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Amin Maalouf: World economy is not a casino

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Amin Maalouf: World economy is not a casino

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The French-Lebanese writer Amin Maalouf is celebrating after winning the prestigious Spanish award, the Prince of Asturias Prize for Literature. With his work translated into more than 20 languages, the 61-year-old is one of the most celebrated contemporary writers, viewing Mediterranean culture as a symbol of co-existence and tolerance.And this is not his first award. He has already won the Prix de Goncourt in France.

euronews:
“You’ve been awarded the 2010 Prince of Asturias Literature Prize – the most prestigious Spanish prize – and your work has been recognised with other awards in the past. How do you view this prize?”

Amin Maalouf:
“Actually this prize really is special because of my long and deep relationship with Spain. My first book – ‘Leon the African’ – started in Spain. Andalusia forms an important stage in the history of mankind: the meeting of civilisations. The Arab-Islamic civilisation, the Christian-Spanish European civilisation, and equally the Jewish civilisation all came together at this significant point and I think today we need to recall that period.”

euronews:
“That means the meeting of civilisations and not the conflict of civilisations? Is that what must be understood?”

Amin Maalouf:
“Personally I don’t subscribe to the theory of the conflict of civilisations. And even if what’s called conflicts of civilisations exist, we must fight them. We must not believe that this is destiny, this is the future of the world, that these are natural relations between peoples.

“This situation is an aberration and we have to overcome it. Humanity has overcome it in other circumstances, and now it’s our turn in this current era.

“Because the world can only continue by moving this conflict on to a sort of co-habitation, and not only on the level of civilisations but on a personal level too.”

euronews:
“Do you believe that Europe, with its collection of different states and diversity, could make that idea a reality?”

Amin Maalouf:
“Europe has to set an example because Europe has the capacity to solve this problem, but I believe strongly that we are not yet committed to that route. You have to say to people – and especially young people – that living together is something you learn throughout your entire life and you have to practice.”

euronews:
“You have published 14 works since you started writing, and reading your books there’s a common thread running through them – the spirit of conciliation and tolerance – with the idea of a kind of world citizen. Could that be a utopian vision of a new world?”

Amin Maalouf:
“It can be a utopian vision, but today we need such a view. Our world has changed profoundly on a material level but mentalities have not changed.
An Arab poet from the 7th century said: ‘If I create earth, all the earth is mine and all people are my kinfolk.’ I think in this day and age we have to adopt the same thinking, the idea that mankind’s destiny, the destiny of the world is one single destiny.”

euronews:
“But you have strongly criticised the west, saying that it has reached the threshold of immorality in its relations with other worlds.”

Amin Maalouf:
“In effect yes, but I still believe that the west is deeply attached to certain principles. But for centuries, they have not applied those principles to their relations with others.

“To put it another way, the Great Britain in the UK was not the Great Britain in India. The France in France was not the France in Algeria or Madagascar.
The Belgium in Belgium was not the Belgium in the Congo.

“The United States, as a super-power and major democracy at home has not carried those principles into its actions in South America and other regions of the world…”

euronews:
“…like what’s happened in Iraq?”

Amin Maalouf:
“… like everywhere. People with principles must commit to respect them, not only at home, but also in their dealings with the rest of the world.”

euronews:
“Someone told me that you cried the day that Iraq fell.”

Amin Maalouf:
“No, what made me cry was the start of a sectarian conflict in Iraq. That made me suffer greatly. What I’ve seen in Iraq these last few years has certainly made me cry.”

euronews:
“After the economic crisis that ravaged the world, you vigorously attacked capitalism. You even called capitalism savage, and blamed it for all of today’s catastrophes. Is that the young Amin Maalouf who drew the hammer and sickle on his diary who is speaking today, expressing something of a socialist point of view.”

Amin Maalouf:
“No I think the failure of regimes which fell when the Berlin Wall came down is a lesson we must not forget. That’s not the solution. The solution is capitalism, but not just any kind of capitalism. It’s not the type of capitalism that considers the economy a big casino, where some people play with the destiny of millions of others. What we need today is an economic life with at least a minimum of humanity, respect for human beings and values.”

euronews:
“Going back to your identity, you are Lebanese, Christian, Arab, French, European. Which of these do you most value?”

Amin Maalouf:
“It’s been said that when someone asked an Arab nomad which of his sons he loved the most, he answered: the sick one until he was well again; the absent one, until he came back. I say the same thing about my identities. When there are problems in Lebanon I suffer and feel, at that moment, Lebanese. And when there are problems in Europe, I behave like a European.”