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‘Je (ne) Vous Ai (pas)Compris’: The Role of a Non-Existent Political Sphere

‘Je (ne) Vous Ai (pas)Compris’: The Role of a Non-Existent Political Sphere

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Published by: Angie Piñeyro De Hoyos on Oct 19, 2010
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05/12/2014

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Angie Piñeyro De HoyosRe-Forming the Modern Arab EastReport 1 Fall 2008Page|
1
µJe (ne) Vous Ai (pas)Compris¶: The Role of A Non-Existent Political SphereAlgeria has always been a land of the last frontier of imperial expansion. TheRoman Empire tiptoed on the coastal edges, and then the Byzantines set up trading citiesand ports after them. The importance of trade and the concentration of wealth in theMediterranean Sea eventually lured the Umayyad Caliphate, who, just as their  predecessors had done, took advantage of previously existing infrastructure. Finally, thelast of the Arabs to press into the Maghreb were the Fatimids; just as the French woulddo one thousand years later; their colonists also escaping unfavorable conditions in their homelands. Yet, the Fatimids successfully won the ever-shifting loyalties of theindigenous Berber (and formerly Christian) tribes with Islam, something the
 pieds noir 
 were never able to do. This key factor of Islam created the limited connection to the restof the Middle East, a factor that²again²the French would never overcome. The rise of nationalist movements all over the Middle East during the latter half of the 20
th
centuryshowed us certain ingredients without which a nationalist cause will incubate, but notrise. The first requisite ingredient is an intellectual sphere, a social stage whereintellectual dramas can be played out. The second of these conditions is a circumstance of contagion; an internal societal condition which facilitates the widespread sowing of nationalist oats. Finally to condense the first two pre-requisites we also need a historicalaction; for example the rise of a household regime, or a schism between existing societallines. Despite the presence of the three ingredients necessary for a nationalist movement,the lack of a secular public sphere in Algeria caused the slow development of a unified
 
Angie Piñeyro De HoyosRe-Forming the Modern Arab EastReport 1 Fall 2008Page|
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nationalist organization and the Algerian resistance depended on exterior politicalcatalysts for cohesiveness as French policy neatly dismantled all pre-existing social order.I would like to first talk about the third ingredient of nationalist movements,historical actions that externally spur nationalist sentiment. Despite the fact that Algeriahad all of the components of a strong nationalist movement, each step of the country¶sdevelopment was directly tied to a foreign event and would not have happened on itsown.In the early years of 20
th
century, Americans were for the last time, viewedfavorably by the majority of the colonized world and everyone was looking to the U.S.A.expecting to hear a voice against empirical expansion. The first event that stronglyimpacted the Algerian cause was Woodrow Wilson¶s 1917 proclamation on the right toself determination. While the already present French and European
 pieds noir 
probablydidn¶t think much about it, the American president planted a seed in the minds of theµthird-world¶ as visible by the germination of nationalist movements in other places asdisplayed by the increasing popularity of Turkey¶s Mustafa Kemal. This also set the precedent of external catalysts to internal revolutions of thought in Algeria.That same year in October, the Bolshevik Revolution changed self-perceptionsaround the world. For the first time since the French Revolution had such a powerfulgovernment been brought down by the peasants or working classes that it oppressed.Government and church lands were seized and private assets were redistributed amongstthe workers. The combination of the socialist revolution and Wilson¶s declaration made
 
Angie Piñeyro De HoyosRe-Forming the Modern Arab EastReport 1 Fall 2008Page|
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 politics and government ³the work of poor peasants, the little people in the cities, andAlgerian soldiers in France.´ (Stora 2004, 12) not only the bourgeoisie bureaucrats of traditional government.The effects of global politics were felt in the most intimate ways; even reproductiveissues were impacted by foreigners. Marie-Aimee Helie Lucas states in her 1987 treatiseon µWomen, Nationalism, and Religion in the Algerian Liberation Struggle¶ called³Awareness´ that ³the United States was at that time trying to enforce a brutal policy of  birth control in the third world which culminated with their attempt to put pressure ongovernments to adopt their world plan, the µfertility target¶,´ (p. 111) This demonstratesthat the most private aspects of life at this time were influenced by trend setting foreign policy and decision making in America.Yet it is the second aspect, circumstances of contagion, through which the externalinfluence of the French was directly responsible for the spread of nationalist thoughtthrough their African colons. Aside from the continuous displacement of Algeriansthrough the repartition of tribal lands, there were two main waves of emigration thatdirectly led to the importation of nationalism. 78,566 Algerians (Stora 2004, 14) fed theFrench war machine between 1915 and 1918, and upon their return to their homelandthey faced the discrimination of The Native Code which left them feeling betrayed by thecountry they had risked their lives for. In 1940, Algerians recruited for public works inFrance went and returned under similar circumstances.

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