Forging 'Algeria': constructions of national space and nationhood in Algeria, 1830-50

William Gallois has been awarded €78,080.65 by the Gerda Henkel Foundation for a two-year research project as part of their Special Programme on Islam, The Modern Nation State and Transnational Movements. Gallois’ research project – ‘Forging ‘Algeria’: Constructions of national space and nationhood in Algeria, 1830-50’ – will study the formation of what was arguably the first modern nation in the Islamic world, looking at the ways in which this forging of an Algerian national space also occurred at a critical moment in European thinking about nationalism and the nation.

Relatively little attention has been paid to the ways in which this novel nation was constructed in Algeria or to the interplay between Muslims and Europeans with regard to the significance of this new form of national space. While, for instance, we do know a certain amount about debates over the so-called ‘Algerian Question’ of the 1830s, in which rival French forces argued the merits of forging the nation on military, civil or commercial grounds, we know far less about the ways in which the so-called ‘Indigènes’ of the country (Arab and Berber Muslims, as well as Jews) reacted to the new world being built around and through them. We know even less about the ways in which specific forms of Islam were invoked to justify, on the one hand, making peace with European invaders, and, on the other, fomenting forms of jihad and resistance, which nevertheless sometimes unconsciously accepted the borders and categorisations of the now real, previously fictive, Algerian ‘nation’.

While the project is emphatically historical, it also contains clear ramifications for historical and political debates in the present. The much-posed question as to whether Algeria has an inherently violent polity can be better answered through a more careful consideration of its origins. Similarly, the question as to the whether the militarization of Algerian politics was grounded in the structures of the colonial nation state depends upon our developing a clearer picture of the formation of those structures. The same is also true with regard to the question whether modern forms of Islamist resistance to the contemporary Algerian state truly bear family resemblances to early Muslim struggles against colonialism, or whether forms of Islamist politics in Algeria could instead draw upon other, quite distinct, yet effaced forms of Islamic identities from the nineteenth century. 

 

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