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(en) France, UCL AL #334 - 1920s-30s: First Islamophobic reaction against anti-colonialists (ca, de, it, fr, pt, tr)[machine translation]

Date Sun, 29 Jan 2023 09:01:41 +0200

The emergence of the first anti-colonial nationalist movements in France in the 1920s and 1930s gave rise to tumultuous relations with the left and the labor movement, between racism, alliances and betrayals, while a popular and conspiratorial Islamophobia emerged, justifying the repressions . ---- At the end of the First World War, revolutionary inclinations did not take place only in Europe: the Republic of the Rif in Morocco, the Egyptian revolution in 1921, in Syria in 1925... The Middle East, which the France and England cut out when the Sykes-Picot agreement is in turmoil. The Western world is then frightened by the "awakening of the Muslim world", "Everywhere Islam is revealed by a furious agitation"[1].
At the same time in Paris, the future leaders of independence met within the Intercolonial Union, founded in 1920 on the initiative of the PCF and in particular around its press organ Le Paria, led by the future Ho Chi Minh, in which wrote in particular Hadj Ali Abdelkader, founder with Messali Hadj of the North African Star (Ena) in 1926.

Driven by the Third International, the Second Congress of the French Communist Party voted in support of the colonized peoples, but its leadership none the less considered the inability of the natives "to emancipate themselves", "they did not of a revolutionary past and are accustomed to servitude"[2]The weight of the settlers from Algeria in the party has a lot to do with these orientations, as does the section of Si Abbès, which considers the Arabs "too patriarchal, feudal"[3]refuses the appeal of the Comintern.

The convolutions of relations with the left
Despite everything, the alliances take place. In January 1924, the party adopted the slogan of "suppression of the indigénat" and the "right to independence". In 1925, during the revolt in Syria, the PCF carried out an anti-colonial campaign, as well as during the Rif war when it broke the political consensus around the colonial question: it was then the cartel of the left which led the repression in the Rif between 1924 and 1926. Call campaigns for fraternization in the direction of the army take place and a call for a general strike of twenty-four hours in December 1925, little followed, brings together 400,000 strikers. Repression is severe, 327 arrests in France, 24 in Algeria.

In 1928, the North African Star separated from the CP, whose Bolshevization distanced it from what would be its main demand, self-determination. Dual membership with the PCF is prohibited. During the same period, the French authorities perceived Ena as a "threat to state authority" and dissolved it for the first time on November 20, 1929.

The SFIO, on the other hand, rallies completely to empire and assimilation and considers the native nationalists as reactionary and obscurantist bourgeoisies. She supports the repression in Tonkin. The SFIO still experienced internal resistance to this position led by Marceau Pivert, and later Daniel Guérin.

The anarchists themselves are drawn mainly by the activism of Mohamed Saïl, who writes in various newspapers on the colonial system in Algeria. In 1923, he co-founded the Action Committee for the Defense of Algerian Natives, and in 1934 he set up the Algerian Natives Section of the CGT-SR[4]. The first Ena activists were Kabyle maneuvers, there were many of them in the CGTU, which sought to organize colonial workers from 1921. Some leaders were part of it, including Messali Hadj and Abdelaziz Menouar, who organized strikes in the mines. and transport : there were 67 strikes by North Africans before 1936. But the CGTU was not exempt from racism: in 1924, dockers from Marseilles who were members of the union, to settle the problems of competition between workers, threw the "bicots" into the the port[5].

Mohamed Saïl (1894-1953) militant anarchist, trade unionist and Kabyle worker.
The strikes of June 1936 lead to a wave of struggles in the colonies. They will obtain victories such as the prohibition of the work of children under twelve, but the Popular Front grants social advances that are too weak and the settlers quickly hijack the measures. The weak Blum-Violette bill, which wanted to offer citizenship to a handful of natives, was rejected without protest from the Communists. Above all, in 1937 the Popular Front dissolved Ena. The orientations and procrastination of Moscow in the interwar period, of the alliance with the nationalist bourgeoisies, even if it meant sacrificing the working classes at times, as during the massacre of Canton by Chiang Kai-Shek, then the "class against class" reversal in 1928 imposing the creation of independent communist parties where it is this time the nationalists who are abandoned, ends with the abandonment of support for independence in 1935 during the alliance with the imperialist democracies "against fascizm". The need for autonomy is essential for Messali who creates the Algerian People's Party (PPA) following the dissolution.

From scholarly Islamophobia to popular Islamophobia
All this turmoil of the 1920s created multiple concerns for the colonial party under an Islamophobic conspiratorial prism: " From China to the Mediterranean, Islam is in turmoil. Everywhere burns the hidden fire of hatred of Europe " wrote the racist American political scientist and eugenicist Theodore Lothrop Stoddar in 1923, author of the rising tide of colored peoples against world white supremacy , a work which will have an important reception in France, in particular with Albert Sarraut, radical socialist successively Minister of the Colonies and the Interior, who will worry that " from China to Turkestan via the Congo, the 250 million supporters of the prophet are mobilizing " [6].

Theodore Lothrop Stoddard (1883-1950) was an American historian, journalist, eugenicist and political scientist.
Theodore Lothrop Stoddard (1883-1950) was an American historian, journalist, eugenicist and political scientist.
If a Lyautey will be a supporter of colonial Islamophilia (creation of the Paris mosque which plays a role of control under the aegis of the King of Morocco), others are worried, in particular certain authors and scientific luminaries. Until now, Islamophobia could be described as scholarly, then administrative: " the colonial " was trained in the racist theories of Ernest Renan, who described Islam as a religion made for inferior races, leading to fatalism, to lustful debauchery, etc. From the 1920s, following the growing presence of colonial workers from North Africa in France, this Islamophobia became politicized. We are worried for health and cultural reasons about the North African presence " freed from traditional social control, who frequent bars and prostitutes (...) the sidis, although newcomers to metropolitan crime, were quick to carve out a large place for themselves " says doctor Côme Arrii [7].

The debates relating to the character of Muslims, their pathology and their sexuality, have thus passed from the academic field to the political fields and rebound on the various facts: the Mohamed Ben Slimane affair, November 7, 1923 rue Fondary in Paris, feminicide and attack with a knife by 3 people, will be followed by " a crowd rushing to the scene of the tragedy " , where many Algerians in the neighborhood were taken to task and " seriously abused " [8]. This news item becomes a national affair due to the mobilization of certain newspapers - the newspaper Liberté is leading the campaign " Let us get rid of the sidis " - while various political forces, opposed to Arab immigration, organize demonstrations and rallies demanding the immediate expulsion of the latter. A few weeks later, in 1924, the Minister of the Interior declared himself in favor of controlling North African immigration. The surveillance and protection service for North African natives was created in 1925, along with the North African Brigade. On April 4, 1928, the authorities put an end to the free movement of natives between Algiers and Paris. Behind these measures, it is also the nationalist militants who are targeted.

Origin of the figure of the Islamo-leftist
During the Russian Revolution, various alliances were formed between the Bolsheviks and pan-Islamic movements, such as the Kazak group of Ush-Zhuz which joined the party, the Sufi organization of Ali Mataev in Chechnya [9]or even the Tatar figure Sultan Galiev, who attempts a synthesis between Marxism and Islam. During the First Congress of the Peoples of the East in Baku from September 1 to 8, 1920, Gregori Zinoviev called on the peoples of the East to lead a jihad against the English and French capitalists. For the French colonial party, " a formidable union (...) was thus sealed, the III rd International seeks to organize Muslim communists to fight world imperialism. » [10]

Theodore Steeg, Governor General of Algeria from 1921 to 1925, was worried about " red activists and emissaries of the Pan-Islamic Congress who traveled through these territories " , generating accusatory fantasy representations, then the adoption of exceptional provisions. The shortcut will be taken by Michel Régnier, Minister of the Interior. On March 30, 1935, a decree to fight against " anti-French propaganda " was presented, the slightest demonstration of opposition became liable to imprisonment. On April 27, 1935, a group of the Mobile Republican Guard was stationed in Algeria and the Governor General's legal arsenal was reinforced. The settler newspaper Orient Matinresumes Stoddart to support the criticism of the Popular Front to stir up hatred of French " so many elements that confirm the existence of a socialist-Islamist plot " [11].

These attacks are also deployed in mainland France against Ena: " because of their promiscuity with anarchist, communist and revolutionary socialist circles " as well as alliances with the Association of Ulemas, a Muslim and nationalist reformist movement founded in 1931 by the journalist Abdelhamid Ben Badis, in favor of joint action with the Communists. The latter will be dissolved in 1937, she can no longer preach in mosques and she is attacked as a fundamentalist, while she demanded the application of secularism in the colonies. In 1935, " the debates relating to the Islamo-Communist threat "moved to the Senate where they provoked lively controversy: the responsibility for the situation between the soft and hard tendencies is transferred to each other, but the threat is clearly pointed out: the communists, the pan-Islamists and the Ena. Jacques Duroux, of the Radical Socialist Party, declares " the Algerian malaise is not due to poverty and hunger but to an explosion of fanaticism ". Gustave Gautherot challenges the Minister of the Interior, denouncing a red-brown threat before the hour " many insurrection manuals are financed by the services of Alfred Rosenberg and Doctor Goebbels, Nazi Germany is active in Africa of the North » [12]. This accusation is not insignificant, on January 26, 1937 during the dissolution of Ena, the PCF denounced " collusion of the leaders of Ena with fascist elements in Algeria (...) the claims of the Ena are only feelings of xenophobia dictated by misery " [13]. The dissolution is radicalizing activists like Ferath Abas, once a moderate and assimilationist.

Condemnation and Exclusion for Anticolonialists
Like Moscow, which repeatedly imprisoned Sultan Galiev before condemning him to death in 1939, the PCF stabbed its former nationalist friends in the back even as they campaigned for the Popular Front. The SFIO expelled Daniel Guérin and Marceau Pivert in 1938 for their support for the independence of the colonies. Messali Hadj was sentenced to six months in prison just like Mohamed Saïl imprisoned in September 1938 for eighteen months [14]. On the eve of the Second World War, the struggle against colonialism was abandoned by most organizations that emerged from the French labor movement.

Messali Hadj (1898-1974) was a pioneer of independence and Algerian nationalism.
Messali Hadj (1898-1974) was a pioneer of independence and Algerian nationalism.
From the Indian national movement to the rebellions in the Sahel, the imperialists perceived Islam as a unifying politico-cultural threat to their domination, transcending the borders and ethnic-racial affiliations they had created. The contours and words of the current Islamophobic ideology are already present at the time, and the far right today is largely inspired by it: Lothrop Stoddart's work was recently republished by Éditions de l'homme libre, publishing house whose catalog gives pride of place to those nostalgic for the Third Reich and fascism: " Lothrop Stoddart predicted in a premonitory manner on the risk of the influence of massive immigration from the Third World (...) and the growing threat of militant Islam ". The Baku Congress is presented there as the founding act of Islamo-leftism [15].

While even today the relations of the left and the labor movement with the autonomous anti-racist movements are still crossed by racism or fraternalism, as demonstrated by the absence of mobilization against the separatism law, this does not prevent not the construction by the extreme right and the State of the figure of the Islamo-leftist finding roots in the same period when that of the Judeo-Bolshevik was constructed, leading yesterday as today to stigmatization, repression and divisions that it becomes urgent to go beyond.

Nicolas Pasadena (UCL Montreuil)

1920: Creation of the Intercolonial Union followed by the newspaper Le Paria in 1921.

1923: Mohamed Ben Slimane affair.

1924-1926: Opposition campaign to the Rif war in which the PC engages.

March 2, 1926: Creation of the North African Star (ENA) by Messali Hadj.

1928: Turning Class against Class of the Comintern, the ENA separates from the PC.

April 4, 1928: Suspension of the free movement of natives between Algeria and mainland France.

February 16, 1933: The Michel circular orders the local authorities to keep a very close watch on the Communists and the Ulemas.

1936: The ENA and the neo-Destour of Bourguiba campaign for the Popular Front.

January 1937: the Popular Front dissolves the ENA, Messali then founds the PPA in March 1937 (Algerian People's Party). He was arrested and imprisoned for " reconstitution of a dissolved league ".

1937: Strikes multiply in the colonies, the administration carries out repression: in Morocco, in Meknes, the army fires into the crowd, killing 13 during a demonstration for democratic freedoms.

1938: The very poor Blum-Violette bill on political rights is definitively buried.

To validate

[1] Olivier Le Cour Grandmaison, Mortal Enemies. Representations of Islam and Muslim Policies in France during the Colonial Era , La Découverte, 2019.

[2] Jacques Le Gall, The colonial question in the labor movement in France (1830-1962) , 2013.


[4] Mohamed Saïl, The Strange Stranger, Writings of a Kabyle Anarchist , 2020.

[5] Jacques Le Gall, ibid.

[6] Olivier Le Cour Grandmaison, ibid.



[9] Dave Crouch, The Bolsheviks, Islam and Religious Liberty, February 15, 2010, www.quefaire.lautre.net .

[10] Albret Sarrault " the fermentation of Islam from the steppes of Central Asia to the depths of black Africa ".

[11] " A wind of hatred is blowing over Algeria ", Oran Matin , February 2, 1937, quoted by J. Brutus.

[12] Olivier Le Cour Grandmaison, ibid.

[13] Jacques Le Gall, ibid.

[14]Mohamed Saïl, ibid.

[15] According to far-right author Jean-Gilles Malliarakis, Sickle and Crescent, Islamism and Bolshevism at the Baku Congress , Trident Edition, 2015.

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