In 2010 – 2011, Ed Kashi spent time photographing in Marseille, France on assignment for National Geographic. Marseille is the second largest city in France, and has the largest Muslim population of any city in Europe. A 2012 New York Times article touted this diverse port city as “a multicultural Garden of Eden, a cosmopolitan melting pot where all people irrespective of creed or color live together mostly peacefully.”
In light of the recent events and tensions looming in France, we revisit Ed’s work from Marseille:
Identity-bound as a migration route between the Orient and the Occident, Marseille is a proud Mediterranean port city on the southern French coast. Since ancient times, this gateway of immigration has been home to a conglomeration of distinct cultures and faiths. Marseille embraces its multiplicity, and all sides have apparently learned to work with one another in developing methods to cope with potential violence, discrimination, and animosity. And while France’s national philosophy of secular republicanism inclines toward cultural assimilation, the city of Marseille sets itself apart by acknowledging ethnic politics. This broad-based perspective promotes a unique atmosphere of optimism, mutual respect, and cooperation often absent when dissimilar cultures, religions, and ethnicities are forced into a melting pot of existence.
This story examines Islamic life and ethnic identity in Marseille; to explore the microcosm of the Muslim community in the city that demographers predict will become the first one on the European continent with an Islamic majority; capturing those elements that make this defiant French seaport an exceptional illustration of the willingness by politicians and clerics alike to bend or ignore some of the rules of conventional French society in order to keep the peace.
Marseille illustrates a paradox as one of the most ethnically diverse cities in France; yet one of the most successful (at least so far) in maintaining general peace. Besides being the name of a city, “marseille” also means a type of “strong cotton fabric with a raised pattern”. The name seems to suit this French seaport whose natural strength endures despite its conspicuous texture of different ethnicities, religions, cultures, and people.