IN his early life, before he left the violent projects of Strasbourg, before he was acclaimed as a rapper and a poet, Abd Al Malik was a confusion of identities — “schizophrenic,” he says. A Catholic altar boy turned Muslim proselyte, he was at once thug and scholar, dealing hashish and reading philosophy, picking pockets after Sunday Mass.
As a teenager, he lost friends to heroin, murder and suicide; rattled and angry, he sought explanations in “On the Shortness of Life,” by the Greek thinker Seneca. At 16, Mr. Malik says, he renounced crime, burned everything he had bought with “dirty money” and fell in with a rigid Muslim sect. Later he gravitated to Sufism, the mystical strain of Islam.
“There’s really a lag between how France sees itself and what France really is,” he said, speaking with the same precise syllables and crisp consonants that distinguish his music. “So long as we haven’t realized that diversity is part of French identity, at a certain point we’re telling ourselves that a Frenchman, after all, is a white man, Christian, who’s between 25 and 45. And everything that doesn’t fit that description is tossed aside.”
France is “not capable of recognizing, directly, her own children,” he said. “From my point of view, this is our country’s major problem.”