Multiculturalism, Orientalism and Exoticism


An observation about multiculturalism by Mehdi Nabti, a musician living in Québec, born in France, of Kabyle (Algeria) ancestry.

Sommaire en français Une réflexion au sujet du multiculturalisme, de Mehdi Nabti, musicien vivant au Québec, né en France, d’ascendance kabyle (Algérie). Voir la citation ci-dessous qui débute par « Le multiculturalisme est selon moi une dérive de l’orientalisme et de l’exotisme […] »

Recently (2016-11-02) I attended the press conference of the Rassemblement pour la laïcité (RPL, Alliance for Secularism) at which the RPL launched its newly updated (2016) declaration entitled “La laïcité, la seule issue possible” (“Secularism, the only possible solution”)

There were several speakers, each of whom took the prodium briefly at the press conference:

  • Djemila Benhabib, prize-winning author and secular activist
  • Karim Akouche, author
  • Simon Pierre-Savard-Tremblay, author and sociologist
  • Mehdi Nabti, author, composer, musician
  • Marc Laviolette, former president of the CSN trade union federation
  • André Lamoureux, political scientist and spokesperson for the RPL

Despite the short time available, each of the speakers made cogent and compelling remarks. I was particularly intrigued, however, by the thoughts of Mehdi Nabti. He explained that a few years ago he had been invited by Ubumag, a webzine based in Algiers, to write about his experience as an artist and recent immigrant to Quebec. Here is part of what he wrote:

Le multiculturalisme est selon moi une dérive de l’orientalisme et de l’exotisme : au mieux chacun se présente à l’autre dans sa posture la plus édulcorée, la plus folklorique. Au pire on s’observe mais on ne collabore pas, chacun restant sur ses positions, dans ses traditions. Les artistes eux-mêmes peuvent parfois renforcer et diffuser des stéréotypes négatifs sous couvert de multiculturalisme. Folklorisation à outrance, déguisements, posture et discours passéistes. Le multiculturalisme c’est « rester dans votre communauté. Vous ne valez pas mieux. » Ce goût immodéré pour le folklore immigrant qu’on observe ici au Québec va de pair avec le repli religieux. Ce phénomène ne doit pas être sous-estimé et doit être contrebalancé avec la valorisation des artistes progressistes, intellectuels, tournés vers demain et enracinés dans notre temps. Sans ce type de modèle positif, la jeunessse se tournera, comme en France, vers les rétrogrades, car ce sont eux qui monopolisent les médias et le discours publics.

Here is my English translation of the above:

Multiculturalism is, in my opinion, a derivative of orientalism and exoticism. At best, each individual approaches the other by presenting a sanitized and folkloric image of oneself. At worst, individuals observe each other but do not collaborate, each remaining rooted in one’s own situation, one’s own traditions. Artists themselves sometimes reinforce and promote negative stereotypes under the guise of multiculturalism, with exaggerated emphasis on folklore, costumes, outmoded attitudes and forms of expression. Multiculturalism means “Keep to your own community. That is all you are worth.” This overrated taste for immigrant folklore, which we see here in Quebec, goes hand in hand with the withdrawal into religious identity. This phenomenon cannot be underestimated and must be counterbalanced by recognition of the value of progressive and intellectual artists, whose expression looks to the future while being firmly rooted in the present. Without this kind of positive role model, young people will inevitably turn—as they have in France—towards reactionaries who look backwards, as it is they who monopolise the media and public discourse.

Next blog: Anti-Muslim Incidents in the USA

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