Blog Archive

Blog Archive – November, 2009

De Tocqueville in Algeria Revisited

November 15, 2009

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

“DeTocqueville in Algeria Revisited”. In the coming days I will be convening a panel of this title. Americans revere this 19th Century French lawyer aristocrat for what is referred to as a “visionary work” on US governance in the 19th century. Journalists, political scientists, theorists, politicians comment on our (USA) form of governance by quoting widely from the 1835 two volume masterpiece Democracy in America

In Algeria, the Frenchman is viewed rather differently. Alarmingly so.

Following on of his visit to the US and publication of his Democracy in America, Alexis de Tocqueville was assigned to the recently invaded, richly endowed landmass on the northern coast of Africa--Algeria. His mission there? Assigned by France as a ‘membre d’une commission extraordinaire charge d’etudier le problem de la colonisation algerienne”, he was given the task of observing conditions in the newly occupied land and making recommendations to his government regarding its long term imperial interests in Algeria.

Based on his observations of the US during a relatively brief stay here, we know that Tocqueville was an extraordinarily astute observer of society and governance, also a prolific recorder. He applied these same faculties in two relatively brief visits to Algeria, in 1841 and 1846.

His remarks, in a series of letters, are available in an important 2003 (publisher GF Flammariaon, Paris) publication Tocquevulle Sur L’Algerie, compiled by Ms Selouna Luste Boulbina.

I received a copy of this book in 2007 during the early stage of my Fulbright professorship year in the North African state. I was startled of course, because the author’s view of Algeria was that of an avid colonist; such a contrast to what I believed was a humanistic “liberal” view of American society, a system praised for its egalitarianism, tolerance, etc.

Rather puzzled, I showed this book to a colleague, Hassane Sobhi, historian and sociologist at the University of Oran. Although I had seen no mention of Tocqueville among the numerous articles and seminars on French colonial experience I came across during my year in Algeria, Tocqueville is well known there. He is also despised.

“Le technicen du colonization”, spat my colleague when I made my first timid inquiry. He went on to elaborate on Tocqueville’s role in helping the French government devise their scorched earth and settlement policy in his country. He blamed Tocqueville for the depth of pain Algeria endured, and the atrocities executed by the French occupiers. Remember this man worked in Algeria barely 13 years after the arrival there of French troops, a presence with would become a 134 year occupation. So the policies that shaped the next 120 years of French rule in Algeria were fundamental. Algerians hold Tocqueville as responsible as the military generals for the crimes committed by their rulers over that period.

The coming conference (Middle East Studies Association, Boston Nov 21-24) panel will bring together Simone Fattal who has closely followed Tocqueville’s work and who sent me the collected letters Tocqueville sur L’Algerie, Professor Hassane Sobhi who elaborated on the French author’s work, and two other scholars who examine his writings more fully.

Such a critical examination in an American academic context is promising. It can lead to are reading of Democracy in America as part myth, since this French visitor was describing a system of government which clearly applied to only white European settlers. It can also lead us to identify how he applied his understanding of a “successful” colonization of America, to the French colonial policy.

[ De Tocqueville in Algeria Revisited ]

Back Home by Mahmoud Ibrahim Al Amreeki

November 11, 2009

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

Major Nidal Malik Hasan's attack on personnel at Ft. Hood’s army base was the act of a coward. Despite accolades heaped upon him by Imam Al Awlaki and others for carrying out a “heroic and virtuous” act and the only way a Muslim could justify serving in the US Army was to “follow in the footsteps of Nidal Hasan”.I’m reminded of back home. Back home where I come from, when we weref aced the with a racist system of injustice known as Jim Crow, that gave rise to the bombings of the homes of my relatives and other black folk, we put our trust in Almighty God and sought relief in the American Justice system, flawed as it was, for remedies to our situation. Back home where I come from, when we as a people of darker hue were faced with the lynchings in broad daylight and with body-burnings that lit the night skies, we put our trust in Almighty God and sought relief in the American Justice system, flawed as it was, for remedies to our situation. Back home where I come from, when we were eye-level to eye-level with the evils of segregation, treated by unjust laws as no better than cattle or dry-goods, unable to educate our children much less our selves, we put our trust in Almighty God and sought relief in the American Justice system, flawed as it was, for remedies to our situation. Back home where I come from, we organized, we protested, we marched, we boycotted, we used labor strikes, we took over the administrative buildings at some of the most prestigious American universities. We struggled. Back home where I come from, we took principled positions and with those positions we brought about change. We changed the way the world viewed us. Our cause. Our efforts and our humanity. In 1967 Muhammad Ali, the famous American boxer, too had a crisis of faith. Of belief. Of conscience. He too faced the very real prospect of going into the American military to fight with the possibility of dying in an unjust war, Viet Nam. Muhammad Ali was directly threatened with imprisonment, the loss of his considerable wealth, loss of prestige, of social status and the prospects of earning a living for the rest of his life. But he took a principled position, HE REFUSED. He said NO! In the tradition of our collective’ Back Home’ he would battle it out in the courtroom. In a justice system, as flawed as it was, to openly and clearly expose the hypocrisy of engaging in an unjust military venture, that like Iraq, make some people very rich and others widows and orphans. Muhammad Ali would, by taking a principled stand, show the puppets and the puppeteers. And for doing this, he gained the admiration and respect of the entire world. The cowardly act of murder by Major Nidal Hassan Malik at Ft. Hood and the praise heaped upon him by Imam Anwar al Awlaki and others of that ilk may be the way they do business ‘back home’. Something they honor ‘back home’. But for all of those Muslims who have come to my home and feel that way, I say, “Leave my Home”. Because the principles under which we operate are much higher than yours. Our understanding of Allah’s Guidance is much more pure than yours. Keep your garbage out of my home. Author Sh. Mahmoud Ibrahim al Amreeki Director: Dar ul Islam History Project New York, NY

[ Back Home by Mahmoud Ibrahim Al Amreeki ]

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poem Poems from "Outrage"
Rafia Mazari reads from her collection "Outrage"; French

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poem Algeria: Qur'an Recitation
Algerian Sahara , by Sufi brothers

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Karen Armstrong's
Fields of Blood: Religion and The History of Violence
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