Election as Member of the Académie des Beaux-Arts

Paris, 24 June 2009

In the Name of God the Merciful the Compassionate

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Thank you very much for attending this ceremony. It gives me great pleasure to extend on your behalf, my gratitude to Mr. Taillibert and his team for all their efforts, and to thank the members of the Academie des Beaux –Arts. I am very honored today to become one of them.

When I received in 2007 an invitation to become a member of the academy, I must say in all honesty that I did some serious thinking prior to granting my approval.

My attitude at the time was not however the result of a preconceived idea about the merits of the academy as I am fully aware of the high stature and special value of the Institut de France to human heritage from the Enlightenment era until our time. Rather, it was the result of reflecting objectively about how best to focus the commitment and effort with the principles in which I believe. 

Like many of my generation, I believe that we have a trust and duty to others. Above all this requires working on several levels to achieve reconciliation amongst ourselves and our civilizations. I believe the 
Honor of becoming a member of the Academie des Beaux-Arts will pave another path which I can follow in order to achieve this goal of reconciliation.

I am delighted to be with you today, and honoured to address this elite group which shares such a high and esteemed interest in politics, economy, art and culture. With your permission, I would like to take this occasion to commemorate the composer Gyorgi Ligeti who passed away three years ago, and who was selected to be a member on this academy.

Gyorgi Ligeti is not here with us now. His circumstances meant he did not become a member of the Academie des Beaux-Arts.

His biography confirms Eugene Ionesco’s words and I quote: “an artwork is not a reflection or an image of the world, rather it is an image from the world.” I do not pretend to be an art critic, however, as I was reading Ligeti’s bio, two things drew my attention and piqued my interest, perhaps because of my own interest in education and dialogue between civilizations.

Firstly, Ligeti’s practice of the teaching profession which I consider to be one of the most noble professions not only because it constitutes a very effective and powerful treatment for ignorance, but also because it ensures the continuity of life and its development.

Ligeti was not an isolated artist sitting in his ivory tower, rather he made use of his talent and knowledge in order to benefit others. He taught in his homeland Hungary first then he taught at one of Hamburg’s institutes since 1973 until he retired in the same year that the Berlin wall collapsed.

Secondly, Ligeti’s vast range of knowledge and his continuous interest in not only in music but also in literature, art, architecture, sciences, mathematics and especially in engineering which enabled him to appreciate all that human civilization has to offer.

He reminds us of the creative renaissance pioneers who strove to comprehend the essence of the heritage of human civilization and who presented it in a way that is easy for the general public to understand.

I invite you ladies and gentlemen to join me in a minute of silence in memory of the composer Ligeti.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Humanity is facing serious challenges. However, existing and renewed human energy which God endowed us with should enable us to overcome them. What we need today is to make use of this energy away from all sorts of selfishness, arrogance and isolation. We need to constantly learn from the past in order to understand its meaning and value. We need to build strong foundations in order to bring hope and enhance confidence in ourselves, and the confidence of our children and grandchildren in themselves.

This is the real change we need, and we need it now and not tomorrow as it ensures the safety of all mankind.

Let us ladies and gentlemen have a serious and responsible look at the world around us, at how we, with our own hands, destroy our environment, causing this slow suicide. How we content ourselves to reacte to poverty, disease, the spread of ignorance, wars and conflicts instead of taking positives steps and actions to prevent them, to the extent that the existence of the culture of death has become acceptable as being the norm and the culture of life has become the exception.
What are we doing to promote the mission of art and human creativity and to combat this terrible and irrational situation?
Creativity and intelligence are human values and they can never be confined by boundaries or frontiers no matter how strong they may be. The nature of this occasion leads me to tell you a true story where human intelligence and social genius succeeded when politics had failed.

When the renowned Muslim thinker Zeryab had to leave Baghdad, at a time when the Caliphate capital was at its height, and head to Cordoba in Andalusia, he brought with him his Arabic, Persian, Indian and Greek culture which rapidly influenced both Andalusia’s elite and public.

This influence went beyond Zeryab’s creativity in music to the enrichment of the society. Benefiting from the freedom enjoyed in Andalusia, Zeryab established a music school for boys and girls which left an impact on the lifestyle of the people in their dress, cuisine and decorations. This has led to the birth of the Andalusian civilization, which is the result of the merging of the Oriental Islamic civilization with gothic, Byzantine, barbarian and Roman influences with their Christian and Jewish backgrounds. Cordoba was politically separate from Baghdad but due to the communication of civilizations, they both constituted the two sides of the same coin which is the Islamic civilization.

Cordoba became an international capital influencing other capitals and sharing with them its various intellectual, artistic and cultural experiences. So, didn’t the creative artist Zeryab succeed in building bridges between societies and in bringing cultures and ideas closer where politics have failed?

This is the morale of the story, where we witnessed the spread of a civilization based on understanding, openness and tolerance, and these values as everyone knows, paved the way for the birth of the European renaissance. And because arts alone as Goethe says “grant humans what they cannot reach in life”, we need today a human renaissance which can be achieved through enhancing the right to quality education for all mankind, an education based on constructive criticism and problem solving, an education where art curricula possess a unique value which will impact students, their intelligence, imagination and choices for the rest of their lives.

This is not an immediate magical prescription, but an approach for a long term radical solution and an antidote against isolation and discrimination which restores humanity its true meaning.

Only then, will the reconciliation of civilizations have a meaning which will give us all the legitimate right to become part of this third millennium.

This is how I understand the mission and vision of the Academie des Beaux-Arts.

Thank you.