Algeria in France Reading

The book “Algeria in France” by Paul Silverstein gives the reader a very detailed and multifaceted understanding of the various discourses and ethnic voices within French society and identity. Chapter two explains how colonist’ views of Berbers and Arabs helped create ambivalent modern ideas around ethnicity, race, religion, and belonging.

Before French uptake, Algeria was composed of Ottoman provinces, with its “janissaries” overseeing facets of economic development and its diverse populations. As French colonists set their eyes on reconquering the Mediterranean as a crossroads toward the trade-prone East Indies, imperialistic ruling was noticeable, as Muslim “subject” influences were downplayed (e.g. Arab taxation, territory redistribution, etc.) Categorizations of the colonial “other” were stratified against what was acceptable or savage-like when compared with France’s national make-up. The utilization of sub nationalities as identifiers, especially between the Arab’s and Kabyle’s way of living, promoted what was coined “The Kabyle Myth.”

The latter myth has been created in search of the “naive” North African culture; as it would be more receptive of and similar to the colonist’s assimilatory endeavors. Thus, the Kabyle was often depicted as agricultural, sedentary, monogamous, and hard-working. In contrast, Arab populations were approached as lazier and more prone to fanaticism. Thus, the French ideals would be more likely to be implemented among the non-Arabs of Africa. Algerian Muslims were, then, divided ideologically by the colonist as natural enemies, and not a people sharing the same religious background. The Kabyles were the likely recipients of French’s civilizing efforts and economic goals.

This served as a tool for the justification of a “trans-Mediterranean unit” and warranted the opportunity for a new “Crusade” into a territory prone to cross-cultural communication.  Claiming this affinity with the southern Mediterranean meant a distancing from the Germanic north and a pull towards the Latin Mediterranean.

Chapter one focus more on immigration and political will within French culture and national identity. The latter oscillates between the idea of a nation for its citizens or an ethnic nation. The understanding of the Algerian place in a “unified” Europe has to be conceptualized within Europe’s historical transformations regards what constitutes identity when it comes to immigration and the changes it brings. Discussions around the theme of the place of ethnic groups in Europe have intertwined  realities pertaining many societal levels, from housing to education and racism. Essentially, ethnicity has many times been dealt with as a “problem” that needs to be solved. The author addresses what our TV screens and newspapers have witnessed: the often use of physical enforcement of ideological views on the role of ethnic minorities within the larger scheme of societal functioning.  More specifically there are major “glitches” that have stemmed from diverging views of the Muslim population – and more specifically, Islam – within French nation.

Historically, German and Switzerland, Britain and Sweden, and France, have composed the three main models for the “European nation-state.” German and Switzerland have adapted the policy of treating all foreign-born worker on national soil as temporary workers who are not part of the population as citizens. The Britain and Sweden have been historically more leniently welcoming to the incoming foreign-born population on national soil. The latter has been less true recently, as more tools promoting a national ideology based on race has sparked more racial conflicts from right extremists, mostly.

The French model has also seen a shift in requirements for “belonging” standards in French society, as the oscillation between the “true French” and the “republican French” in relation to civil rights and empowerment as citizenship flags. As Silverstein reiterates, concepts of what forms a particular national identity have often caused policy changes that support minority cultural and political diversities as “universal human rights.” But, of course, the book has been edited over a decade ago, and changes in neighboring identities and affiliations (e.g. Turks) have sifted through these dichotomies and ambiguities between being human and being a national citizen.

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