I regret that I cannot attend this year the opening of our Summer University on “Images, power and distortion” or its conclusion, especially when you will present your research projects: therefore, I wish to address you this message, in a few words, precisely without images.
Driven by the same values of peace, truth, justice and knowledge that guide the founders of the Aladdin Project and our different partners, the previous Summer Universities students, in 2013 and 2014, studied and discussed two issues: firstly, the two 20th century horrific World Wars in Europe, the Holocaust and the construction of a pacified Europe, secondly, the subject of religions as sources of conflict or brotherhood. Finally, they conducted diverse and always exciting research projects.
Today, you are our third class and you are gathered to learn and discuss another issue: the images and their power! This central topic was chosen by us long before France was hit, in January 2015, by terrorist and anti-Semitic acts: the murder of cartoonists on the grounds that the images they drew were considered offensive, and the murder of Jews, on the grounds of imaginary threating enemies!
When I look at your curricula, cultures, and backgrounds, I see that, as with our previous students, they illustrate the diversity which is at the core of each of our Summer Universities; but what is common to all of you is that you share the importance of knowledge, and also the wish, in a globalized world which you want to master, to be actors of solving the problems, tensions, conflicts, and wars that our world is facing.
Regarding these different crises, let me come back to the images theme: images are like screens which hide the face of someone just like us. Misleading us, images are often our worst enemy: the image we want to give to others and the image we make up of the others. Images become then weapons of propaganda. They manipulate, beguile us and eventually lead to murder. Yet they can also be the gateway to hope and freedom. So, our big challenge today consists in looking across the screens: the screens of television, computers or smartphones; the screens of prejudice and ideologies, the screens of superstitions, fanaticism and ignorance. We can all resist the evil power of images that makes us vulnerable, like puppets whose strings are pulled by those who hide behind … these screens!
Dear students, today, it seems that the world has forgotten the lessons of Auschwitz. Religions meant to inspire and link people, divide them. Images meant to embellish the ugly reality, have the power to kill! In short, if our intelligence and emotions are unable to decipher them, they can lead us to the best and the worst.
So, during those two weeks, you will study, think, discuss, argue, but also travel, laugh, and get to know one another. I wish that each of you will finally understand that, in the person you thought at first, so different, such a stranger, you will find a partner with whom you will continue this adventure of building together, a better world.
“In a fire, if I had to choose between saving a cat and a Rembrandt, I would save the cat.