The reclusive Aga Khan, who is known for his wealth and race horses is, in fact, the spiritual leader of the Ismalis, the world’s second largest Shiite Muslim sect. He spoke to reporters recently. The NPR report is here. I assume there was more than this little bit on NPR, but it is interesting what he had to say.
The Aga Khan began by saying that the West needs to learn more about Islam. To me, that was pap. His two next points were more interesting. First, he said that the answer is pluralism. It was an incredibly vague statement, since he didn’t identify examples of countries in which a lack of pluralism is a problem, nor did he name places where pluralism would be a solution. However, to the extent that, say, America is a pluralist society, and Saudi Arabia is not, I suspect he was tactfully addressing the latter and not the former.
If I’m correct in my understanding, his second comment, which was that Governments need to face political problems, can also be understood to be directed to repressive Arab regimes. I took his vaguely worded statements to mean that, if the Arab nations would extend greater rights to their citizens and create situations that would allow for oil wealth to benefit all citizens, many of the problems we’re now facing would go away.
I think it’s especially likely that the Aga Khan was addressing these prickly dictatorships precisely because his language was so vague. Nobody is ever vague when attacking America and the West. However, if you’ve learned anything from Danish newspapers, and Berlin opera companies, and Papal ruminations, it’s that you use allusion and indirection to speak to the radicals and their regimes, not clarity and forthrightness.