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Aga Khan III Event - 1931-11-11

Wednesday, 1931, November 11

November 11, 1931 - Sir Sultan Mohamed Shah, Aga Khan III made the famous speech 'If I were a Dictator' which was broadcast from the BBC radio of London.

If I were Dictator
Source: Message by The Aga Khan
(The Listener, 11th November 1931.)

It is a commonplace of contemporary history that the Great War opened the floodgates of the troubles from which we still suffer. So I should deem it my first duty as Dictator to make, as nearly as can be, impossible the overwhelming calamity of another world war, and to rectify the acknowledged errors of the peace concluded twelve years ago. To this end the de-militarisation of the world by the abolition of national armies and navies would be a first essential. I know that authority must in the final resort rest upon force, but the force I would provide would be internationally owned. For purposes of internal peace, national police and gendarmerie would be ample. Ordinary voluntary forces could be established for aiding the police on occasions of sudden necessity. These might be enrolled and placed under the local authorities who would co-operate with the police if any abnormal need arose through internal disturbances. There would be freedom of the air and of the seas with international aerial and naval patrol to prevent air raids and any return to the piracy of former days. Thus the real army, the air and sea forces, the striking arm of the land forces through light cavalry, mobile infantry, smaller tanks and various other technical improvements would remain at the disposal only of the super-national government whose members would represent a free choice of all the nationalities that would go to make the League which would take up the succession of my dictatorship after the twenty years in which I had organised the national and super-national government.

My dictatorship would uphold, rather than break down, national autonomy within a super-national world. Excessive centralization would be avoided by the maintenance of local Parliaments, but with a World Parliament at Geneva or Lausanne, the heart of civilization, to advise and assist the Dictator, and to replace the present League of Nations. It would be essential to the satisfactory working of the new order to readjust national groupings, where they form a source of irritation and unrest. From long and close study of world affairs I am driven to the conclusion that few things are more inimical to peace and goodwill between neighbors than the tearing asunder of ethnic and linguistic groups at the dictate whether of a Napoleon or a President Wilson, to serve the ends of larger and more powerful competing interests. A general worldwide recasting of existing political units would not be necessary. The New World could be left untouched, for neither in North America nor South America is there any sense of serious grievance. On the Continent of Europe there need be no territorial reshaping of Great Britain, Spain, Portugal, France, Muscovy and the Scandinavian countries. This is also broadly true of Italy, except that she might be asked to surrender some acquisitions along the Alps, which, in my view, are essentially German and not Italian.

Remapping the World.

The danger zones are Central Europe, the Balkans and Asia.I would make of Germany and Austria one nation, restoring to them such truly Germanic territory as has been acquired by others. In districts essentially Hungarian in population I should return to that unjustly maimed but generous and talented race such territories as desired by a free plebiscite to join her. In the Balkans, which have undergone so many transformations in national groupings as a result of ten years' almost continual fighting, I would have a properly conducted and free plebiscite for all doubtful zones. Where racial and cultural unity existed in the past I would let the peoples concerned unite or remain united. In a word, aggressor States would be compelled to disgorge, and the chap of Europe would be re-made on cultural and voluntary lines.

I would pursue the same policy in the Middle East and Central Asia, by aiming at re-uniting, each under one strong Government, the Persian and Turkish races. The Central Asian regions I would form into States on cultural and racial lines. The present clumsy and Ill-assorted provincial groupings in India are the issue of historical or administrative accident and not of planned design. They would be replaced by more homogeneous provinces bringing together to the fullest extent permitted by inexorable circumstance groups of the same linguistic tribe.

I advocated such remaking of the map of India in a book published in 1916, when the Montague-Chelmsford Reforms were being shaped, and I remain convinced to-day that this policy would provide one of the keys to an effective All-India Federation. The Arabs are to day an unjustly treated race. They are under different governments and different mandatories. I would make a federal but united Arabia something on the lines of the old Germanic Empire, leaving here and there to hereditary principalities their internal autonomy, but uniting the whole peninsula and its adjacent Arab, lands by a central federal government at some central place on the lines of Washington or Canberra. Japan can retain unimpaired her island nationality. In China there is linguistic affinity and a tradition of centuries of unity, but, in view of the course of events in our day, I should be inclined to give large provinces the opportunity for contracting out-if they wished to do so.

In Africa the tendency would be toward aggregation rather than division. For instance, I would make of the North-West one State. Egypt and the Sudan would be left as at present. The South African Union would be retained, excepting that Natal, being so preponderatingly British, might be given the option to contract out. In all that I have said I have not lost sight of the needs of the less civilized peoples, who are to be found in Africa in greater measure than elsewhere. I would entrust them for a transitional period of from fifteen to twenty years to a general League of all the nations. In Central Africa, for instance, the administration would be in charge of nominees of the League. One of their main responsibilities would be the steady preparation of the people, by education and culture, to take over the responsibility for the administration of their own affairs.

Enriching the Life of the Citizen.

The re-groupings made, as a means to cultural progress would need to be safeguarded from an excess of particularism. To day the two main streams of civilization are fed from two widely divided cultures-the Asiatic and the European. Every Asiatic of education is brought face to face with European culture in a variety of ways; but, broadly speaking, the European who has not lived in the East (and nine hundred and ninety-nine out of a thousand of his fellow-countrymen who have sojourned in Asia) does not know Eastern culture in any real sense. I would, therefore, make bi-culturalism an essential feature of education. I should aim at the ideal of every European child being taught an Eastern language, and every Asiatic child a European language. It is scarcely necessary to say that under my dictatorship compulsory education would be world-wide and kept up till, say, eighteen or twenty years of age. I should certainly give to education a wider meaning than that which it now has in the public mind. The system would include teaching on health, on the laws of sex and parenthood, and on art and the life of the soul in the widest sense.

The broad aim would be to give the workers a recognition of the value of their leisure in providing opportunities for spiritual, aesthetic and intellectual pursuits, for delight in nature and art in their manifold forms and, above all, for direct communion with the Unseen. The effort would be to enrich life through many channels. Travel, like staff rides in the army, would be regarded as a normal part of education. Spiritual values would be given the pre-eminence, which is their inherent right. By spiritual experience I must make it clear that nothing in the nature of asceticism or monkery or renunciation of the responsibilities, as well as of the enjoyment, of life is meant. Good and beautiful thoughts, kindliness and gentleness towards others as well as a constant feeling of communion with the obvious soul in the universe around us-these, rather than absurd inhibitions and taboos, would be the meaning of religious education. The value and importance for happiness and contentment of reflection over the fruits of knowledge and the direct reactions to outer nature would be taught to the young. The habit of contemplation would be as general during moments of leisure as is to day the wastage of precious time. There would be full freedom and equality of religious opinion, and also of practice so long as it did not trench upon the rights of others. Poetry and imaginative literature of all countries, especially of the neglected Moslem world, would be brought within the reach of each and all. The promotion of the public health would be sought both by education thereon and by the encouragement of physical culture, hiking, sports and games.

The time and money now foolishly wasted by sections of the public in over-clothing and over-feeding would be replaced by rational diet and dress and the use of golf courses, tennis courts, cricket, football and hockey grounds and other sports for which widespread provision would be made. In these ways the people would be encouraged to divert the mind and exercise the body. There would be no regimentation in the use of amusements, as each individual would be left free to choose his own form of recreation.

No Standing still in Human Affairs.

The dictatorship would recognize that there is no standing still in human affairs and that both science and economic policy must serve the ends of progress. As Sir J. J. Thomson showed in his presidential address to the Section of Mathematical and Physical Sciences at the centenary meeting of the British Association a few weeks ago, there is too much mass production in university science teaching. Far too many unsuitable men are turned to laboratory work in various branches of research. The best results can be achieved, I am confident, by providing the fullest means for investigation to men of proved power and achievement. I would give a Faraday, a Ross and Einstein adequate resources and let him choose his own assistants. In this way scientific research and progress would be revitalized with the fire of individual genius. The higher prizes would be offered-not only from the material, but from the social and honorific points of view-for scientific discoveries; while those who showed natural inclinations and promise by original thought and work would be placed in positions where they could carry forward their researches, not only in all the inductive sciences, but in history, literature and economic studies.

Warning against the Forces of Nature.

From all that has been said it might appear that the necessity for man to face danger and adversity, to develop his mental resources for sudden decisions in the face of unforeseen events, for constant and hard effort, for preparation and foresight might be weakened.

Peace, a higher development of contemplation and reflective education and more general possession and variety of goods might, one would think, in the long run sap the foundations from which progress comes. But I maintain, on the contrary, that the twenty years of my dictatorship would go a long way to strengthen these qualities, and change their direction. Instead of having to combat man, to face danger from neighbouring States, instead of making the effort for a painful production of goods, instead of years of spending and service in order to save a little, in order to buy a little, the society I should have prepared (for the super-national States that would take up the continuation of my work) would have learned that the greatest of all conquests, and the greatest of all struggles, and the greatest of all triumphs will be over the forces of nature.

Through the constant encouragement of individual effort to overcome the impediment that nature has placed in the way of man's progress a new mentality would be gradually formed. The draining and reclaiming of Africa, of Siberia, of the deserts of Central the development of the vast sub-Himalayan forests by means intensely re powerful than those now at man's disposal, by even the conquest rough science of the coldest North and the warmest areas of the Equator, the qualities now wasted in fratricidal wars would be turned to the preparation of such organisations as would render a retrograde reaction after my twenty years' dictatorship came to an end, if not impossible, at least most improbable.

Recent events have shown how great are the reactions of economic policy upon the welfare of the world. As Dictator I would break down high Tariff walls and promote a real freedom of trade, subject only to the proviso that the circumstances of any given area of production might make it beneficial for the world (and not merely for the country itself) to secure temporary protection for the proper development of a given industry. The uncertainty and speculation which hold the world in thrall so long as the value of goods depends entirely upon the precious metals would be replaced by a fixed unvarying exchange, whereby both gold and silver tokens and paper money (based upon the guarantees of the dictatorship) would balance goods. Private property in the holding of shares would be encouraged; and for purposes of production and development the State might make advances to industrialists at nominal rates. With freedom of trade I would restore the freedom of communication and travel, which now suffer from so many post-war restrictions. It would be in accordance with the spirit of the policy I have outlined to reduce the volume of legislation in all countries.

The fact that, 'owing to scientific discovery, more and more goods can be placed on the market should not lead to such depreciation of general values as to render men workless and poor.

On the contrary, money values would be so adjusted to goods as to make it the object of the world State to place at the disposal of each consumer (for very little money value) as large and as varied a quantity of materials as to make a position of leisure possible for him. He would thus benefit from the intellectual and physical advantages of the higher culture brought to his door not only by his proper education in youth, but by courses of lectures, private but voluntary tuition, and intellectual and explanatory series of visits to important cities and the countryside.

You will see that the broad general principles of the exercise of my dictatorship would be to secure the prevention of war, to break down the animosities and barriers to goodwill, to provide scope for both national and individual self-expression, and to seek to give each citizen capacity and opportunity to share in the rich heritage which the human race as a whole and not merely some portions of it, should receive, by reason of the toll, the teaching and the sacrifice of past generations.

And then, when my twenty years' dictatorship was over, I should hope and believe that the better world for which I had prepared would not so easily fall back into the state of spiritual, intellectual, social, political and economic anarchy which has been the fate of mankind up till to-day.

The Listener, 11th November 1931.


Speech by H.H. Sultan Muhammad Shah Aga Khan III

His Highness Sir Sultan Muhammad Shah - President of Legaue of Nations
The Listener

If I were Dictator

Source: Message by The Aga Khan
(The Listener, 11th November 1931.)

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