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The History of the Maghrib: An Interpretive Essay

The History of the Maghrib: An Interpretive Essay

Translated from the French by Ralph Manheim
Copyright Date: 1977
Pages: 440
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    The History of the Maghrib: An Interpretive Essay
    Book Description:

    This survey of North African history challenges both conventional attitudes toward North Africa and previously published histories written from the point of view of Western scholarship. The book aims, in Professor Laroui's words, "to give from within a decolonized vision of North African history just as the present leaders of the Maghrib are trying to modernize the economic and social structure of the country."

    The text is divided into four parts: the origins of the Islamic conquest; the stages of Islamization; the breakdown of central authority from the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries; and the advent of colonial rule. Drawing on the methods of sociology and political science as well as traditional and modern historical approaches, the author stresses the evolution marked by these four stages and the internal forces that affected it.

    Until now, the author contends, North African history has been written either by colonial administrators and politicians concerned to defend foreign rule, or by nationalist ideologues. Both used an old-fashioned historiography, he asserts, focusing on political events, dynastic conflicts, and theological controversies. Here, Abdallah Laroui seeks to present the viewpoint of a Maghribi concerning the history of his own country, and to relate this history to the present structure of the region.

    Originally published in 1977.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-6998-5
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-2)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 3-12)

    A familiar theme in the histories written during the colonial period is that the Maghrib has been unfortunate: unfortunate in not having recognized the Roman conquest as a bringer of civilization, unfortunate in having been forced to accept Islam, unfortunate in having undergone the Hilālian invasion, and unfortunate in having served as a base for the Ottoman pirates. . . . But might there not be more reason to speak of a very different misfortune? That of always having had inept historians: geographers with brilliant ideas, functionaries with scientific pretensions, soldiers priding themselves on their culture, art historians who refuse...

  4. PART I The Maghrib under Domination

    • 1. The Search for Origins
      (pp. 15-26)

      It is well known that the knowledge of history develops in the opposite direction from the course of events; it is the period of Maghribi history most remote from us, the period preceding the first Phoenician establishments at the end of the second millennium B.C., that was last to enter the field of empirical study. It has also been the uncontested monopoly of colonial historians. The Maghribis, ancient or modern, have very little to say on the subject; this is to be expected, since the science of the origins of man is less than a century old.

      For a long...

    • 2. Colonizer Follows Colonizer
      (pp. 27-66)

      In dealing with the long period that begins at the end of the second millennium B.C. and ends in the seventeenth century of the Christian era, in the course of which Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans and Vandals entered the Maghrib, established settlements, and in some cases made their way far into the interior, one essential fact must be made clear at the outset: this period is known to us only through Greco-Latin literature. The people of the Maghrib are described by geographers and travelers, sometimes in relating historical events that have nothing to do with them. But peoples such as the...

    • 3. Conqueror Succeeds Conqueror
      (pp. 67-89)

      With the fifth century and the coming of the Vandals, a period of false regularities and deceptive constancies begins for the Maghrib: secular rhythm, cycle of three generations, government by a foreign minority, the dream of reviving the Carthaginian Empire. And underlying all this, one permanent reality: tripartite Africa.

      The facts are known, at least from the Byzantine point of view, and nothing substantially new has been added since the beginning of the century.¹ In a Roman empire divided among various Germanic groups, it was inevitable that North Africa should fall a prey to the first arrivals: these were the...

    • 4. The Winning of Autonomy
      (pp. 90-101)

      The history of the eighth century (700-800/81-184) as recounted in the Arab chronicles is, like that of the two preceding centuries, a history of Berber insurrections. The military conquest had solved nothing. In none of these insurrections was the name of Christianity invoked, unless we suppose, as seems unlikely, that the later Moslem traditions erased this aspect of the problem.

      The chroniclers wrote chiefly about battles, most of which took place in the east and in the regions of Tlemcen and Tangiers, which formed the main axis of conquest. Did this axis coincide with an important avenue of communication that...

    • Map
      (pp. 102-102)
  5. PART II The Imperial Maghrib

    • [PART II Introduction]
      (pp. 105-106)

      The period from the ninth to the thirteenth century has a a unity of which all historians, early and modern, have been more or less clearly aware, essentially because in this period a drive toward empire building developed and because after several unsuccessful attempts the Maghrib was united for the first time. This unification did not last, but we should not conclude a posteriori that it was doomed to failure. These centuries might also be characterized as the period in which, at least for a century and a half, the Maghrib dominated the western Mediterranean. From the standpoint of our...

    • 5. Islam and Commerce: The Ninth Century
      (pp. 107-129)

      The ninth century was a century of Islamization. The process has not been studied in detail, but it seems certain that this Islamization went hand in hand with commerce. The commercial colonies established by Arabs at the crossroads of an alien world provided a model for public and private life, and since this commerce covered a wide territory, it enabled Islam to penetrate the entire Maghrib.⁴ It determined not only the content of the “states” that now came into being but also the relations between them. Even Khārijism, that ideology of opposition, was taken up by the commercial community. Let...

    • 6. Eastern Forces for Unity: The Fāṭimid and Zīrid Ventures
      (pp. 130-156)

      The tenth century (fourth century H.) was the beginning of a period in which the Maghrib participated actively in the history of Islam as a whole. The direct consequence was marked progress in the adoption of Islamic civilization; the indirect consequence was a distinct tendency toward unity based on the state established in Ifrīqiya. The history of this period is fairly well known because during it North Africa was closely involved on the one hand with the Fatimid movement and on the other with Umayyad Spain, then at its apogee.

      This part of the Maghrib, as we know, was then...

    • 7. Western Forces for Unity: The Almoravid Venture
      (pp. 157-173)

      While the eastern Maghrib was undergoing a process of fragmentation, the west, which had hitherto been a country of city-states, experienced a unification on the imperial model. We possess little precise information on socio-economic developments in the region, in particular on the influence of regular, long-range trade and the diffusion of currency. What seems likely is that as the defensive needs that had given rise to the Berber social units we have termed clans lost their urgency, the clans in some degree lost their cohesion under the combined influence of religion, trade, and the use of money. It was precisely...

    • 8. Western Forces for Unity: The Almohad Venture
      (pp. 174-200)

      For a long time historians of the Almohads drew on texts originating many years after the events, many of them the work of authors hostile to the Almohads. Now scholars have begun to publish accounts by contemporaries, many of whom believed in the movement and its aims. These texts, most of which were used in manuscript by Lévi-Provenāçal, have become available, though in an incomplete and not always satisfactory form.¹ Now that we are beginning to see Almohadism from the inside, it is no longer impossible to write a religious and political history of the dynasty. Still, the available documentation...

    • 9. The Failure of the Imperial Idea
      (pp. 201-223)

      There is no better indication of the importance of the Almohad empire than the fascination it has exerted on all subsequent rulers in the Maghrib. Every one of them tried to take over some part of the heritage and develop it; for lack of resources or favorable circumstances none was successful. The Maghrib split into three states whose borders gradually came to resemble those of the present day. None felt satisfied; all aspired to expand if not to restore the imperial unity. One nearly succeeded, but that failure put a definitive end to attempts at unification. In the thirteenth century...

    • Map
      (pp. 224-224)
  6. PART III Institutional Stagnation

    • 10. The Western Crusade
      (pp. 227-242)

      The two centuries between the death of the Marīnid sultan Abū ‘Inān and the defeats of the Spaniards at Tunis (1574) and of the Portuguese at El Ksar (1578) are a period of deepseated regression, which for this very reason may well be one of the most significant periods in the history of the Maghrib. As we shall see, its history shows a marked resemblance to that of the nineteenth and even the twentieth century in certain parts of the Maghrib. This resemblance has been interpreted as an indication that the history of the Maghrib has been a static history,...

    • 11. Two Reactions, Two Powers
      (pp. 243-261)

      From the sixteenth century on, our sources for the history of the Maghrib become more and more abundant. Does this make for greater clarity? With the consolidation of the new—Sa’did and Turkish—powers, a new official historiography developed, which, it goes without saying, makes much of victories over the Spaniards and Portuguese. But since the diplomatic game became exceedingly complicated in the middle of the century, a number of important points are passed over in silence or misrepresented, especially in the pro-Sa’did literature.¹ The local and family historiography that sprang up under the last Waţţāsids and Zayyānids enables us,...

    • 12. The Eve of Foreign Intervention
      (pp. 262-288)

      During the eighteenth century the city-states lost much of their autonomy with the falling-off of piracy, which had been their main source of revenue. Especially in the western Maghrib, agricultural production did not increase appreciably. The struggle between the central power and the local powers continued unabated. The maritime trade developed to some extent, but since it was still under foreign control and benefited primarily the ruling minority, it could not become a force for the unification of society. Little by little the military threat of Europe gave way to economic infiltration. But the various regions of the Maghrib did...

  7. PART IV The Colonial Maghrib

    • [PART IV Introduction]
      (pp. 291-294)

      For the general reader the Maghrib entered modern history at the beginning of the nineteenth century, because for the ensuing period sources for a scientific historiography are available: public and private archives, diplomatic and political records, legislative and administrative texts, general and local budgets, investigations, eyewitness accounts, and so forth. The positivist historian finds at last the precision of dated events. But is the Maghrib of this period actually better known? One would think so to judge by the overwhelming mass of literature on the subject. In fact, the clarity that seems to result is misleading because of the meticulous...

    • 13. Colonial Pressure and Primary Resistance
      (pp. 295-326)

      At the beginning of the nineteenth century, conditions in the Maghrib made it eminently vulnerable to European pressure. Increasing dependency on foreign trade had isolated the state and transformed it into a tool of foreign interests. This development was retarded by the Napoleonic Wars, but after 1815 Europe, to which the long negotiations in Vienna had given a common political consciousness, was ready to intervene in the name of the new deity: freedom. Free the slaves, suppress piracy, free trade—these were the slogans of the day. Despite the rivalries between European powers that would soon make themselves felt, especially...

    • 14. The Triumph of Colonialism
      (pp. 327-347)

      From 1880 until the world crisis of 1929 colonialism triumphed; its only limits were those it imposed on itself in line with the ideology of the “white man’s burden” and economy of expenditure and effort. Its triumph had its counterpart in the reactions of its victims: resignation or hopeless revolt.

      1881. The Algerian administration was attached to various ministries in Paris; Tunisia was occupied, at first without great difficulty; Morocco was placed under international control at the Conference of Madrid (second session, held in May). With the disappearance of the last autonomous state the process of destroying Maghribi society was...

    • 15. The Renascent Maghrib
      (pp. 348-376)

      We now know that Maghribi society, cut off from its land and its past, nevertheless found a means of surviving. This knowledge obliges us, not to rewrite the history of the colonial period, but to isolate the determining factors that have been stressed in our analysis.¹ All colonialist history tends to stress the economic, if not the purely technological, contribution of colonialism. This bias may seem to find justification in the fact that the Maghribis have taken over the heritage of the foreign colony unchanged and appointed themselves its guardians without stopping to consider the social costs of their conservatism....

  8. Conclusion Heritage and Recovery
    (pp. 379-388)

    The colonial era is past. Some defend it ardently or halfheartedly, others castigate it in relevant or irrelevant terms. Some claim that it enriched nature and the individual; others call it a scar on the landscape and on the bodies of men. The argument about the colonial period never seems to end, probably because the period itself is not entirely ended. But the matter should be judged on a very different level.

    Undoubtedly there is a grain of truth both in the theory that colonization came by chance and in the theory that it resulted from a sense of mission...

  9. Appendix
    (pp. 389-400)
  10. Bibliography
    (pp. 401-422)
  11. Index
    (pp. 423-431)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 432-432)