In the aftermath of the deadly attack against satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo in Paris, the Arab World Institute is still faced with the burden of ensuring a distinction is made between “Muslims and Islamists.”
The Institute, whose mission is to raise awareness about the Arab region and its culture, is bringing together Arab personalities in a bid to curb the backlash of the attack
“After the attack, the role of the Arab World Institute became even more important as it has a mission to prevent people mistaking Muslims for Islamists,” Jack Lang, former minister of culture and president of the Arab World Institute, told Al Arabiya News.
“We have to help people broaden their horizons and push them to stop being prejudice about this part of the world mainly through Arab classes, representations, exhibitions and artistic shows,” he said.
In January, France witnessed the deadliest extremist attack on French soil in decades when two gunmen stormed the office of satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo killing 12 people.
As part of the recent measures taken to soften French people’s perception of Islam, Lang said that the Institute will “receive as a symbolic event an Imam, a Rabbi as well as a Priest at the same time.
“All three come from Evry – a southern suburbs of Paris – just like French Prime Minister Manuel Valls who will also be attending,” Lang said.
Recently, Valls said his country was at war with extremism and terrorism - but not with Muslims.
Lang, who was appointed president of the institute in 2013, said a visit made by France’s Francois Hollande following the Paris attack helped reflect the institute’s “respect of all religions.
“During his visit, President Hollande highlighted the importance of respect between all cultures and religions especially the Muslim religion,” Lang said, “which is also what we promote: The respect of all religions.”
Hollande, who was attending the opening of the international forum called the “Renewal of the Arab World,” or “le Renouveau du Monde Arabe,” said that Islam was compatible with democracy and thanked Arabs for their solidarity regarding the act of terrorism in Paris.
Speaking about the “Renewal of the Arab World,” Lang said: “Through the event we wanted to shed light on the positive changes that are happening in several Arab countries and give a lively and real view of the Arab world.”
The forum brought together personalities from 21 Arab countries who discussed six different topics including, among others, entrepreneurship, education, the voice of women and culture.
The Institute is also making efforts to limit terrorist ideology through written arts as it inscribed the words “Nous sommes tous Charlie” - or “We are all Charlie” - in large red letters, in both French and Arabic, on the façade of the institute a day after the attack.
“It is a way to show our solidarity with the artists and creators who were killed in the attacks even if we do not support the cartoons of the Prophet [Mohammad],” Lang said, referring to Charlie Hebdo’s controversial cartoons depicting Islam’s Prophet Mohammad. Lang added that the institute “condemns the violence of the attack.”
And Lang said the institute, which was founded by France and members of the League of Arab States in 1980, is non-political.
Besides politics, some countries have also been left out of the institute. Some war-torn countries are facing difficulties cooperating with the organization.
“Unfortunately since the beginning of the war, Syria has not been well represented at the institute,” he said adding “Syria is a country of great culture.”
Syria has been torn apart by nearly four years of conflict in which about 200,000 people have died, according to Reuters news agency.
But other countries such as Morocco and Egypt occupy an important place at the institute.
This week, Moroccan exhibition “Le Maroc contemporain,” or “The contemporary Morocco,” welcomed the highest number of visitors ever registered at the institute, according to French daily Le Monde.
Last year the institute welcomed more than one million visitors.SHOW MORE