The French Minister of Justice, Christiane Taubira, received a standing ovation for her speech at the first session of the Forum de Fes
A dynamic and eloquent speaker, Christiane Taubira spoke without notes for more than half an hour on the French poet, author and politician, Aimé Césaire, and the importance of his work today. She spoke of Césaire's upbringing in Martinique, where he was born in 1913; the development of his humanism and humanitarianism and his fight for justice - not only for the slaves of former French colonies, but for all minorities whose voices were stifled.
"The world is dangerous, as those who are dominant seek to destroy diversity," Ms Taubira said.
Ms Taubira said Césaire's view was that it is fractures between human beings that produce injustice. "Césaire was a rebel who never considered himself separate from others," she said. "He said, 'I am nothing but a man. The true treasure is the person who is open to his or her world.'"
Césaire's writings strongly denounce European colonial racism and hypocrisy. He wrote nine books of poetry, four plays and four works of non-fiction. As well as being an outspoken critic and advocate, he was mayor of Fort-de-France in Martinique and one of the principal drafters of the 1946 law on departmentalizing former colonies. He died in 2008.
Summary: Contemporary Challenges for Diverse and Plural Societies (also honoring the memory of the poet Aimée Césaire).
by Professor Katherine Marshall
Faouzi Skali, Mohamed Kabbaj, Mohamed Amine Sbihi, Minister of Culture, Morocco
Abdou Hafidi, introducing Christiane Taubira, Minister of Justice, France
Assia Alaoui Bensalah, Roland Cayrol, Mustapha Cherif, Elisabeth Guigou, Bariza Khiari
The opening morning on June 8 was remarkable for its wide array of people and ideas.
It began with formal welcomes that touched the history and hopes for this unique Forum. Our hosts linked the Forum theme of diversity, not only to the joys and beauty of diverse experiences and people but to its vital role in society and for the planet. The idealized memory of the Andalusian centuries is at the core of this Festival because diverse cultures not only met there, but interacted and created ideas and art that have endured across the ages. An important legacy is the tradition of Fes, which in its very foundation was to be a place dedicated to peace and spirituality, the two linked through culture. The theme of Andalous, Faouzi Skali highlighted, was the common theme, the fil conducteur, of the opening spectacle Friday night. It evoked an appeal to a collective imagination, a call to recreate and regain the spiritual inspiration behind those centuries. The memory is linked to the lasting beauty of human creations - like the Batha Bardens which are Andalusian in character), appreciation of the natural world (the magnificent Barbary oak that crowns our work and houses the birds which offer a constant musical theme), and a wealth of music and poetry. This history is a reminder of the mystery of creation. The theme and thus the Forum are thus intellectual but also deeply spiritual: religion, Faouzi emphasized, is about love, of God and of man, spiritual, passionate, mystical, secret, generous. It must never be an instrument for oppression or repression. Turning this ideal into practical reality is the Forum’s goal.
French Minister Christiane Taubira then led the Forum through a masterful historical journey evoked by the memory of Aimée Césaire on this 100th anniversary of his birth. She introduced us to his worlds, the special ambiance of the Caribbean islands where races mingled and both creativity and prejudice put down long roots and the colonial empires of a century ago. Cesaire had many incarnations, as politician, poet, educator, activist, intellectual. Taubira then traveled through the long 20th century of wars, global shifts, personalities, hopes, and disappointments, rebellion and love. She reminded us of this diversity of history with poetry and politics, and even song, bringing us into Cesaire’s story of how the aspirations of peoples, through the movement of Negritude, came to life not as something negative or isolated but as something positive. Two special themes ran through her story as the spinal chord of his life and legacy: the power that pride in identity can bring, and the absolutely vital role of education as the path for emancipation.
Turning then to the panel and Forum, Edgar Morin set the theme for the day with his sharp statement that unity and diversity are in fact inseparable, yet present us with a paradox with which we must struggle constantly. Humankind is inextricably linked by genetics, physiognomy, biology, and life cycles, yet each individual, even an identical twin, is distinct. The same applies for cultures and societies. Efforts to ignore the other, to close them off, lead to disaster. Morin stressed that this fundamental paradox is at the heart of democracy’s role in assuring both the will of the majority and the absolute protection of the voice and interests of minorities. The paradox is not abstract, as Assia Alaoui Bensalah reminded us: the more people know others and are enmeshed in a global culture, the more fiercely they desire difference and recognition of their individuality and seek its affirmation. It colors the politics of this region today, and of global politics as well as the life of each individual.
This conflicting pull presents both challenges and dangers. Raymond Cayrol sobered the Forum with reminders that diversity and acceptance of others cannot be taken for granted. Even among educated and enlightened peoples, as those of Europe, intolerance is strong. Polling data show a constant and unnerving strand of deep seated prejudice, by race, religion, and class. He termed it an incredible prejudice, and it presents us with a constant battle.
This tension, the fundamental paradox, is evoked in the debates about the clash of civilizations, more properly described as a clash of ignorance. We were led through an alphabet of images and ideas, all pointing to the wisdom of balance, the importance of openness to ideas, and the gift of diversity. The story of the Tower of Babel, often seen in a negative light, we were advised, should be seen not as it is commonly told, a disaster of jumbled languages and cultures, but as a parable of the virtues and joys of a diversity as they are transmitted beyond the tower.
The discussion yesterday was in many ways a rich conversation along a Moroccan French axis, a family discussion among people who see different parts of the whole but within a common historical framework and with many ideals and experiences in common. It evoked ancient and contemporary debates about integration and common values, human rights and the rights of man, struggles for equality and balance, among nationalities, genders, and religions. It touched on the respective roles and responsibilities of the individual (to understand himself first) and of the state.
The discussion also began to explore how these broader struggles over common values versus diversity mirrored in struggles within the rich diversity of Muslim societies. We were reminded that this is no light subject and it colors contemporary politics in the region. It is a topic that demands careful and deep common reflection. But several speakers framed a clear message: the Festival of Fes, and the city of Fes and its people are the face of a true Islam, a faith that is grounded not in a rigid order but in a profound and often mystical faith, an Islam that is marked by its qualities of openness, questioning, love of ideas, complexity, and a constant search for love and meaning.
So, yesterday turned on the fundamental question of why we should care so deeply about cultural and religious diversity? The answer lies in the looming fear that global forces, however rich the benefits and opportunities, bring real and imminent threats. Three dangers were linked. As instant communications link cultures with the speed of a sound byte there are powerful pressures to homogenize. The moves towards single cultural styles and icons evokes strong reactions, both to accept and celebrate this universal norm, and to reject it entirely, retreating within fortresses of culture and religion. And the imbalance of power among nations and the hegemony of a dominant power and culture threaten to stifle and obscure the richness of diverse cultures and histories. The paradox of unity intertwined with diversity is the Forum’s challenge as we move to the second day, whose challenge is the powerful engine of business, markets, and economics.
Fes Forum on Sunday June 9 at 9 AM at Musée Batha
Theme: Can financial markets be made to work in harmony for the global good?