- L'Algérie et la France: deux siècles d'histoire croisée by Gilbert Meynier
This short but wonderfully rich volume, published just months before the death of the author, provides an incisive analysis of the historical evolution of the relationship between France and Algeria, explaining how both pre-colonial and colonial factors combined to shape contemporary Algerian politics and French mythologies of the nation. Presented as an 'essai de synthèse historique', the volume culminates in a call for the co-operation of French and Algerian scholars in the production of a textbook that, like recent Franco-German publications in the 'Histoire/Geschichte' series (Klett: Berlin), might establish the basis of 'une histoire à deux voix conciliées surmontant un contentieux historique plus que séculaire' (p. 58). The volume exemplifies, in this way, the long-standing scholarly engagement of Gilbert Meynier, whose important contributions to the field of Franco-Algerian history have sought to demystify the colonial past — in all its violence and injustice — in the service of those living on either side of the Mediterranean in the present day. Certainly, the violence and injustice of what Meynier refers to as 'le système colonial' (p. 19) are laid bare in this volume, as the author follows a preliminary overview of colonial historiography (Part One) — and its attendant 'fantasmes narcissistes du [End Page 636] nationalisme français' (p. 12) — with a concise summary of the brutal realities of military oppression and regime of legal exclusion (Part Two). This summary not only provides a clear picture of the apparatus of colonial rule, but serves as historical explanation for the form and direction taken by Algerian nationalists in the twentieth century, examined in Part Four. In underlining the colonial system's repeated failure to allow possibilities for social and political transformation, Meynier effectively explains the constrained choices of Algerian reformists and the decision of nationalists, before and after independence, to promote the violent defence of Islamo-Arabism. For Meynier, these choices, however constrained, must also be seen as a legacy of a longer-term history of specific local dynamics, characterized by a conception of community that links people to 'un territoire, et non à un groupe humain' (p. 32). The repeated attempts of the inhabitants of Algeria to defend their territories from external incursion in the pre-colonial era are explored in Part Three of the volume, and presented by Meynier as contributing to local reactions to subsequent French domination. The question of Algerian 'exceptionalism' or insularity has been revived in recent scholarship, particularly in North America and the United Kingdom, where historians have underlined the risks of such a perception and sought to resituate Algeria within a global or transnational frame of analysis. While Meynier limits himself here to the Franco-Algerian dimension of this wider set of dynamics, he does not deny the possibility that Algerians' 'double identification' — 'vers leur Est islamoarabe et vers leur Nord français' — may also be productively read as, 'une triple ou une multiple conscience' (p. 57). If the collaborative scholarly work for which he calls comes to fruition, there is certainly a case for it being equally multifaceted.