Monthly Archives: May 2008

‘The Wretched Of The Earth’

The Wretched Of The Earth.
Frantz Fanon. Translated by Richard Philcox; foreword by Homi K. Bhabha; preface by Jean-Paul Sartre.
New York: Grove Press, 2004. {originally published in French in 1961.}

The work of Frantz Fanon has inspired several generations of anti-colonial and anti-Western radicals, until recently most of them being at least nominally Marxist. These ranged from Marxian intellectual Jean-Paul Sartre to Marxist revolutionary ‘Che’ Guevara, from Iran’s Ali Shariati to Rage Against the Machine vocalist Zach de la Rocha.(*) His last book, finished as he lay dying of leukemia, has influenced African independence movements, Palestinian militants, the Black Panther Party, and the anti-apartheid campaign, to name just a few. Its appeal is grounded in two principal contributions: a penetrating analysis of the psychological “colonization” of non-Western people and cultures (as through the adoption of a European language), and a discussion of the rôle of violence in breaking through this conditioning to fashion a new and separate identity.

Fanon’s exploration of the psychology of colonialism appeared in his first book, Black Skin, White Masks, which sought to unravel the inferiority complex experienced by the black or non-Western man in the face of Euro-American cultural dominance. This theme returns in The Wretched of the Earth in numerous pregnant passages, as when he observes that “the colonized subject has had to pawn some of his own intellectual possessions” in order to “assimilate the culture of the oppressor”. (13) It has in this latter volume taken on a more revolutionary tone, and rather than analyse the condition of the colonized man Fanon is concerned to show him the path to liberation. Interestingly, Fanon suggests that a solution lies in the cultivation of an authentic national consciousness — an echo of the nationalist ideology developed in and for Europe. In this way, despite remaining mired in the same discourse as the currently-dominant West, Fanon sees a path open to the development of a new identity outside the intellectual purview of the Western powers. Significantly, the path towards this identity is bathed in blood.

His views are occasionally caricatured or placed in a reductive context that paints him as a proponent of endless violence, but his celebration of the rôle of conflict in identity formation is the centrepiece of the book. Fanon argues as a psychiatrist that “at the individual level, violence is a cleansing force. It rids the colonized of their inferiority complex, of their passive and despairing attitude.” (51) Revolutionary action is thus the solution to a problem he had outlined earlier, in that it can clear away the debris of internal colonization and help the Third World man to stand up; Fanon argues that the colonial subject “becomes a man” only “through the process of decolonization”. (3) This rise to collective manhood is accompanied by a new-found sense of solidarity: “When it is achieved during a war of liberation the mobilization of the masses introduces the notion of common cause, national destiny, and collective history into every consciousness.” (51) Struggle is said to shape the raw material of the colonized man as the artist works his clay, since “for the colonized this violence is invested with positive, formative features… [A]rmed struggle mobilizes the people, i.e., it pitches them in a single direction, from which there is no turning back.” (50) Even violence perpetrated on the colonized serves a useful purpose, as “far from breaking the momentum, repression intensifies the progress made by the national consciousness.” (32)

Violence is claimed as the inescapable forge of national destiny, and only through its iron and fire can the Third World nation be freed of Western dominance. “Violence can thus be understood as the perfect mediation. The colonized man liberates himself in and through violence. This praxis enlightens the militant because it shows him the means and the end.” (44) For Fanon, that end is the truly independent state, free of the subservient status that characterizes peacefully “liberated” peoples. Fanon draws a contrast between the nation freed through armed struggle, as with the war in Indochina, and the autocracy and kleptocracy prevalent in the African states that were freed by executive fiat. (30-1) He quotes the first president of Gabon, Léon M’ba, who stated on arrival in Paris that “Gabon is an independent country, but nothing has changed between Gabon and France, the status quo continues.” (28) On the surface, Fanon’s analysis appears to be borne out by the evidence of decolonization: frequently those nations whose struggle for independence was bloody — such as Vietnam — are left without overt signs of their former connexion with the colonial metropole, whilst those that were granted independence without conflict — as with much of Africa — remain firmly under the heel of their former overlords.

One aspect of Fanon’s writing seems frequently to go unremarked: the overtly Nietzschean character of many of his arguments. These extend from epistemology and moral philosophy, through his diagnosis of colonial bourgeois resentment and idealization of the agonistic struggle for self-definition. The relativistic status of truth and value lie at the heart of his approach to liberation. Fanon argues that amongst a people struggling to be free, “only fellow nationals are ever owed the truth. No absolute truth, no discourse on the transparency of the soul can erode this position.” (14) Indeed, he observes that “for the colonized subject, objectivity [in the media] is always directed against him.” (37) “Truth is [merely] what hastens the dislocation of the colonial regime, what fosters the emergence of the nation. Truth is what protects the ‘natives’ and undoes the foreigners. In the colonial context there is no truthful behavior. And good is quite simply what hurt them most.” (14) Echoing Nietzsche’s views on ressentiment, Fanon describes the colonial bourgeois liberal as “a persecuted man who is forever dreaming of becoming the persecutor.” (16) And building on the expectation of violence inherent in the colonial relationship, he argues that the “impulse to take the colonist’s place maintains a constant muscular tonus. It is a known fact that under certain emotional circumstances an obstacle actually escalates action.” (17)

Finally, it may be worth mentioning that Fanon’s political and economic position is considerably more complex than it might first appear. He can be cited as an early Maoist for making certain claims about the political psychology of the nation, i.e.: “The peasantry is systematically left out of most of the nationalists parties’ propaganda. But it is obvious that in colonial countries only the peasantry is revolutionary. It has nothing to lose and everything to gain.” (23) But Fanon also seems to prefigure the current state of economic development in the Global South, as when he argues that the Cold War must end and the Third World “must receive generous investments and technical aid” from the former antagonists. (60-1) Heavy investment in the “developing” world since the 1980s has seen the locus of global industry and commerce shift positions, such that growth in the former colonial nations now props up the international financial system as the pace of expansion slows in the West. Despite his pronounced sympathies for socialism, Fanon never self-identified as a Communist, and it is interesting now to see how the world he knew is being transformed by institutions and discourses adopted from the West. Does this mean that the psychological colonization of the world has become irreversible, or merely that a common basis has been identified around which a global and multi-polar civilization will emerge?

*. Fanon is referenced in two tracks, including ‘Year Of The Boomerang’: “Enslaved by dogma, talk about my birthrights, Yet at every turn I’m runnin’ into hell’s gates; So I grip tha cannon like Fanon an pass tha shells to my classmates; Aw, power to tha people…”

‘History And The Culture Of Nationalism In Algeria’

History and the Culture of Nationalism in Algeria.
James McDougall.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006.

In what is sure to become an influential and widely-read study, James McDougall has in his first monograph produced a compelling synthesis of theoretical sophistication and solid archival research. His engagement with the critical theory of the past few decades appears sufficiently deep to have informed both the questions he asks and the structure of his answers; indeed, for a text so suffused with theory, McDougall’s writing is admirably clear and unencumbered by its conceptual framework. McDougall writes against the post-colonial vogue for projecting a nation’s ills neatly into the imperialist intervention, and emphasizes the active and dialogic manner in which Algerian society has invented and reinvented itself — not as a passive victim trapped within “the closed narrative of ancestral violence”, but as an active agent of historical self-fashioning. (3) In doing so, McDougall engages in a minor feat of activism, by identifying the rôle that Algerians have played in circumscribing their own opportunities and determining their present, and urging a re-conceptualization of history that might help to break the cycles of violence and unearth the repressed alternatives to a monolithic Arab-Islamic state. (6)

McDougall outlines his theoretical orientation in a well-structured introduction, which acknowledges debts to thinkers as diverse as Paul Ricœur, Michel Foucault, and Anthony D. Smith. The presence of the latter is surprising in itself, as few historians have taken up his path-breaking studies of nationalism; McDougall’s work, in fact, reads almost as an attempt to marry the re-interpretive aspects of ethno-symbolism with a typically (post-)Marxian adherence to the social construction of identity. (cf. 5) A brief prologue follows, in which McDougall introduces a “mobile pivot” (i.e., pivotal) character, the alim Ahmad Tawfiq al-Madani. (19, 22, etc.) Born in Tunisia and later “exiled” to Algeria, his “ancestral home”, al-Madani is emblematic of the underlying complexity McDougall suggests is swirling beneath the surface of a facile, essentialist national historiography which al-Madani — as a prominent historian — himself helped to create. (26-7) More importantly, al-Madani’s life-trajectory provides a unifying thread around which McDougall can reproduce a singular narrative, and without which his text may have become mired in more abstract formulations.

The first proper chapter then makes a frontal assault on a unitary nationalist and post-colonial historiography which — in reading all of the main actors into the teleologic context of national liberation — manages to obscure their actual conflict over the power to “create ‘the nation’ as an effective ideological form.” (15) Smith’s ideas aside, McDougall argues that a nation “only exists meaningfully in the struggle to ‘hegemonize’ its meaning”, that is, in contests over self-definition. (9) Consequently, the failures of the ulema to direct the outcome of the struggle for independence are as important as its victories, and the many compromises made along the path to statehood can be seen for what they are, thus opening the way for their renegotiation in a more pluralistic (ideal) society. Chapter two uses representative “intellectuals” to map out some of the positions taken in the colonial period, from those claiming to speak for an “authentic” and “Algerian Muslim” nation, which “is not” and “cannot become France”, to those who argued for a modern identity which blended the North African and Muslim past into a French cultural milieu. (81-6)

This is followed in chapter three by a nuanced account of the salafiyya (reformers) who sought the mantle of legitimate cultural leadership of Algeria through their religious authority. As others have noted, despite a self-identification as “the bearers of true Islam”, the salafi movement was a distinctly modern phenomenon that arose only within and through “the colonial disarticulation and reordering of the world.” (113) Crucially, McDougall comes out against the assumption that ulema had all “rallied” to the National Liberation Front in 1956, and demonstrates that resistance to the vision of Algeria’s future continued until the FLN itself cut off independent options for fund-raising and closed down the AUMA (the principal institutional body of the Algerian ulema). (138-143) McDougall tries to show that the FLN squeezed out the ulema’s own visions of Algerian society, and subordinated their resources to a single national struggle (and increasingly, to a singular vision of Algerian nationality).

McDougall’s closing chapters delve into the formation of national historiography and the cultural enframing of collective memory. Here he locates the fabrication of a “changeless” national identity, “which the coloniser is unable to penetrate, dominate, and possess”, and which might serve as the foundation for a post-colonial identity. (148) This image is both reductionist and essentialist in the same manner as “Orientalist” scholarship, and paves over the multiple and conflicting sites of identity-formation in colonial Algeria. The pre-colonial and even pre-Islamic history of the land was imbued with new significance, and a “master narrative” emerged which subsumed identities of an “alien” character (from French colons to indigenous Jews, from ancient Romans to monolingual Berbers) beneath the umbrella of Arab-Muslim civilization; a civilization which had become the “perfecting salvation” of the Maghreb. (203) Seeming to downplay the sort of interpretation Smith might indicate, McDougall asserts that the fundamental identity, or “authenticity”, between (e.g.) Arab and Berber nationalities is not at issue, but rather the social space available for “legitimate self-definition and political representation” within a pluralistic society. (214) This points to one of this text’s more penetrating insights: By marrying the cultural imperatives of the AUMA salafiyya and the militant nationalism of the FLN (231), the distinctive voices of Algeria were consumed by “competing, and culturally impoverished, authoritarianisms”, leading to a new form of colonialism. (234) And that perhaps to-day’s Algerians, if made aware of the dominating power of language and conscious of their historical agency, might be able to re-imagine their past to make peace with their present.

‘Urban Forms And Colonial Confrontations’

Urban Forms and Colonial Confrontations: Algiers Under French Rule.
Zeynep Çelik.
Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997.

In a work of serious potential, Zeynep Çelik explores the hitherto unknown intersections of urban planning and colonial administration in Algiers, the Mediterranean heart of the French empire. She contends that “architecture is a cultural formation”, and that investigation of urban forms can reveal hidden dimensions of the cultural landscape. (9) Central to her study, however, is the far less innocuous position that “architecture and urban forms are key players in definitions of culture and identity.” (2) She takes this as a kind of truism and offers little to support it through the text. Indeed, the weight of evidence in her study — as she presents it — would seem to undermine the argument, in that French efforts to pacify the population and assure its future as an integral part of France were ultimately unsuccessful. Moreover, Çelik fails to take account of the cultural influence of the French colonial presence itself. Despite her observation that European notions of cultural “authenticity” led them to offer sub-standard housing and sanitation to native Algerians, she seems to pass over the demands for European-style housing and patterns of consumption: a fact which, if explored in collaboration with a cultural historian, might have bolstered her central contention. In the end, Çelik’s otherwise excellent study seems only half-finished; it lays out much of the evidence needed to argue that urban forms played a major part in the evolution of the colonial encounter, but fails effectively to articulate that argument.

In a concise introduction both to basic architectural history and to the philosophical orientation of post-Orientalism scholarship, Çelik presents a thin layer of theory to back up her wider cultural arguments. Most of this is poorly integrated and seems to have been bolted onto a more primitive approach to urban history, rather than penetrating deeply enough to have impacted the material she chooses to present. It does, however, offer some clever images to explicate contemporary theory, such as the “triangulation” metaphor she uses in order to convey the position that “there is no archimedean point outside the system from which to view historical reality.” (5) The early chapters of her book outline some broad contours of the colonial intervention into the urban landscape, and this includes a number of substantial insights. Her deconstruction of “the myth of the casbah” (21, &c.) uncovers the gendering of social space and feminization of the “Orient”, the “polarization” inherent in the segregation of European and indigenous space (38), and the impact of ethnographic studies on civil planning (87, &c.). This latter issue is explored in one of the book’s most useful sections, and helps to elucidate the subtle connexions between the policies pursued by colonial technocrats and the critical assumptions that informed them. Approached in a more expansive manner, the material Çelik presents here would be highly useful to anyone pursuing a cultural history of colonial Algiers.

Chapters four and five are devoted to the period leading up to and running through the war for independence. Contrasting this with the more haphazard and military-focussed approach pursued in the first century of colonization, this latter period witnessed the “first radical steps to assume responsibility for improving the housing conditions of Algerians”. (113) As the urban population swelled, the French adapted modernist urban planning to their ethnographic assumptions about the autochthonous Algerians, producing “stylistically conscious undertakings that emphasized the cultural differences between the two communities in Algiers.” (131) In the end, Çelik reveals that the policies pursued only helped to increase revolutionary sentiment, by bringing large numbers into close contact with one another within the context of qualitatively inferior housing.

Çelik’s book offers a wealth of insight and information on the evolution of urban forms in Algiers, but the success of her intervention must be qualified. Throughout she exercises insufficient care to differentiate policies from plans and plans from realities; i.e., the reader is seldom reminded that what they are reading about was not, in fact, ever built or used. The downside of this in light of her thesis should be obvious: If the urban forms themselves were to play a significant part in the development of cultural identity, it seems more important to focus on those urban forms that were actually in place in Algiers. By spending so much time on unrealised plans, Çelik is able to make a few key points about the ‘Orientalist” assumptions of colonial administrators (which is hardly novel in itself), but she is unable to develop her larger argument about the rôle played by architecture in identity formation. Çelik’s work is a masterful contribution to the history of colonial Algeria, in its clear and detailed exploration of urban spaces, but the limitations of its author’s source base and the relatively thin layer of theoretical sophistication weaken it in some very small, but not insignificant, ways.

‘States And Women’s Rights’

States and Women’s Rights: The Making of Postcolonial Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco.
Mounira M. Charrad.
Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001.

In States and Women’s Rights, Mounira Charrad sets out to explain the wide differences in the legal structure adopted by each of the three principal Maghrebi countries. All three, given their broadly similar geography and population, and common experience of French colonialism, took highly distinct routes to state construction in the postcolonial period, and Charrad argues that at the heart of each move is a relationship between the central authority and the tribal elements through which the state’s power would be both mediated and implemented. Her main contention revisits the familiar territory of Maghrebi “tribalism”, as she became convinced that her sociological training in class-based analysis did not apply to the Maghreb. “Although classes certainly developed” there, Charrad says that “tribal kin groupings appeared to be a key variable differentiating the process of state formation” in the Maghreb. (xii) It is these groupings which, through their inherent conservatism and patriarchal organization, exerted pressure on the central authorities to retain a more traditional interpretation of Islamic family law, enshrining it in the laws of the new state. The book is thus concerned with the laws regulating marriage, divorce, polygamy, and inheritance, which Charrad sees raising “issues at the heart of social organization, such as the place of individuals or collectivities in the social order.” (xii)

Aside from this addition, her analysis seems firmly rooted in the sociological mainstream, drawing on Weber, Durkheim, and Wallerstein amongst others. And her approach to tribalism seems, if anything, much more firmly established, being built on a foundation borrowed from Ibn Khaldun. She discusses the revival of Ibn Khaldun’s model as a way of explicating and interpreting the varieties of social organization dominant in the Maghreb in the period just before (and during) the colonial period. (23) In particular, her analysis is dependent upon the Khaldunian notion of asabiyyah, which she notes is more than mere solidarity: it is the means through which agnate relations provide a uniform structural cohesion to society. The use of patrilineal relations as a distinguishing feature of Maghrebi society requires her to enter a semantic minefield and define “tribe” and tribalism, at least in reference to the Maghreb. (9-10) She does this fairly effectively, and describes the Maghrebi analogue of tribalism as in coexistence and relation with “markets, states, and the religious universalism of Islam.” (10)

The book is built around “a comparative-historical method”, which allows her analysis to transcend the artificial boundaries of the colonial (and postcolonial) states. (10) At the same time, it makes it difficult for the text to examine the sociocultural details of each society (and the sub-groupings of each society) in a way that exceeds broad generalization. The evidence for her position involves the examination of legal opinions themselves, in addition to Islamic commentaries, and given her reliance primarily upon the former the text opens itself to potential critique with respect to the many nuances of the law and of its implementation through Islamic court systems. The book’s plan is sensible and effective. The first part of the book describes the commonalities in the Maghrebi states, and delves into the tribal structure of society, including the tensions frequently present between tribes and central authority. The second part looks at the differences that emerged in each state during the immediately precolonial and colonial periods, significantly examining the impact of colonialism on state-tribe relations. The third, and most analytical part of the book traces the differing paths beaten by each state in its quest for independence. (11-13)

In each of the states discussed, Charrad suggests that the extent to which the state could reform family law was determined by the degree to which the state relied upon autonomous tribal groups to ensure its own power. Thus, in relatively small and well-centralized Tunisia, a Western-style system was implemented upon independence, which banned polygamy, liberalized divorce and child-custody laws, and guaranteed equal protection under the law for women. It is worth noting that Charrad hails originally from Tunisia, and it was her interest in the sharp differences between Tunisia and its immediate neighbours that inspired her research. Indeed, the Tunisian case does appear strange, and is almost unique in the Arab world, given that — as Charrad indicates — the “thrust of Islamic law in general is to permit the control of women by their male relatives and to preserve the cohesiveness of patrilineages.” This underscores the “fragility” of marriage and the tenuous status of women under traditional law, where agnate ties are expected to be “the critical bonds for individuals even after marriage”, and where a woman can be divorced by simple repudiation. (31)

The situation in Algeria and Morocco is considerably more traditional and in line with Maliki interpretations of Islamic law. Algeria had, for many years, failed entirely to pass a comprehensive set of family laws. In the descent into chaos that followed independence in 1962, the issue of family law was held hostage to competing interests, and when the Family Code was finally passed in 1984 it rolled back what freedoms women had won for themselves under French colonial rule. By opting at last for such a harsh standard, “the Algerian state catered to social and political forces with a vested interest in the preservation of the extended patrilineal kinship structure” characteristic of Islam in the Maghreb. (200) Morocco stands, in Charrad’s analysis, at polar opposites from Tunisia. Unlike in the latter state, the tribes of Morocco retained a substantial degree of political and economic autonomy, allowing them to resist unpopular decrees from the central government. These tribes, which existed in “a constant state of tension with the center”, were able to make demands on the government: e.g., in exchange for taxation the tribes would be assured by the government of their continuing control over women. (103)

Charrad’s study neatly skirts a recent trend in theory and historiography, wherein there is said to exist under Islam a substantial degree of agency and flexibility for women through family law. She takes terms like “modernity” and “women’s rights” to be relatively uncomplicated and entirely Western in orientation. This is not, in itself, a flaw. Like Fatima Mernissi, her take on feminism is remarkably straightforward and rooted in a simple recognition of individual choice and legal equality. Some will, however, take issue with her depiction of Islamic gender relations, as there has been an increasing tendency to gloss over what would appear — from a Western perspective — to be an inexcusably tyrannical bent in Islamic law, and in the name of multiculturalism to seek out some form of genuinely “Islamic” feminism. In line with this stance, Charrad’s basic assumptions prevent her from asking certain questions about modernity itself. By making Tunisia’s reforms appear to be entirely dependent upon the amount of power available to reform-minded central government, she neglects to wonder about the desire to reform family law. For the newly-independent government in Tunis, gender is made to seem an essential badge of “modernity”, and the end of colonialism an excuse to eliminate “archaic forms of social organization.” (220) The degree to which this book will find acceptance with the reader may, therefore, be determined by his or her commitment to modernity theory over the new multiculturalism (with all the warts endemic to both approaches).

‘Rebel And Saint…’

Rebel and Saint: Muslim Notables, Populist Protest, Colonial Encounters (Algeria and Tunisia, 1800-1904).
Julia A. Clancy-Smith.
Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994.

Julia Clancy-Smith characterizes this fascinating and important work as an “archaeological dig to uncover the subterranean dimensions of rebellion against, as well as tacit agreements with, the colonial regime” in Algeria and Tunisia. (254) She argues, indeed, that “inconclusive skirmishes, bet hedging, implicit pacts, and prudent retreats” were just as important in the preservation of Muslim identity as were “violent clashes [and] heroic last stands.” (1-2) The world she depicts is one not yet conditioned by years of colonial contact, where religiosity had not taken on a monolithic character and the place of in society of saints and holy men was fluid and heterogeneous. In looking at the first decades of colonial contact, she hopes to document the “sociocultural universe which made rebellion possible and imaginable or conversely impeded such.” (4) In other words, she is going to ask the “how?” as well as the “why?” of colonial confrontation, and in doing so she has produced a thoughtful and measured study of nineteenth-century North Africa.

After introducing her goals and sources, Clancy-Smith spends two chapters outlining the social and political context of her topic. The first presents the culture of the pre-Sahara regions of Algeria and Tunisia—parts of the country left relatively unfamiliar by the colonial historiography. The next discusses the experience of saints and sacred space, and the notions of sharifism and baraka, in the religious life of the Maghreb. (33) “The saints,” as she points out, “both living and dead, were legion”, and their veneration greatly conditioned the flow of people and information across the parched landscape. (31) Chapter three discusses the first two decades of French penetration, and lays out the complex of varying responses from the religious notables of the pre-Sahara, seeking to overturn the facile picture of Islamic authorities in uniformly militant opposition to French rule. The Bu Ziyan uprising and its aftermath are covered in chapter four, and in chapter five she attempts a re-contextualization of migration as a form of protest. Chapter six details another mahdist revolt, and she concludes with a lengthy discourse on the hitherto-untold story of Lalla Zaynab, daughter of Sidi Muhammad and heir to his position as a religious notable. (231)

Along the way Clancy-Smith produces a range of useful insights into subaltern lives in North Africa. As she has noted, “world-system theory has tended to ignore peoples located on the margins of non-Western states”, and dealing with such populations requires a deft touch and often a subtly subversive use of sources. (2) In order to bring out moves which have left little to mark their passing, she redefines “political action” more broadly, “to include not only participation in jihads or mahdist movements but also such things as moral persuasion, propaganda, hijra (emigration), evasion, withdrawal, and accommodation with the colonial regime.” (4) One of the most interesting moves she makes on this front involves the marketplace as a source of information. She notes that “markets and fairs were major collectors of information and news, which was then redistributed in much the same way that goods were” (29), and moreover that “the information transferral process itself produced endless virus-like mutations as news made the rounds, from mouth to mouth and ear to ear.” (100) With this formulation she has (inadvertently?) hit upon a genuinely good use for the concept of memes and the memetic transfer of information, a theoretical model built primarily by Susan Blackmore and Richard Dawkins and little-used or remarked in the humanities.

In a handful of moves certain to garner attention, Clancy-Smith reinterprets several phenomena to offer an implicit critique of the colonial-era historiography. First of all, she offers a new conception of the practice of hijra, seeing in it a shadow of direct resistance to colonial authority. She refers to what has often been called a pious act—moving to a Muslim population centre to be closer to fellow worshippers—as a “duty” that is seized upon by those unwilling to compromise their faith, for purposes ranging from arms smuggling to permanent emigration. (125, &c.) She also cleverly transforms defeat into victory, by highlighting the story of those who fought to retain Maghrebi Islamic culture in the face of foreign influence, and did so by dealing directly with the colonial power; the use of Zaynab in this rôle is only the most prominent example. (233) (As a brief side note, I found the description of Zaynab’s vow of celibacy and subsequent access to male power exceedingly reminiscent of the Balkan “sworn virgins” discussed in Murray O. Stephen and Will Roscoe’s book Islamic Homosexualities, and am now keen to know if the concepts are related.) Clancy-Smith also offers, perhaps unintentionally, a poignant meditation on the unintended consequences of imperialism, when she remarks that “fifteen years of French colonial rule” had “created a political environment conducive to radical kinds of solutions to the problem of social order and justice. And since the mahdi was from outside that contested state, collective hopes for salvation became riveted upon the Muslim redeemer.” (90) One can see the rise of Salafi and millenarian movements elsewhere as a similar response to unforeseen and unavoidable pressures placed on Islamic polities.

As significant as Clancy-Smith’s accomplishments are, the book is not without its flaws. She notes early on that tribalism “forged to an extent the outlines of social organization and ultimately state formation in North Africa”, yet she neglects to define “tribalism” and leave the reader to make assumptions about her subjects. (22) She also criticises James C. Scott’s portrayal of peasant culture without acknowledging that he writes primarily on South-East Asia, not North Africa. (27) Overall one might say that Clancy-Smith’s book is made more readable by her failure to engage with subaltern theory, but I wonder if that avenue might nevertheless have opened up untapped vistas already present in her source base. I am thinking in particular of Ranajit Guha’s path-breaking Elementary Aspects of Peasant Insurgency in Colonial India and its use of colonial sources against the colonizers, and more saliently of Dipesh Chakrabarty’s monumental work Provincializing Europe, which argues for the systematic incorporation of peasant religiosity and the lived experience of the divine into the historical narrative, which seems to have useful parallels with the lives Clancy-Smith seeks to reveal. At points in her discussion of religious concepts Clancy-Smith skates rather close to the edge of tautology, as when the suggests that baraka is what it helps to create (35) or when “supernatural gifts” are presumed to make the saint both “cause and consequence of the divine marvel.” (219) This only brings her closer to postulating the immanent nature of religious truth that is always presupposed in Chakrabarty’s model, making her failure to enunciate it all the more striking. But such theoretical complaints aside, Clancy-Smith has produced a remarkable work of scholarship that, like the best of the subaltern studies, deserves to be read well outside her own geographic audience.