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Leading African Historian Urges President Macron to ‘Save France’ From Revival of ‘Colonial and Antisemitic’ Past

avatar by Ben Cohen

Malian intellectual Ismaël Diadié Haïdara. Photo: Screenshot.

One of Africa’s leading historians has urged President Emmanuel Macron to “save France from itself” by confronting the rising antisemitism in the country head-on.

In an open letter to Macron published in the Malian news outlet Mali Actu on Monday, Ismaël Diadié Haïdara — a Malian scholar recognized for establishing a library that houses thousands of rare Muslim, Jewish and Christian manuscripts — told the French leader that the diverse, cosmopolitan France “which I have learned to love from my childhood is dying.”

Many intellectuals in Mali — a West African nation that won independence from France in 1960 — retain a strong affinity for French culture and history, while also being deeply critical of its colonial aspects. Citing some of France’s finest philosophers and writers — including the poet Victor Hugo, the Renaissance essayist Michel de Montaigne, and the great twentieth century writer Albert Camus — Haïdara contrasted them dramatically with what he called “the colonial and antisemitic France” that, he feared, was again in the ascendant.

“We are in a world that is sinking into an economic abyss with serious ecological consequences, seeking solutions to political issues that already showed their limits in Vichy [the location of the capital of the collaborationist regime in France during the Nazi occupation of 1940-44] and in Auschwitz,” Haïdara wrote.

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“Mr. President, save France from itself,” he urged Macron.

Haïdara asserted that the “desperate cry” of “J’accuse” (“I accuse”) — the title of the famous 1898 letter penned by the writer Emile Zola in defense of the falsely convicted French Jewish Army officer, Capt. Alfred Dreyfus — was still relevant today. Referring to the brutal antisemitic murder in 2018 of French Jewish Holocaust survivor Mireille Knoll, as well as more recent acts of vandalism and desecration of Jewish cemeteries, Haïdara argued that “to march in the streets of Paris…is no longer enough.”

“One must ask why the France of de Montaigne became that of Vichy,” he told Macron. “[We need to ask] why antisemitic acts have increased 74 percent during the last year in France.”

France today “must make commendable efforts to be the heir of the [French] revolution, its century of enlightenment and its long democratic tradition, which has been undermined by its colonial policy, its stigmatization of the black, Arab, and today more than ever, the Jew too,” Haïdara concluded.

The main subject of a 2007 New York Times report on his efforts to preserve the rare religious books discovered in the Malian city of Timbuktu, Haïdara was awarded funding from the Spanish government to build a library that houses 12,000 rare volumes —  among them a 15th-century Qu’ran that belonged to one of his ancestors.

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