Dear Minister Gérald Darmanin,

Dear Georges-François Leclerc,

Ladies and gentlemen parliamentarians,

Dear François Decoster, Vice-President of the Regional Council,

Dear Christian Poiret, Chairman of the Departmental Council,

Dear Michel Delepaul, Vice-President of the Metropolis,

Madam Mayor, dear Doriane Bécue,

Dear Laurence Des Cars,

Mr President of the Reunion of National Museums-Grand-Palais, dear Chris Dercon,

Dear Ghaleb Bencheikh el Hocine, President of the Fondation de l'Islam de France,

Dear Yannick Lintz, Director of the Department of Islamic Arts at the Louvre,

Dear Hilaire Multon, Regional Director of Cultural Affairs,

Ladies and gentlemen,

I would first like to thank Gérald Darmanin for his invitation today, in a city that is particularly dear to him, and around a political cause that he has courageously carried on for several years. Thank you also, dear Doriane Bécue, for the warmth of your welcome here in Tourcoing, whose dynamism in terms of cultural offer is remarkable.

I recently had the opportunity to give my approval to the Association La Passerelle for the appointment of Elise Vanderhaegen as director of the current music scene (SMAC), Le Grand Mix, whose programming, as demanding as eclectic, attracts more and more people.

The exhibition «Arts of Islam: a past for a present» opens today simultaneously in Blois, where I went this morning with the Prime Minister, in Tourcoing, in this magnificent Maison folie hospice d'Havré, which I had the pleasure of discovering, but also in 16 other cities in our regions.

This day marks the culmination of a remarkable mobilization of all public actors of culture, in response to the call made by the President of the Republic in Les Mureaux, a little over a year ago.

Wishing for a «mobilization of the whole nation» to reaffirm, in the face of separatism, the strength of what brings us together, he had in particular wished «to bring out a better understanding of Islam» in our country.

This unprecedented device, which links all of our territory, testifies to the ambition that is ours: to change the way our fellow citizens look at Islam, too often ignored, or misunderstood.

Islam is not just a religion. This word embraces the whole of a civilization of immense geographical scope and temporal spectrum.

From India to Andalusia, including the Arabian Peninsula, Egypt and the Maghreb, a whole section of our world and its history owes its development, from the seventh century to today.

All these lands in common to have seen their populations, partly or entirely, convert to the Muslim religion. But all the artistic, technical and intellectual expressions carried by this spiritual impulse cannot be reduced.

Marked by syncretism and the diversity of influences, these works contribute to a transmission of the cultures that preceded them, as Fernand Braudel put it in his Grammar of Civilizations.

It is this abundant diversity, with extraordinary fertility, that this series of exhibitions aims to recall above all.

To borrow the words of Amin Maalouf who – not to be a Muslim himself, grew up in this sphere of civilization: it is our gaze that often encloses others in their closest belonging, and it is this same gaze that can set them free.”[1]

The pieces that are on display from today until the end of March, all over France, are exclusively from our public collections.

In other words: it is our French heritage.

This observation is rich in a second teaching: Islam is not a distant civilization, with which we would have nothing to share, but an intimate civilization of ours, with which exchanges over the course of history have been as many as fruitful.

Many objects of Islamic art have been present in France since the Middle Ages. Works of Islamic art have been kept in the Louvre since its creation in 1793 – well before the creation of the Department of Islamic Arts in 2003, under the presidency of Henri Loyrette.

Interest in the Arabic language in our country dates back to at least the 16th century, when François I created an Arabic chair at the royal college, the ancestor of the Collège de France.

The 180 or so art objects on display testify to the many, sometimes unsuspected, links between the arts of Western civilization and those of Islamic civilization.

The nourished human, cultural and religious exchanges that the populations have not ceased to maintain are expressed as much in the kinship of techniques and materials as in the convergence of imaginaries.

The Europeans imported from the lands of Islam a set of new practices and ideas, incorporating them and shaping them according to their own references. Remarkable examples of this dynamic are the carved olifant from the cathedral of Clermont-Ferrand, or the Egyptian rock-crystal lion from a church of Albepierre in the Cantal.

From Marseille to Rouen, including Saint-Louis de la Réunion, Marseille and Tourcoing, these 18 exhibitions are hosted in 18 cultural centres – museums, libraries and galleries.

This innovative approach aims to highlight the special connection that our country, beyond its centre, has with the arts of Islam.

These attachments are multifaceted, whether geographic, economic or social.

I am thinking, for example, of Marseille, a city-world shaped by its openness to the Mediterranean, which is in many ways the cradle of the marriage of the West and the East. But I also think of Blois, where a Psalter translated into Arabic has been present in the collections of the municipal library since at least 1812 – well before the great epoch of Orientalism. You can also visit this same city at the Abbé-Grégoire Library, to admire its paintings and try to discover its mysteries, which continue to raise questions among the most eminent specialists.

At the Maison folie hospice d'Havré, there are three different stories that respond to testify to the extraordinary circulation of the arts of Islam, not only in their sphere of production, but also in Europe, and even the territory of your region.

The beautiful manuscript reproducing the poems of the famous Saadi was copied in India, and allows to measure the significance of Persian culture on the art of the Islamic empire of the Mughals in India.

The collection containing two illustrations of Mecca and Medina, written in Arabic and produced in Ottoman Turkey, contains a collection of prayers of the famous Moroccan mystic of the seventeenth century, Al-Jazuli.

These two works, kept in the University Library of Lille III, attest to the knowledge and attraction of European scholars for oriental languages and knowledge since the Renaissance, as was the case in particular at the University of Douai, created in 1559.

The Rock Crystal reliquary of the Abbey of Saint-Riquier allows, for its part, to measure the progressive enrichment of works of art as they progress on the market roads, from the East to the West.

If the unique material is sculpted in Cairo, it is complemented by refined metallic elements of Italian origin, before joining, for prestige and worship purposes, a powerful abbey, economic and cultural center of a whole territory.

The third story, finally, is told through the works of the Vivenel Museum of Compiègne, with in particular this splendid set of 19th century miniature court paintings that testify to the continued sensitivity of the European art market of the time for the arts of Islam.

The reminder of these ties, of this richness, also plays another role: it can be an element of pride for our compatriots who come, to one degree or another, from these regions of the world. I am thinking in particular of the younger generation, whose attachment to France can be strengthened by this recognition, this feeling that the culture of their ancestors is not only a beautiful and great culture, but that it is also, Intimately connected to the history of our country.

The works on display have been selected from the Louvre’s extensive collections of Islamic arts or from the public collections of partner museums. The Louvre and the Reunion of National Museums-Grand Palais have put all their museum and scientific expertise at the service of this unprecedented mobilization, and I would also like to commend the active contribution of regional and municipal museums to the enrichment of these exhibitions.

The Regional Funds for Contemporary Art were solicited for loans of works by contemporary artists. They offer a fruitful perspective to other older works, and show the most immediate relevance of our cultural exchanges with the arts of Islam.

I am proud today to see the success of the «Arts of Islam» operation.

In Tourcoing as everywhere else, each exhibition space will offer a specific place for visitors to freely ask their questions, and benefit from additional explanations to the information of the cartels.

The Louvre School also coordinates a remarkable offer of 70 free public conferences. Built around 13 themes, they will allow visitors or the curious to deepen certain aspects evoked in the visit routes.

I would also like to extend special thanks to Yannick Lintz, the curator of these exhibitions, who has been working tirelessly for many months, and whose visit I was able to make once again, measure the extent to which his scholarship is matched only by his passion.

Nor do I forget the essential role of the Fondation de l'Islam de France, which has done a particularly valuable work of raising awareness among our compatriots who have a link with the regions of the world from which the works on display are derived.

Ladies and gentlemen,

At a time when, in the face of the unprecedented hatred and barbarism of Islamist terrorism, some people are suggesting that we respond by abandoning many of our convictions, the «Arts of Islam» operation allows us to draw a path of hope and openness.

This initiative is particularly valuable in fighting all the reductive and dangerous amalgams, hiding a visceral fear of the other, which threaten the cohesion of our country.

I would like to tell you forcefully that at a time when we are trying to oppose each other, to lead us into a “clash of civilizations”, we must forcefully recall the foundation of our Republic and our social contract: its universal dimension.

Thank you.

[1] Deadly identities