Dr. Latifa Nasibova’s answer to religious social conflict in France

By | Rachel Brooks

With special guest Latifa Nasibova, Ph.D.,

January 18, 2021 

Head of education department
French-Azerbaijani University

Above image submitted by the guest. Image credit for feature image: “Tunisia-3328 – El Djem Amphitheater” by archer10 (Dennis) is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0. Tunisia is a nation of brilliant culture, as exhibited by its beautiful architecture…

Interviewer’s questions are in bold text, responses are in plain text throughout. 

First, perhaps you would like to introduce yourself and tell me more about your life in both Tunisia and Azerbaijan:

I’m Latifa Nasibova, I was born in Baku, Azerbaijan. I was graduated from Azerbaijan State Oil and Industry University (Ph.D. in economics)

My mother is Azerbaijani, and My Father is Tunisian. They met in Baku when my father was studying at the Azerbaijan State Oil and Industry University. They returned to Tunisia when I was two.

My childhood and teenage life were in Tunisia but during the summer we traveled to Baku to visit my maternal relatives.

In Tunisia, generally until 1993, I was the girl whose mum is Russian (at that time it was the Soviet Union so for Tunisians I was Russian as Azerbaijan was not famous separately). At that time, I was the Muslim girl whose mum is decorating the Christmas tree (that we bought from Azerbaijan) and my friends at school visited us to feel this atmosphere of the new year. 

Coming to Baku in summer was also interesting, I was waiting for it the whole year because I had friends there. I bought the time different small gifts for them from Tunisia. The borders of the Soviet Union were closed at that time and they were surprised even by small things like gummy’s or European society games (Monopoly…).

The first thing I was asked was if in Tunisia everyone is wearing the Hijab or if my father has 4 wives. I was all the time laughing at those questions as I was the girl who is going out freely during weekends, having fun with friends in disco… I could not understand the link between Tunisia and strict Islamism.

In 1999, I moved to Baku for studying at the Azerbaijan State Oil and Industry University. My father encouraged me to choose the Oil and gas sector because he was proud of his University. Frankly speaking at the beginning I was disappointed by the atmosphere (post-soviet, not so attractive) and I decided to return to Tunisia, but I met my husband and fell in love, so I ignored all the differences that I faced in Baku. Now I am married, and I have 2 sons. I am working with French colleagues at the French Azerbaijan University. I’m integrated into this environment. My husband’s family are shiya and I’m sunny, during our 17 years of marriage we never conflicted on this point. We even had some conversations about the right thought of one denomination or another and decided which one is logical.

 

I am interested to learn more about your 5 languages which you know at the native level. Would you tell me more about them, and how being fluent in these many different languages has impacted your view of the Muslim world and the western world? 

I speak Arabic, French, Russian, Azerbaijan, and English.

My first language was Azerbaijan because I was born in Azerbaijan, when we moved to Tunisia, I learned Arabic. My father was communicating with my mother in Russian because he studied in Russian, so I heard this language at home and used it for communicating with other ex-Soviet Union ex-pat friends in Tunisia (also half Tunisian-half soviet from Ukraine, Belorussia…)

As for the French, I spoke mostly French with my sister and school friends as we were studying intensively French at the school, college, and Lycée.

Learning English was my wish also because my father at that time was working in an English Oil and Gas company and I liked communicating with his colleague’s children during different events. I even had at my 15th an intensive course of English in London.

At the current moment, I feel free communicating in all those languages and I think this skill makes me one step closer to the persons of the related nation.

I can explain all sides of the realities of each culture because I lived the moments, and I am aware of all the facets. 

I lived in Tunisia, I lived in Azerbaijan, I lived in England, I lived in small camping for ex-pats from France and other western nationalities (because of the work of my father).

During my childhood, I tried to copy the life of each of those nations (sunny, shiya, Christian) but in the end, I understood that I must be myself and there is no need for transformation, the reality is that your freedom limit begins when the freedom line of the other begins.

 

You also have roots in Africa through Tunisia, perhaps you could tell us more about how Africa’s influence shaped your understanding of the coexistence of cultures. 

In my class I was not the only one having different nationality parents, I had one friend whose mum was Italian and another one whose mum was English. We had also one Jewish boy from Djerba (the island was in Tunisia there is the biggest Jewish community). 

I should bring to your attention that African countries were occupied by European countries, I think that we succeed to take profit of it and overpass this period. To construct the right basis for the future we must free our minds and think about peace only.

Islam was taught to us in schools and we were free to choose to go further on it or no. We never had any thoughts about the different Islamic denominations during the period before the revolution.

 We felt ourselves remarkably close to the French style of life.

After the spring revolution in Tunisia, I noticed that the Islamic denominations started to appear, and some Islamic groups educated people about those different Islamic directions. 

I do not think that after the revolution Tunisia should focus on the freedom of expression of religion, but they should focus on the talented young generation which can contribute to the development of Tunisia’s economy.

 

How are your cultures similar and how are they different? In what ways did you learn from Tunisia and Azerbaijan regarding the proper coinhabitance of culture for Sunny and Shiya? 

In both countries, there is a total cohabitation between sunny and shiya. No one in Tunisia or in Azerbaijan would make a conflict with a neighbor or a colleague because of religion. During my 40 years, I never faced a situation in which I should choose one of the sides. 

There is one thing that differs in those countries. 

I noticed that Tunisia being an Arabic country is more religious and people are more educated in this sphere but Azerbaijan being a long time under the Soviet Union, most of the population does not have a good Islamic education, they started only a few years ago to search and understand deeper the different dominations and differences. In Azerbaijan, I think the traditions are more respected than the religion especially by the elder generation. 

The key to the multiculturalism and acceptance of all religions in Azerbaijan is the respect of the other. I learned from them how to congratulate the Russian neighbor on Christmas, enjoy the Jewish holy days, and offer food in Ramazan.

In Azerbaijan or in Tunisia we never say Islamist or Islamism describing the religion, we say Islam is our religion and all other religions believe in God so we should not hurt them or fight with them. 

 

To the struggle in France today, what would you say? How do you believe that radical politicization of the many different cultures in France can be combated and this multicultural influence can be taught to live alongside each other as your cultures have done?

 

I think that radical politicization is a wrong step for solving the problem. I think there should be a special program of integration of people from different cultures. How could France accept people who were living for years on their own, isolated from social life without raising programs where those people can learn the language, understand the French culture, food, lifestyle. (even love it). People internally should be closer to each other to respect and accept. After all, having Islamic schools set apart was not a good idea, it could just one section under each school for the interested audience (not only Islamic, Jewish, or Christian..), people should learn about each other to get closer and to accept others. In the end, we can see that most of the conflicts arise because of false information and myths about the unknown religion.