Wednesday, February 12
The Aga Khan: A near myth
Simon O'Hagan, The Independent, 13 October 2002
Nobody likes to be rejected, but when you are a billionaire spiritual leader unused to having people stand in your way, the consequences tend to be dramatic. Such is the case with the Aga Khan, who for the second time in 13 years has reacted to a perceived slight by turning his back on Britain and looking elsewhere for a welcome.
There is a clear parallel between what happened last week when the Aga Khan lost out in his attempt to set up a London centre for his Islamic art collection and an episode in 1989 when he became embroiled in a bitter dispute with the Jockey Club after two of his horses failed dope tests. Not a man to shrug off such experiences, the Aga Khan has announced that his priceless collection of paintings and artefacts – which he planned to house on a site owned by King's College, part of London University, until it refused to sell to him – will now find a home in Toronto, just as on the earlier occasion he took all his horses out of Britain in protest, and only recently returned them. [...]
...he is doted on by some 15 million Ismaili Muslims worldwide who are also understood to be one of the main sources of his incalculable wealth. You could spend a long time trying to reconcile all these roles.
Even those well versed in global hierarchies have difficulty explaining exactly who the Aga Khan is, the significance of his status, or how he manages to straddle both religious and secular worlds with such apparent ease. Comparisons have been made with the Dalai Lama, the head of Tibetan Buddhism, and with the Pope. But at the other extreme, the name evoked is George Soros, the man whose financial instincts help to shape entire economies. [...]
Free of obligations to any nation, the Aga Khan is in a unique position to foster peace through diplomacy. But the ventures he makes into such territory are necessarily cautious, for fear of being caught up in raw politics. A behind-the-scenes role he played in the aftermath of the Gulf War drew criticism that he was too compliant in his dealings with Saddam Hussein.