interviews

Amin MaaloufAmin Maalouf

"Radically rethinking the notion of identity"

Born in Beirut in 1949, within the minority community of the Christian melkites, emigrated in France since 1976, Amin Maalouf gave up his journalist's first profession to dedicate himself entirely to writing. Of Arabian language and French culture, he is the author of about ten written novels in French (translated in more of 20 languages) taking place in the Middle East, in Africa or in the Mediterranean setting. He received the Goncourt price in 1993 for" The rock of Tanios." A meeting with an author whose works always try to weave ties of coexistence between the oriental and western worlds.


As personality "on the border of two countries, of two or three languages, of several cultural traditions" as you wrote it, what is your conception of intercultural dialogue?
For me, dialogue between cultures is not an exchange between groups, but first and foremost an exchange between individuals. Cultures are not distinct entities, they only exist through the people who represent them, who are never identical. In a country, individuals carriers of various cultures often cohabit in a city, in a district, in a school, in an enterprise. It is in their capacity to live together, to listen to themselves, to influence themselves mutually where the dialogue of the cultures resides.

At what level, according to you, is mutual understanding between the countries of Europe and those of the South and the East of the Mediterranean Basin?
It seems to me that lower than ever. I have the feeling that incomprehension between these two worlds was never as deep. Long pages would be necessary to explain the reasons of it, but it is clear that the Arab-Moslem world is going through one of the darkest periods of its history, and that the West, on its side, seems to have lost a lot of its moral credibility, not to believe in its own principles.

Should art and artists be the engines of this intercultural dialogue or simple mirrors of a more global evolution?
I think effectively that artists should play an essential role in drawing closeness between the West and the Moslem world, between the Jews and the Arabs. Ideally, it would be necessary, to sketch a friendship among Mediterranean artists, who should contribute to the solution of the problems. This goal is only a wish, is he/it clear that that it is not that today arrives, even though of numerous people work in this direction.

Can the image (and in particular films) play a decisive role in the improvement of mutual understanding or on the contrary will it help to reinforce caricatures and stereotypes?
Image, as music or literature, is a tool that can be used to the service of the noblest reasons but also of the most doubtful. To answer your question directly, it is clear that some audiovisual works contribute to the closeness and the mutual understanding. Other works just as numerous, only make to go in the judicious of the received ideas. Either because their authors are not free to express themselves, either because their personal convictions incite them to perpetuate incomprehension, hate or fright.

What are the main obstacles to the emergence of a real intercultural dialogue between the countries of the different strands of the Mediterranean?
" don’t feel as having to consider these questions in terms of obstacles. I think that the Arab world needs a time of reflection on its past, its future, its place in the world, its relation with modernity, its report to religion, to liberty, to citizenship, to private life, etc. And Occident also needs to think on its role about internationalisation, its use of power, on its reports with the rest. It seems to me that both sides of the Mediterranean would need to reconsider the notion of identity radically.

Are you able to recall an anecdote illustrating intercultural dialogue and mutual understanding (under either a positive or negative angle)?
I don't have any precise anecdote in mind, but nothing rejoices me more than to meet an orchestra, a theatre troop, or even a bunch of friends, coming from various countries, various religions or ethnic origins, to see how they get together, consider themselves as brothers and sisters, have fun and eat, no matter their differences. It is them that prefigure the future, them that represent light in tenebrous years.

Maryam Touzani