq lies on a fault line between two parts of the Arab world, between the Arab Muslim world and the non-Arab Muslim world; between Shia Muslims and Sunnis; between Wahhabi Muslims and Shias. The conflict has opened a series of fundamental questions which it will be necessary to manage with great prudence. It has touched the area's religious equilibrium. In Iraq, you had a Sunni-minority government in a majority-Shia country. In Syria, it's the opposite. As for Saudi Arabia, its positions on a number of points are absolutely and totally rejected by other countries in the region.
In this context, one must ask oneself the question as to what one wishes to achieve in a post-Saddam Hussain Iraq? Whether the United Nations will agree to become the principal authority for the rebuilding of Iraq? Whether we are moving towards a temporary Anglo-American colonization? Will elections in Iraq lead to Shia power? Will this Shia majority ally itself with Iran? With Yemen? Will there be stronger empathy between Shia Arabs and Shia non-Arabs or between Arab Shias and Arab Sunnis? These are fundamental questions. On the military and economic planes, an Iran-Iraq axis would be extremely powerful. How will Saudi Arabia and its partners react to this reshuffling of cards?
In the face of these questions, we are told that the Iraqis will decide for themselves. But the post-Taliban situation in Afghanistan shows the difficulty of unifying a country, of changing a regime, of finding the leaders to lead the change.
- Many of the actors in this war cite God. What is your feeling?
- I do not believe in this notion of war between the Muslim world and Christendom. When one puts the life of men and women at stake, in any war, this poses a moral problem, that of the destiny of the men and women. But I do not see, with Bush or Blair, a hostility of Christendom against Islam. Perhaps there is a tendency to say: " We wage this war in the name of the ethical values of our faith". The experience of September 11 was profoundly destabilizing for the United States. I know Tony Blair rather well. I do not see his personal philosophy being directed against the Muslim world. On the other hand, there is a tendency far too often, in Europe or in America, to assign to the generic words "Arab" or "Muslim" a multitude of countries and positions. One does not pay enough attention to the complexity of this world of which one has such poor knowledge. Before the Iranian revolution, the West did not know the word "Shia". It took the war in Afghanistan for it to discover the word "Wahhabi". It is now in the midst of comprehending the complexities of the Muslim world in the course of its crises. I would have wished that this could have been achieved by other means.
- Is it possible to install democracy in Iraq and, more generally, in the Arab world, after the war?
- Democracy in Iraq has not been applied for a very long time. Putting in place a credible system will take time and will be very difficult to organize. Afghanistan proves it. And then, we must be prepared to accept the verdict of democracy. This democracy should be applied over time and in [a climate of] stability. In many countries, the democratic experiment has failed. If you wish to set up a democratic process in a Third World country, it is imperative to reflect, not only on the process, but also its effects; its results. Iraq is an educated country, with a grand tradition. But, it is not more pluralistic in its way of thinking than is Afghanistan. Democracy, if it is established in Iraq, must legitimate pluralism. That is not easy to achieve. The bottom line is to have a successful democracy. And for that, it is imperative to seek out elites who can govern with competence.
- Is the concept of democracy universal?
- The model of democracy should be adjusted according to the country. If one changes a one-party regime, as in Iraq, I am in favour. But it is necessary then to set up a political system which adapts to political, ethnic, religious, and linguistic realities of the country. For me the basic problem is the management of this pluralism. This is a fundamental notion in the Third World.
- Up to what point does the international community have to sponsor this democratic process?
- The economic reconstruction will require a long-term sponsorship in order to set up a new financial system, a liberalization of the economy, and a better management of the public funds. Iraq has the chance to have, from the outset, a healthy economy thanks to oil. On the political level, the Iraqis will have to decide for themselves how to refine the democratic process to adapt to their country. That is what is in the process of being done in Afghanistan today. That is what the Iranians are searching at this very moment.
At the political level, we have in the Muslim world - Arab and non-Arab - inherited from the Cold War, this choice which was imposed upon us - between the Soviet system and the Western system. The middle way, that of non-alignment, proved not to be a success. We went from a period of centralization, based on one-party [rule]. Today, we seek a new way. That is destabilizing, because it is a new process. The heads of state in Central Asia, for example, have left the Soviet system and are in the process of exploration, of re-learning.
- What experience can you bring, in your capacity as Head of the Ismaili Community?
- Ismaili Shiism has a living Imam, who lives in the world, [and] has a great number of contacts. I observe the changes [in the world] and, in so far as possible, I anticipate the manner in which to build institutions which meet the needs of Ismailis. We do not have, in the Ismaili Community, a single ethnic group, a single [spoken] language, a single religious history. I pay attention to this pluralism of traditions. I situate my actions in the context of the [current] times. I have lived through decolonization, the end of the Cold War, the creation of Bangladesh, the Iranian Revolution. In the face of these situations, it was necessary to reflect, to anticipate, to respond to necessities. My grandfather gave, and I have myself given, a certain interpretation to Shiism. The intellect is seen as a facet of faith, in the service of faith. Reason, reflection, form part of the process of decision making. This reflection is wished, is necessary in the interpretation of religion. That is to say that we invest in the intellect of a Community. This is one of the elements which has made it possible for the Ismaili Community to respond to the problems of [the modern world].
- What comments do you have on the rather strong position of the Pope against the war in Iraq?
- I find it very delicate for me to comment on these positions. Personally, I am vigorously opposed to any notion of intrinsic conflict between the Christian and Muslim worlds. This thesis is farcical! This is to ignore the Christian world, which is not monolithic. No more than does one find a [unifying] synthesis in the Muslim world. Let us stop this facile and childish view which does not correspond to reality! There are more elements which unite the three monotheistic religions of Abrahamic origin than which divide them. The important thing is to determine how these monotheistic religions can build on what unites them, and not to let themselves be divided by circumstances of daily life. I do all that I can so that we build together, in the countries where I am involved, a pluralistic future whose beneficiaries are: civil society and the populations concerned, irrespective of whether they are Christian, Muslim or Jewish. Our obligation is to have a social ethic which functions for the benefit of the poor and which gives them a reason to believe in the future. Someone who has no hope in his life is an individual who is at risk for himself and for his family.
If you look at social ethics of the three monotheistic religions, you will find fantastic platforms for collaboration. These platforms have not functioned in the past. They do not function terribly well today. Take sub-Saharan Africa. The majority of teaching of the young is under the control of the religious authorities. Do they consult between themselves? I do not believe so. We are all monotheists. We have common ethical principles, in particular with regard to life. This was identified by a man that I respect, and who is Jewish, Jim Wolfensohn, the president of the World Bank. He wanted to have an inter-faith dialogue. He did not seek it on the level of theological dialectics. He sought it in the fields which could produce valuable results to the populations for which he carries responsibility. We, ourselves, cooperate with the Catholic Church in various countries.
By Pierre COCHEZ and Jean-Christophe PLOQUIN
« The Imam » of the Shia Ismailis
Prince Karim Aga Khan IV is the Spiritual Leader (Imam) of the Shia Ismaili Muslims. This Community comprises 12 to 15 million followers established in 25 countries, principally in India, in Pakistan, in East Africa and in Central Asia, but also in Syria, in Iran and in Afghanistan. At 20, in 1957, he succeeded his grandfather, the Aga Khan III. Born in Switzerland, living in France, 49th generation descendant of Prophet Muhammad, Karim Aga Khan completed his studies at Harvard University in America. His role consists, above all, of helping “all Ismailis in the world who find themselves in need”, his followers annually pay tiithe of a portion of their revenues. The Aga Khan is also involved in a number of development programs in the countries of the Third World, frequently in collaboration with international organizations. Since the end of the Soviet Union, he has committed himself heavily to Central Asia. It is he who will be delivering the Keynote Address at the Business Forum, organized by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development from 4-5 May next in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, in parallel with its annual session. He is also known for his passion for racehorses.
TUESDAY APRIL 8, 2003 LA CROIX
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