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Response to Review no. 1056

I am very grateful to Minayo Nasiali for her review, which identifies with finesse some key arguments made in the book, and provides an engaged and generous evaluation. Her attention is drawn to my discussion of migration, but much less to my historical analysis of 19th-century France or the Middle East and the relations between them. She appreciates as much as I did the richness and diversity of the voices that emerge from this story, although I think they resonate somewhat differently for each of us.

Nasiali seems bemused by the book’s chronological structure. I should explain that I chose very much to work against the established tendency to present diversity as a sociological ‘problem’. I wanted to speak to, and within, the national stories that have largely excluded this diversity. The chronological argument of the book was also intended to challenge some applications of the Saidian ‘Orientalism’ paradigm (of which my book is more critical than the review suggests). At the same time, I sought wherever possible to draw attention to the way in which sources were collected from scattered locations and placed in a meaningful relationship.

Given the difficulty in locating and connecting those sources, it is heartening that Nasiali found them so rich and suggestive: indeed so much so that she finds my insistence on ‘silence’ and ‘forgetting’ rather misplaced. My point, however, was not that French Arabs were silent, but that they were silent in regard to their own experience in France and that of their community. That silence is all the more resounding in the context of their rich intellectual output.

On the question of Islam, I agree wholeheartedly with the reviewer that this is a subject that deserves greater amplification. Unfortunately the sources for examining the lives and religious practice of Muslims in the emigration are almost non-existent.(1) As I wrote in the introduction, my use of the term Islam in the subtitle refers primarily to the geographical and cultural space from which these people came – something closer to what Marshall Hodgson called the ‘Islamicate’ world (2) – in contradistinction with a ‘Europe’ conceived equally as a geographical-cultural ensemble. The substantive question of Islam requires a larger historical frame, and I intend to address it in my current work.

Lastly, I would point out that my argument about the ‘unmaking’ of this particular Arab France, in no way precludes the persistence of Arab-French relations and identities beyond 1830. I argued in the last part of the book that the relationship between ‘French’ and ‘Arab’ was radically altered by the invasion of Algeria, and by the coercion and violence that emerged in both metropole and colony. Other histories of ‘Arab France’ have certainly existed, and continue to exist: I hope very much that future research (including Nasiali’s own) will enrich our knowledge of them.


  1. On this question, see my chapter in the collective volume on Muslims in Early Modern Europe edited by Jocelyne Dakhlia, forthcoming from Albin Michel.Back to (1)
  2. Marshall Hodgson, The Venture of Islam. Conscience and History in a World Civilization (Chicago, 1974).Back to (2)