- Document 1:Code de l’esclavage chez les Musulmans
The Code de l’esclavage chez les musulmans, which appeared as an appendix in Eugène Daumas, Le Grand désert, first published in 1848, is a text which deserves special attention.1 The text allegedly is a translation into French of Muslim legal pronouncements on the institution of slavery.2 In fact, however, its authenticity is open to question. Rather, the “code” is a testimony of the reciprocal mental block in which the colonizers and the colonized found themselves in the colonial context of Algeria. The text is a blatant anachronism: It was published in the same year the abolition decree was promulgated in Algeria, that is, 1848. The compilation of the text at hand itself took place at a time when discussions about the abolition of slavery were raging among abolitionists and anti-abolitionists in the colony and in France. The text as published in the Grand désert in its first edition and subsequently does not say anything about its origins, suggesting that the authors of the Grand désert were the ones who compiled it. However, it might also be thought to be a compilation of notes gathered from the Arab bureaux offices throughout Algeria, as was the case of the main text of the book, according to Magali Morsy.3 In reality, the text was published in Revue de l’Orient a few months before the publication of the book.4 According to the introduction of the text, the code was actually commissioned specifically for the Grand désert, and was authored by an anonymous scholar, a ṭālib, who was versed in Islamic law.5 While there is no mention of the specific questions asked by the colonial authorities for the text, the ṭālib supposedly
collected prescriptions extracted from Sīdī Khalīl, and other Muslim scholars, whose decisions are binding among his coreligionists. He gathered a complete corpus, composing a true code of slavery among [End Page 7] Muslims, a title which fits it well, especially, and in spite of its special character in the surface, it can be applied to all the parts of the Orient, ruled by Qurʾān.6
Clearly, Muslim scholars were not asked to comment on the debate around the abolition of slavery, but they were urged to discuss the very legality of slavery. There is some anachronism in this approach since Tunisia, the eastern neighbor of the French possession, was engaged in abolitionist discourse since 1841. Aḥmad Bey actually issued decrees abolishing the slave trade and slavery, using Islamic frames of reference, in Tunisia before the publication of the Code.7 Colonial authorities in Algeria were aware of these developments but considered the Tunisian example impossible to apply to Algeria precisely because of the colonial context.8 However, the subject is ignored in Daumas’ and Chancel’s Code de l’esclavage.
The authors of Grand désert represented different poles of the colonial establishment. Daumas was a notorious military officer of the colonial army. He was the representative of France in the short-lived state of Amīr ʿAbd al-Qādir.9 He also held different positions in military combat, and perhaps most important in terms of the Code, he was the director of the Arab bureaux established by the military administration to collect information, manage the occupation, and rule the newly conquered territories. He published several books that used the information collected by the Arab bureaux, including Grand désert. Because of his proximity to the conquered population, Daumas (and the military in general) interpreted their role as protecting the interests of the subjugated territory, even as the French regime stripped away freedoms, land, and civil rights. From this perspective, Daumas argued for the maintenance of slavery in Algeria, and, for the long run, he advanced a scheme for the gradual abolition of slavery. He was also concerned about trade between the French possessions in North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa, which is why he did not oppose a continuation of the slave trade.10
Ausone de Chancel was a civilian and a representative of the French settlers who had...