Jack Lang: The Arab world is not just about war and terrorism
Paris - The Arab world can seem from afar simply a bloody spot where wars are fought and the Islamic State (ISIS) is spreading terror and destroying the region’s rich heritage. Wars in four Arab countries — Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Libya — have accentuated the gloomy picture, with death, destruction, poverty and tragedies engulfing the parts of the region.
However, there is another reality. The Arab world remains “rich and passionate”, according to Jack Lang, president of the L’institut du Monde Arabe in Paris.
Lang, who acknowledged the tragic developments in the Arab region, stressed the need for joint efforts and initiatives to help reverse the course of events and promote peace and tolerance — a mission embraced by his institute.
“Culture in the Arab world is the best weapon against ignorance, despair and terrorism and it is the best form of resistance to fight violence,” he said.
L’institut du Monde Arabe, known internationally for its role in promoting culture, acts as a bridge between the West and the East. One of its main objectives is to spread the image of contemporary Arab world and the Arab- Islamic civilisation.
This French-Arab venture has proven to be a success since its creation in 1987. Its magnificent location in the heart of Paris and its building, which was designed by famous French architects, are attractions in themselves.
It faces, however, the tough challenge of reminding others of the true face of the Arab world.
“I know we cannot close our eyes to what is happening in the Arab world, specifically in Iraq and Syria… It is terrible but, at the same time, it is wrong to believe that all of the Arab world is plunged in flames and blood because this is not true,” Lang said.
“The approach we are adopting today is one of peace, respect, tolerance and openness and this is being translated into actions and concrete initiatives by organising events, be it in art exhibitions or conferences.”
Lang said these events are meant to show how much of the Arab world is “rich, dense and passionate” and more importantly “how very far it is from the clichés that are being spread and published in the media in the West and elsewhere”.
Another bright side of the institute’s efforts are its forums, which represent an opportunity for intellectuals, writers and poets to express the evolution of Arab thinking in history and at present, Lang said.
Teaching Arabic is another important task the institute is fervently assuming by offering classes in Classical Arabic and spoken Arabic in three dialects — Maghreb, Middle East and the Gulf.
“I know how important the Arabic language is and how valuable Arab culture is,” Lang said. “Actually, when I look at what is happening today, I don’t even think that the murderers who are committing horrible acts are familiar with the Arabic language or practice it.”
He said he believes the best way to face present challenges remains in promoting culture and knowledge.
“In my opinion, there is no form of resistance to face terrorism other than culture, knowledge and science. Only through those, we can put an end to clichés, lies, confusions and fanatism,” Lang explained
Another subject that deserves attention, according to Lang, is the role of the Arab youth. “One should give them the chance to change, fight the social inequalities and to open new perspectives,” he said.
Lang, however, said his institution alone cannot change realities.
“We are a unique institution but at the same time we must work with so many others: universities, governments, think-tanks and civil societies of different countries to be able to create real change,” he noted.
Despite the gloom and despair engulfing the region, Lang emphasised that some Arab countries “are scoring progress and growth”.
“Another good example to what I am saying is Lebanon,” he said. “This country is surrounded by the troops of Syrian President (Bashar) Assad and murderers from Daesh (Islamic State) but the Lebanese people have shown through their civic spirit, patriotism and energy that they do not allow violence to prevail and win.”
He explained that the Lebanese have succeeded in preserving their unity and have demonstrated “a will to live” despite the burden of hosting 1.2 million Syrian refugees.
Lang visited Beirut last June to mark France’s attachment to its long-time protégé. He attended celebrations of La fête de la Musique, an event that is marked in more than 120 countries.
Music, he said, “is stronger than violence” and represents a “common denominator to different cultures”.
The activities of L’Institut du Monde Arabe in art, music, theatre, cinema, photography have been numerous and have been growing at a quick pace since Lang took over in 2013.
It is now hosting a beautiful garden exhibition, From Alhambra to Taj Mahal, in which 300 pieces, brought from international museums, tell the history of gardens in the Orient.
In May, it sponsored an exhibition for Palestinian artists and a film festival featuring the works of Palestinian filmmakers. The situation in Gaza was highlighted during a special event that gathered prominent Palestinian and French experts.
The peak was an agreement signed between Lang and Palestinian Ambassador to UNESCO Elias Sanbar, in which the institute was to host the Palestinian “museum in exile” that Sanbar created. Valuable pieces that have been collected were to be displayed at the institute until it is possible for the museum to settle in the Palestinian territories.
Lebanon will have a share at L’Institut du Monde Arabe next year, with a huge international exhibition on The Christians of the Orient and another on the creation of contemporary Lebanon, which will host artists from Lebanon.