France’s new Culture Minister Meets with Racist Taunts

23 May, 2022
French pres­i­dent Emmanuel Macron’s new Min­is­ter of Cul­ture, Rima Abdul Malak (pho­to Nice Matin).

 

Muse of French uni­ver­sal­ism, Emmanuel Macron’s appoint­ment of Rima Abdul Malak marks a break in the nation­al polit­i­cal land­scape. Born in Lebanon 44 years ago, an immi­grant to Lyon a few years lat­er with her par­ents, and for­mer­ly Macron’s Cul­ture and Com­mu­ni­ca­tion Advi­sor,  Abdul Malak is reput­ed­ly hard-work­ing and embod­ies a new gen­er­a­tion, a woman like­ly to make things happen.

 

Rosa Maria Branche

 

Four days after the appoint­ment of Elis­a­beth Borne as Prime Min­is­ter — only the sec­ond woman in the his­to­ry of France to hold this posi­tion — and 31 years after Edith Cres­son who had faced crit­i­cism through­out her term caus­ing her res­ig­na­tion, on Fri­day, May 20th, the Élysée announced the com­po­si­tion of the new government.

“The Fran­co-Lebanese Rima Abdul Malak named Min­is­ter of Cul­ture,” head­lined France 24 in its tele­vi­sion dis­patch. Mean­while, the names of the oth­er min­is­ters Éric Dupond-Moret­ti, Damien Abad, Gabriel Attal, and Amélie Oudéa-Castérae scroll by with­out any oth­er mention.

The reac­tions are com­ing from all sides on Twit­ter, full of racism, tinged with colo­nial overtones.

Is Rima Abdul Malak here to enter­tain the gallery? Are min­is­te­r­i­al posi­tions reserved only for Gal­lic French peo­ple? What would we say if she were Alger­ian or from Guadeloupe?

Iden­ti­fy­ing peo­ple with their ori­gins seems to be a well-estab­lished cul­tur­al fact. When will we accept that bicul­tur­al indi­vid­u­als are French in their own right?

I remem­ber the image of for­mer Min­is­ter of Cul­ture, Kim Jong-sook, born in Seoul, nat­u­ral­ized French under the name of Fleur Pel­lerin. After a bril­liant career as a senior civ­il ser­vant, she became, in 2014, the first per­son­al­i­ty of Asian ori­gin to enter a French gov­ern­ment. Less than two years lat­er, she left the senior civ­il ser­vice to join the pri­vate sector.

It is pre­cise­ly the cul­ture that pos­es a ques­tion for these peo­ple born of “for­eign” ori­gin. But what is French cul­ture: the cas­tles of the Loire, Molière, Voltaire, Balzac, or is it a hybrid cul­ture nour­ished by mod­ern exchanges and migra­tions, rich in its diver­si­ty, as wit­nessed by the artis­tic scene today? (Con­sid­er the writ­ers Tahar Ben Jel­loun and Amin Maalouf, respec­tive­ly of Moroc­can and Lebanese ori­gin, who are both mem­bers of the Académie Française, and write all their oeu­vre in French…)

Beyond lan­guage, Fran­coph­o­nie advo­cates inter­na­tion­al­ly for the val­ues of sol­i­dar­i­ty, cul­tur­al diver­si­ty, democ­ra­cy, human rights and the right to education.

The Lebanese are well placed to know this. They have had polit­i­cal and cul­tur­al ties with France since the days of St. Louis. There are those Lebanese who know French cul­ture bet­ter than the French. They have, for cen­turies, been bridges between this cul­ture, the Mediter­ranean and the world.

After start­ing a career in human­i­tar­i­an work, Rima Abdul Malak joined the Paris City Coun­cil as a deputy for cul­ture, under the wing of Bertrand Delanoë. In 2014, she left to pur­sue her career across the Atlantic at the French Embassy in New York, as a cul­tur­al attaché.

Dur­ing the health cri­sis, she held the posi­tion of Cul­tur­al Advi­sor at the Élysée, estab­lish­ing ties with the unions. She was some­times called the “sec­ond min­is­ter” of Cul­ture, so much did she have the ear of Emmanuel Macron. Abdul Malak seems endowed with the skills, method and effi­cien­cy to man­age the post-Covid issues of this sector.

Nev­er­the­less, being both a transna­tion­al and a French Min­is­ter of Cul­ture seems to con­tin­ue to pose some prob­lems for some. Along with Pap Ndi­aye, a Black his­to­ri­an of minori­ties, new­ly appoint­ed to the Min­istry of Edu­ca­tion, Rima Abdul Malak is best placed to make things hap­pen, to be the min­is­ter of all French peo­ple, and to rep­re­sent France in a glob­al­ized world.

Pluri­cul­tur­al­ism is a rich­ness — it is high time to real­ize it.