Only Muslim

Only Muslim: Embodying Islam in Twentieth-Century France

Naomi Davidson
Copyright Date: 2012
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 320
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    Only Muslim
    Book Description:

    The French state has long had a troubled relationship with its diverse Muslim populations. In Only Muslim, Naomi Davidson traces this turbulence to the 1920s and 1930s, when North Africans first immigrated to French cities in significant numbers. Drawing on police reports, architectural blueprints, posters, propaganda films, and documentation from metropolitan and colonial officials as well as anticolonial nationalists, she reveals the ways in which French politicians and social scientists created a distinctly French vision of Islam that would inform public policy and political attitudes toward Muslims for the rest of the century-Islam français. French Muslims were cast into a permanent "otherness" that functioned in the same way as racial difference. This notion that one was only and forever Muslim was attributed to all immigrants from North Africa, though in time "Muslim" came to function as a synonym for Algerian, despite the diversity of the North and West African population.

    Davidson grounds her narrative in the history of the Mosquée de Paris, which was inaugurated in 1926 and epitomized the concept of Islam français. Built in official gratitude to the tens of thousands of Muslim subjects of France who fought and were killed in World War I, the site also provided the state with a means to regulate Muslim life throughout the metropole beginning during the interwar period. Later chapters turn to the consequences of the state's essentialized view of Muslims in the Vichy years and during the Algerian War. Davidson concludes with current debates over plans to build a Muslim cultural institute in the middle of a Parisian immigrant neighborhood, showing how Islam remains today a marker of an unassimilable difference.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6569-7
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Note on Translation and Transliteration
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xv-xviii)
  6. Introduction: Muslims only as Muslims
    (pp. 1-14)

    Abdelhak Eddouk, the president of the Muslim association of the Paris suburb of Grigny II, astutely observed in the aftermath of the fall 2005 unrest in many French suburbs that “for years, one dealt with Muslims only as Muslims, one saw only their religion.” ¹ Given the centrality of laïcité, or secularism, to French republican ideology during the twentieth century, Eddouk’s placement of Islam at the center of debates about social exclusion might seem puzzling. Why would the universalizing state that passed a law in 1905 formally separating church and state administer a particular population exclusively on the basis of...

  7. Chapter 1 Religion and Race in the French Mediterranean
    (pp. 15-35)

    According to the internal logic of Islam français, all Muslims should have been equal and equally Muslim, but French politicians and social scientists in fact made many careful distinctions between subjects who were all nominally “Muslim” over the course of the twentieth century, on both shores of the Mediterranean. These categories, as I suggested in the introduction, were shaped by French perceptions of Islam and structured by the administration of Islam in its different colonial territories. Yet no matter what “Muslim” practices colonial subjects may actually have performed and despite the sometimes wildly divergent French analyses of these practices as...

  8. Chapter 2 Un monument durable: Building the Mosquée de Paris and Institut Musulman
    (pp. 36-61)

    The Mosquée de Paris and Institut Musulman were first conceived as a war memorial to be built in the shadow of Les Invalides, but they ultimately became a temple to Islam français, built in the heart of the Latin Quarter. Locating the complex near France’s shrine to its military victories was intended to reflect the sacrifices made by North and West African colonial soldiers during the First World War, as well as to render the complex easily accessible to elite Muslims visiting Paris. The architecture of this “durable monument” was expected to conform to the “artistic demands” of a grand...

  9. Chapter 3 To Monitor and Aid: Muslim Bodies, Social Assistance, and Religious Practices
    (pp. 62-85)

    The construction of the Mosquée de Paris and the Institut Musulman gave body to the vision of Islam français as imagined by its proponents, but the question of how government support for French Islam would affect the lives of the primarily male, working-class North African residents of the capital was unclear.¹ The Islam practiced by many of these men was not recognized as “true” Islam by metropolitan and colonial proponents of Islam français; their religious observances were characterized as akin to paganism. Nevertheless, North Africans quickly learned upon their arrival in Paris that they would be counted, professionally oriented, and...

  10. Chapter 4 Islam français, Islam in France: Forms of Islam in Paris and the Provinces
    (pp. 86-132)

    The Vichy regime, under the leadership of Maréchal Philippe Pétain, drastically changed secular France’s religious landscape, bringing religious education back into public schools and restoring property to the Catholic Church. In this decidedly antisecular climate, the questions of what exactly it meant to be Muslim and whether it meant different things in Paris and in the provinces preoccupied French officials. An administration committed to bringing Catholicism back into the public sphere had to consider what its role in supporting Muslim practices in the metropole should be.¹ As North African immigration to the metropole increased, workers began to settle in larger...

  11. Chapter 5 Islam français, Islam algérien: Islam and the Algerian War in Paris
    (pp. 133-168)

    The Algerian War (1954–1962) brought about profound changes in the lives of Algerian and French people on both sides of the Mediterranean. The impact of the war on people’s daily lives was perhaps more immediately obvious in Algeria, but those living in France, particularly Paris, were also touched by the violence of the conflict. The press stoked the fears of an apprehensive Parisian public by warning repeatedly that the Arab hotels, cafés, and bars, which were “changing the physiognomy” of the capital, held a new menace: they shielded those working for the Fédération Française du Front de Libération National...

  12. Chapter 6 “Culture” and “Religion”: Immigration, Islams, and Race in 1970s Paris
    (pp. 169-204)

    Changes in immigration policy during the 1970s meant that for the first time in French history Algerian and other North and West African immigrants began to take seriously the possibility that they would live their lives in France and not return to their home countries.¹ This represented an important shift from preceding decades, in which it was tacitly assumed that temporary labor immigrants would eventually find their way back across the Mediterranean. Increasingly, immigrants were no longer single men gathered with fellow countrymen, but families, with women and children, negotiating life in a new country. Questions of “Muslim” identity were...

  13. Conclusion “We Want to Contribute to the Secularization of Islam”: Islam français in the Twenty-First Century
    (pp. 205-220)

    Does Islam français still exist at the moment I write these words, in the summer of 2011? Several developments of the last two decades suggest that it does not: the law banning headscarves in schools suggests that, contrary to its original promise of openness, it is now legally impossible to practice both “Muslimness” and “Frenchness.” At the same time, the creation of the official consultative body the Conseil français du culte musulman (French Council of Muslim Religion, or CFCM) gives the impression that Islam français no longer exists because Islam has been normalized to the extent that it now fits...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 221-276)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 277-292)
  16. Index
    (pp. 293-300)