Muriam Haleh Davis and Thomas Serres, eds. North Africa and the Making of Europe: Governance, Institutions and Culture (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2018).
Jadaliyya (J): What made you write this book?
Muriam Haleh Davis (MHD) and Thomas Serres (TS): We were motivated to edit this volume after spending the 2015-2016 academic year at the European University Institute (EUI) in Florence, which has a strong focus on European politics and integration. As North Africanists, we felt that it was important to think about Europe from its margins, particularly as pressing questions about the past and future of the European Union were being posed by politicians across the region. We therefore organized a series of conferences on “Europe Seen From North Africa,” which brought together scholars from North Africa, Europe, and the United States. The insights and questions raised during those conferences form the basis of this volume.
J: What particular topics, issues, and literatures does the book address?
MHD and TS: This volume addresses current debates on the definition of European space as a cultural, economic, political, and geographical unit. While the European Union (EU) presents itself as an area of freedom, security and justice, the vision from the periphery is far less enchanted. Indeed, Europe seems to be facing two, interrelated crises: the rise of Islamophobia (and overt racism in general) as well as a pervasive disillusionment with the technocratic governance that gave rise to the European Union during the interwar period. We wanted to explore how both of these crises have common historical roots by exploring the ways in which a certain conception of Europe—as both a system of governance as well as a cultural identity—emerged out of an intimate relationship with North Africa.
At the same time, we wanted to go beyond the narrative of colonial legacies and investigate North Africa as a space where new conceptions of Europe are still emerging. The aftermath of the “Arab Spring” and the ongoing migration crisis have prompted new investigations of the Mediterranean space. In 2018, the Mediterranean region encourages exchange and cooperation as much as it fosters exclusion and competition. Consequently, our edited volume explores the construction of Europe as an ideological, political, and economic entity by looking at its past and present relationship with North Africa. In focusing on how European identity and institutions have been fashioned though various interactions with its southern periphery, this volume highlights the role played by Europeans in the Maghreb as well as by North African actors.
While there have been repeated attempts to analyze the continued relevance of the European Union in world affairs, we felt there were a few lacunae in the scholarship. We hope that focusing on North Africa not only provides us with a variety of political and economic contexts, but also decenters the prevailing perspective and offers a fresh optic for understanding the current challenges faced by the EU. We also sought to publish an interdisciplinary volume that would allow for historical analysis to be fruitfully put into conversation with contemporary politics, sociology, and international relations.
J: How does this book connect to and/or depart from your previous work?
MHD and TS: Both of us work on Algeria and are interested in how European forms of governance have emerged out of an interaction with colonization or post-colonial relationships. We are, admittedly, quite Algero-centric in our own projects, so we felt that it was important to foster a conversation that deals with the Maghreb as a geographical unit. This is building on—but distinct from—approaches that follow a single colony and its relationship with its ex-colonizer. Not only does this approach tend to entrap the former colony in its relationship with the former colonial power (often France in the case of the Maghreb), it also obfuscates the multilateral connections among nation-states that are highlighted in this volume.
The interdisciplinary framework of the volume is also a reflection of our different academic trajectories. Muriam Haleh Davis has worked in Middle Eastern Studies and Critical Theory, while Thomas Serres is trained in political economy and political sociology. Thus, we sought to cover a number of themes that we thought were fundamental to the “Making of Europe,” and to highlight North African voices in the process. The volume comes out of a series of workshops that we co-organized at the European University Institute in Florence, which gave us a wonderful opportunity to bring scholars from North Africa, Europe, and the United States together for preliminary brainstorming.
J: Who do you hope will read this book, and what sort of impact would you like it to have?
MHD and TS: We hope that scholars working both on the Middle East and North Africa, but also Europe, will find points of interest in this book. Historians have largely taken up Frederick Cooper and Ann Stoler’s injunction to study colony and metropole in a single analytical frame (1997), but this is not always the case in political science and international relations. We hope this work encourages scholars to build on the “colonial turn” by expanding the colony/metropole frame to regional units such as Europe and North Africa more generally. We hope this volume presents new ways of thinking about the relationship between the Global North and South that do not result in a reductive story of neo-colonialism, which misses many of the complex power relationships at work around the Mediterranean.
J: What other projects are you working on now?
MHD and TS: Thomas Serres is currently finishing a monograph on contemporary Algeria, entitled Managing the Crisis, Blaming the People: The Suspended Disaster in Bouteflika's Algeria. The book investigates the transformation of a systematic crisis into a resource for the durability of the regime and a form of routinized governmentality since the end of the Black Decade. It will be published in French by the IRMC-Karthala by the end of 2018. His new project focuses on the Euro-Algerian relationship and the role of “human capital” in the restructuring of “Third Worldist” approaches to political economy that have historically underscored national sovereignty and social redistribution.
Muriam Haleh Davis has recently completed a chapter on Derrida and settler colonialism for an edited volume on Postcolonial Intellectuals in Europe that will be published with Rowman & Littlefield. She is also completing a book-length manuscript that focuses on the articulation between race and development policies in colonial and post-colonial Algeria.
J: What are the major themes or subjects studied in the volume?
MHD and TS: We are particularly proud of the fact that this volume addresses a variety of topics including agriculture, labor politics, transitional justice, and states of exception. Since many of the works on the Maghreb tend to focus either on the colonial period and it’s immediate aftermath (generally works by historians) or on the contemporary politics of the region, we felt it was important to write a longer durée story about North Africa and Europe from the end of the Second World War to the present.
The edited volume is divided into three sections. The first part, “Colonialism and Institutions,” studies the influence of colonial structures in North Africa on the genesis of European integration and postwar notions of European identity.
The first chapter, by Luc-André Brunet, demonstrates how economic planners working in North Africa during the Second World War saw colonial industrialization and development as a blueprint for the European Community. Similarly, Muriam Haleh Davis argues that the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), a particularly important symbolic aspect of European integration, reflected strategies for standardization first worked out by French administrators in North Africa, while also detailing the intra-European opposition that this strategy faced. The third chapter extends this analysis by looking at the recruitment of Moroccan workers in French and Belgian coal mines. Anton Perdoncin highlights the rising influence of the Moroccan state and its relationship with private companies in the management of transnational labor flows. Lastly, Darcie Fontaine sheds light on the strategies adopted by the Catholic Church in the face of decolonization.
The second part of the volume is entitled, “Europe Defined: Imaginaries and Practices.” Beginning with a study of the French anthropologist Jacques Berque by Timothy Scott Johnson, it continues with a chapter on the Spanish colonial cities of Ceuta and Melilla. In this latter chapter, Aitana Guia studies the formulation of a gendered Islamophobia in these territories, a theme also picked up by Farida Souiah, Monika Salzbrunn, and Simon Mastrangelo in their study of the cultural production of Tunisian undocumented migrants and their immigration to Europe. Finally, in her chapter, Simone Tholens looks at European policies in the domain of trade and energy to understand how “imperial identity practices” shape the EU's approach to North Africa. While the subject matters covered in this section range from intellectual history to immigration to international relations, all of these essays highlight how representations of what it meant to be European were refracted through experiences with, and understandings of, North Africa.
The third and final section is dedicated to “States of Crisis and Exception.” Thomas Serres' chapter studies the Algerian Civil War as a case study to demonstrate how the dialogue between European and Algerian actors contributed to the redefinition of key notions such as “democracy” and “human rights.” The tenth chapter by Irene Costantini focuses on Libya and also looks at the normative political strategies that have influenced policy in the region, notably the progressive securitization of the relationship between the EU and its Southern neighborhood after the Arab uprisings. Yet it would be mistaken to see this process as being worked out solely in Brussels or Paris; as the chapter by Elise Ketelaars demonstrates, local demands for social justice has played a key role in influencing how the EU understands transitional justice in post-revolutionary Tunisia. Finally, in her conclusion, Lilith Mahmud outlines what she labels as a “critical reconfiguration of liberal values” and calls for a feminist decolonial critique of European integration.
Excerpt from the Book:
In January 2017, the leaders of the major European parties on the far-right gathered to present their vision for the future of the continent in a “counter-summit”. In the lead-up to a series of highly sensitive elections that were to decide the future of the continent, Geert Wilders, Marine Le Pen, Frauke Petry and Matteo Salvini – among others – unveiled their political platforms. Two themes marked their speeches: Firstly, the speakers denounced the “bureaucratic” nature of the European Union (EU), which Salvini, the leader of the Italian Lega Nord, portrayed as nothing less than a “new Soviet Union”. Secondly, they vociferously opposed any immigration from Muslim majority countries, which they described as a risk for Europe’s domestic security, economic prosperity, and cultural identity.
These views have become a rallying cry for the far-right in Europe, whose varied political platforms nevertheless share a commitment to Euroscepticism and Islamophobia (Ford, Goodwin and Cutts 2011; Druxes and Simpson 2016). In this sense, the existing European political order appears threatened by a movement that proposes the rejection of immigration and a return to the nation-state. Yet it is perhaps misleading to see these goals as novel phenomena. After all, the nation-state has not receded in recent years, and has also played a key role in the governance of the EU. Moreover, even if the weakening of the welfare state contributed to the rise of overtly racist attitudes (Wren 2001), racial categories have been foundational to the development of European states (Goldberg 2002). In looking at xenophobic attitudes in Europe over the past few decades, one could also point to the widespread opposition to the integration of Turkey to the EU (Saz 2011), the persisting prejudice of European officials against immigration from the South of the Mediterranean (Rhein 2006), and the so-called cultural insecurity of Europeans (Bouvet 2015).
Yet in trying to assess what is novel about this political moment, we do seem to be witnessing a fundamental shift in the conceptualization of what it means to be European; the fragile postwar consensus - that was based on imperial preferences, on the one hand, and the technocratic construction of a European Economic Community, on the other – seems less and less tenable. Rather than viewing immigration as a necessary component of postwar reconstruction, or an extension of postcolonial preferences, it is increasingly common to hear it framed in terms of a full-scale “invasion” (Krzyzanowski 2013). It is certainly not our intention to propose a nostalgic view of the decades following the Second World War; indeed, extensive and important work has been done on the way sin which policing strategies, housing structures, and economic rights were unfairly stacked against North African immigrants. If postwar immigration led minority populations to demand cultural recognition and the “right to difference” in the 1970s and 1980s, our current moment is built on the wholesale rejection of that multicultural model, which had once been a key component of anti-racist struggles across Europe (Modood and Werbner 1991).
These are some of the questions underpin this edited volume, which studies the ways in which North Africa has contributed to the shaping of Europe in the postwar period. We are cognizant of the fact that while this volume is framed in terms of European identity, many of the articles in fact study the European Union or its precursors. This orientation is due to our conviction that the understanding of Europe, and what it means to be “European” is necessarily embedded in historical circumstances. Since the end of the Second World War, the process of European integration self-consciously attempted to construct a European identity. Therefore, in looking at the evolution of European identity and governance through the prism of North Africa, we believe that the European institutions built in the wake of decolonization offer a fruitful starting point.
At the same time, analysing Europe’s current attempts to defend something called “European values” requires us to transcend the simplistic claim that the region is merely continuing centuries-old practices of colonization. Indeed, to understand the trajectory of Europe since the second half of the 20th century, one cannot lose sight of the other historical, social and political dynamics – alongside decolonization - that have informed the last sixty years. One major goal of this volume is thus to provincialize Europe (Chakrabarty 2000) through a study of the institutions and practices that have accompanied its most concrete form: the European Union. A focus on Europe’s Southern periphery thus sheds light on how a certain conception of what it meant to be European – in the domains of economic organization, diplomatic practices, population transfers, knowledge production and religious beliefs – was constituted through the region’s interactions with North Africa, one of its historical “others”. By bringing together scholars from a variety of disciplines, we also hope to show that North African spaces and actors have actively contributed to the shaping of postwar Europe.
When analysing Europe’s current challenges, namely immigration and terrorism, observers have spoken of a “boomerang effect.” This terminology is of course rooted in a longer tradition that dates back to Hannah Arendt, Aimé Cesaire, and their invocation by Jean-Paul Sartre (1961). Yet if a boomerang goes between two places, bringing “home” an action carried out “over there,” this volume tries to show how the very coherence of Europe as a place, actor, or identity has emerged through interactions with its southern periphery. Rather than a boomerang, then, we might think of Europe’s interactions with North Africa using a musical analogy, as the production of certain chords. This operates both in the sense of a combination of notes that resonates outwards, and also indicates how a field of audition creates a geographical unit or borderland. The process is also iterative since North African responses often change the rules of composition. Etienne Balibar’s insights regarding France and Algeria, that they might not form two countries, but something like one and a half, can thus also be extended to the two shores of the Mediterranean (Balibar 1997).
If we seem to be witnessing a resurgence of nationalism that makes such regional units of analysis seem antiquated, it might be helpful to remind ourselves that there is no zero-sum game between the region and the nation-state. As comforting as the idea of a “return” to the nation-state may seem, this is a more of a nostalgic appeal, or even a “postcolonial melancholia”, than an actual policy proposal (Gilroy 2004). In British case, for example, decolonization saw the consolidation of a European identity that separated a “notion of imperialness from European-ness”, thereby giving rise to a Euroscepticism that was “impossible to separate form nostalgic neo-imperialism” (Grob-Fitzgibbon 2016: 7). Regardless of the future trajectory of the EU, the history of empire and understandings of “European-ness” are necessarily imbricated; after all, the “post” in post-colonial continues to be a source of contention (Spivak 1999). The history of empire has taught us that extreme nationalism – particularly when it takes the form of imperial expansion – exposes the constitutive violence that resides in liberalism’s dark underbelly (Pitts 2006). As Lilith Mahmud’s Conclusion to this volume so poignantly argues, what we are witnessing is nothing less than the reconfiguration of European politics and the crisis of liberalism. Many of the chapter this volume draw to our attention both to the limits of liberalism as well as Europe’s tendency to selectively invoke its central tenants. Subsequently, Mahmud’s reflections on how to decolonize our scholarly approach to the study of Europe reflects on how academic conventions have contributed to writing colonialism out of the making of Europe. In the face of aggressive nationalisms across the continent (and around the world), we hope that a focus on North Africa may offer an alternative imaginary of what it means to be European in the world today.