Amara Lakhous has had personal experience with European immigration. Born in Algiers in 1970 to a Berber family as the sixth of nine children, Lakhous packed his bags for Rome in 1995 during the Algerian civil war. He lived in Italy for 18 years as a political refugee, an immigrant and, as of 2008, a citizen.
Lakhous presented a Messenger Lecture on campus Oct. 22, “Why Europe Is Failing at the Issue of Immigration.” He began by passing along some advice: “When I was in elementary and middle school, my father used to give me the same recommendation in the beginning of every year: ‘Amara, try to find the best student in your class and sit close to him.’”
Lakhous took this advice to heart and found his passion in education, earning a degree from Sapienza University of Rome and writing his dissertation on Muslim-Arab immigrants in Italy. His interest in the subject originated from his experiences in Algeria, which made immigration a necessity.
“Many of my friends and colleagues were assassinated in a civil war that lasted a decade,” Lakhous said. “In Italy, I found a new opportunity to live, study and write.”
Turning to media coverage of immigration issues, he said that “immigration, especially from the Muslim world, has become more and more of a bargaining chip, in politics and in the media. Politicians tend to invest in propaganda against immigrants in order to win elections. Journalists, on the other hand, are interested primarily in winning a larger audience.”
In his own work, Lakhous said, “I have always tried to be a good observer, or a critical witness. My aim is not to condemn or judge, but rather to understand.”
This past year, Lakhous moved to New York City, which introduced a new range of questions about cultural diversity, he said. “How should I behave with the majority of the population? Why is it cultural to embrace the world of diversity? How can I avoid exclusion and self-exclusion?”
Among his work is “Clash of Civilizations Over an Elevator in Piazza Vittorio,” selected for last year’s New Student Reading Project at Cornell. Lakhous received the Premio Flaiano per la narrative in 2006 and Algeria’s most prestigious literary award, the Prix des Libraires Algerians in 2008, among other awards.
Scott Goldberg ’16 is a student writer intern for the Cornell Chronicle.