Project: Banlieues Ablaze

Sunstroke and the cultural solution

by Joe Mulia and Jon Conrace

France is home to literally thousands of associations and social organizations whose aim is to help the lives of Arab immigrants. We know, because we looked through a book that lists them…and we looked at all of them. For reasons of location, a neat Internet site, and a cool name, we decided to go ahead and contact Coup de Soleil. They could not have been more helpful to our work.

Coup de Soleil, which means sunburn or sunstroke, is an association attempting to make public all the ways that people from North Africa have influenced and enriched French culture. Created in 1985, after the founders were sick of seeing the growth of “the leprosy of xenophobia,” it celebrates the artists, writers and poets of North Africa. According to Coup de Soleil president Georges Morin, Coup de Soleil is about “the exchange between all people who come from Maghreb, from either European, Muslim, or Jewish origin, and also to build bridges between France and the other side of the sea.”

There are 379 subscribers to the Coup de Soleil bulletin. Although there are events planned throughout the year, with three afternoons of reflection and debate over a topic of special interest (including ironically, a debate about the riots which took place about two months before we arrived in France). However, the most important thing that Coup de Soleil does is a special annual program called “Maghreb des livres,” a giant book fair for authors from the maghreb who write in French.

Maghreb des livres is the largest bookstore in France on North Africa and integration of North African immigrants. It opened in 1993. Specifically, it tries to bring publicity to books that were written about North Africa in the last twelve months since the last Maghreb des livres, and to the people who can trace their roots back to North Africa.

There are about 1000 new titles appearing in France about North Africa each year, and one can find these publicized there. In addition, a selection of 10,000 titles revolve around these same themes, yet in all different medias. Literature, history, sociology, politics, the arts, comic books, food, etc. can be found there, and this is just naming a few. Many important editors from Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco come to search out new talent, and around 230 authors come to sign their work and to speak with their many readers. However, some of the most important things that take place at Maghreb des livres are what takes place at the round table discussions. Visitors can sit in on, and take part in these discussions, which ranged this year from the debate between positive discrimination and equality of chance, and Moroccan literature. In 2005, 6,000 visitors attended.

Through different programs such as the Maghreb des livres, and the different reflections that they host, Coup de Soleil reaches and teaches many people. There are however, many other programs in France with people who work very hard to change the plight of the immigrants in France. Yes, while Coup de Soleil does an incredible job teaching people about North Africa, there are other groups as well. They just don’t happen to be so well named or so helpful. We feel that key points in our interview with George Moran tell the story of a solution as well as we could, so we offer here the translation of some of the more interesting moments.