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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Stratégies impérialistes européennes en terres d’islam

by Pierre Barbancey

European Imperialist Strategies in Islamic Lands

Translated Friday 22 September 2006, by Carol Gullidge

Book Review: A collective work, directed by Pierre-Jean Luizard, dissects the ideological context that has accompanied a century and a half of colonial exploitation in the Near and Middle East, as well as in the Maghreb.

The colonial-Islamic clash. The religious policies of colonial powers in Islamic lands.
(Directed by Pierre-Jean Luizard, Éditions La Découverte. 2006,
546 pages, 35 euros)

Let us not be fooled by the title of this reference book. This is not an umpteenth study on Islam. Quite the opposite, it’s about the colonial attitude of the Great Powers at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries, and about the use of religious control in particular. Pierre-Jean Luizard, a historian in Groupe Sociétés, Religions, Laïcités (CNRS/EPHE), a centre which carries out research into changes in religions and secularisms for the École Pratique des Hautes Études and the National Council for Scientific Research, points out that Islamists are claiming today that “secularism is the weapon of the new crusades”. Which leads him to question colonial policies, particularly those ideals of the Enlightenment concerning the emancipation of nations and the far-from-convincing aftermath of this imperialism: the Zionist Project, the creation of Moslem Pakistan, sectarian Lebanon...

The first part of the book is dedicated to “The utopia of the Enlightenment, and economic and colonial expansion: Europe projects itself into Islamic lands”. Here it is clear that, from the beginning we find a Christian projection of industrial Europe via the missions while, paradoxically, in France at least, secular ideas were making their mark, even imposing the Separation of Church and State with the loi de 1905: a paradox with Jules Ferry as its true figurehead, “preacher of colonization”, but also “father of our secular schooling” (Luizard). Elsewhere, the evolution of the Ottoman Empire brought with it the emancipation of non-Muslims, thus creating competition between the Great Powers to gain influence in these communities. Hence the role of French religious orders, notably in Palestine, but also the antagonism between Jews and native populations that appeared in the foundations of British domination.

After studying “the failure of French republican universalism in Algeria” and having reflected on France’s experience of Muslim policies in Morocco and sub-Saharan Africa, the study goes on to tackle “European universalisms put to the test by communitarianism and mandates”. Particularly memorable is the study by historian Rina Cohen on “the beginnings of Zionism (1882-1903) witnessed by French consuls in Jerusalem” which, remarks the author, are marked by an incomprehension and a blindness that are all the more regrettable that, at the heart of the waves of Jewish immigration into Palestine, it is not so much “reappropriation” of the “lost country” that predominates, but, after years of suffering, “the realization of the dream of being able to live and flourish in a place of one’s own”. We’re a long way from the founding myth.

A rich collective study, and indispensable to an understanding of the historic meaning of today’s issues.

Pierre Barbancey


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