France has witnessed a surge in separatism and identity politics following the increase in Islamophobia after the Charlie Hebdo attacks. The French government has resorted to using the unifying power of art to tackle the wave of separatism. The government is organizing a number of exhibitions spanning over a period of four months to display the cultural and traditional diversity in the Islamic world in an effort to break stereotypes associated with Islamic culture and tradition.
France has had a bad track record in recent years in terms of combating Islamophobia. Recently, Algerian Muslim women were stabbed near the Eiffel Tower for being Muslims and two Jordanian nationals were assaulted for speaking Arabic in the city of Angers.
‘A Past For Present’, has been organized by the Réunion des Musées Nationaux-Grand Palais, and led by the head of the Louvre’s Islamic art department Yannick Lintz. The French President Emmanuel Macron was the one to propose the idea of showcasing the true face of Islamic tradition through exhibitions in order to counter the prevailing dogmatic side of it, perpetuated primarily by the militant organizations operating under the banner of Islam.
The exhibitions will be displaying the works of 19 artists from different parts of the Islamic world. Artists will be able to showcase their cultural affinity with the past and the heritage they draw from cultures and its effects on their lives as of now.
The exhibition will showcase nearly 210 art pieces borrowed from national museums, 60 of which have been loaned from the Louvre. It is crucial for France to promote diversity as it hosts one of the largest Muslim and Jew populations within Europe and where the wave of resentment against the Muslim community is on the rise. Lintz believes “it’s important, as curators specialized in Islamic civilization and Islamic art, to give another message about what is the historical reality of Islam, through 13 centuries of art, civilization, and intellectual life.”
The government of France has banned a majority of religious activities publicly, partially owing to its legal principle called “laicite”. The law was passed in 1905 and calls for the state to be secular and separate itself from any religion. However, over time, the French government has resorted to newer interpretations of the “laicite” principle to the extent that it is now believed to be fighting religious practices. Recently, the focus of the laicite principle was shifted towards Islamic practices.
This exhibition is an attempt to curtail the rising Islamophobia and separatism in France. It is necessary for the French to learn to celebrate cultural differences to coexist peacefully as it already has a diverse population.
Charlie Hebdo Attack
After the caricatures of Prophet Muhammad were published, on 7 January 2015, at around 11:30 a.m. CET local time, two French Muslim brothers, Saïd and Chérif Kouachi, entered into the offices of the French satirical weekly newspaper Charlie Hebdo in Paris, armed with rifles and other weapons. They killed 12 people and injured 11 others.