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  • History of Algerian immigration to France by E. Blanchard
  • Marine Haddad
Blanchard E.,, 2018, Histoire de l'immigration algérienne en France [History of Algerian immigration to France], Paris, Éditions de la Découverte, 128 pages.

In this short book, Emmanuel Blanchard manages to give a complete summary of the migration history linking Algeria to France, problematizing the subject despite not having the space in the given format to study all important aspects in detail. The author's own analyses and those from the key works of Benjamin Stora and Gilbert Meynier are supplemented with insights from research done in the last decade. Blanchard takes full account of the complexity of the subject and draws on a wide-ranging bibliography that will be of use to readers in search of more extensive analyses.

Immigrants from Algeria have been the target of hostile representations and practices from the moment sizeable numbers of them began arriving in metropolitan France. Yet the greatest share of immigrants on French soil since the 1980s have been Algerian-born, and France is by far the first-choice destination of Algerian emigrants. The chronological spans indicated in the chapter titles remain somewhat flexible, enabling the author to highlight instead a number of themes, though this does obscure some historical changes. He takes us from pre-1914 colonial migration to the public treatment of families and young people from 1960 to 1990, all the while discussing the themes of uprootedness, attitudes to Islam, politicization, and the image of the 'immigrant worker'.

Chapter 1 focuses on the longstanding ties between North Africa and Europe and the role of Islam as a main driver of immigration while pointing out the difficulties involved in quantitatively assessing the earliest migrant flows. Blanchard shows how colonization initially triggered internal immigration—a kind of first stage in a trajectory that would bring migrants to metropolitan France. Internal movements were tightly controlled by the colonial authorities, as were departures from Algeria to France or other Muslim countries. Nonetheless, at moments when indigenous resistance to colonial exploitation and expropriation was particularly strong, the authorities occasionally turned to emigration as a kind of social safety valve.

Chapter 2 analyses how immigration evolved from the 1910s to the 1930s, highlighting the role of World War I, to which Algeria contributed one of the most considerable numbers of men. The country was also made to support the war effort economically, through the sale of grain at reduced prices and direct taxation. The effect of skimming off Algerian resources was to fully disorganize life in rural Algeria and throw local populations into what would prove persistent poverty, opening the way for massive departures. Algerians recruited as manual workers during the war experienced extremely difficult living and working conditions. However, migrating was also a way of escaping the most brutal forms of colonial domination and a strategy for attaining a better life in Algeria after the return trip. At the end of the war, however, these immigrants were perceived on the mainland as 'unassimilable', and tensions rose after the media covered a number of incidents. New arrangements [End Page 564] for controlling and monitoring arrivals were put in place but proved unable to contain the rise of illegal immigration.

Chapter 3, covering the period from the 1930s to the 1960s, discusses debates on the practice of Islam. The author shows how diversity in individual trajectories is reflected in the opposition between an appreciation for rigorist Islam—a view accentuated by immigration—and the idea that it would be desirable to destroy the foundations of traditional religiosity, also clarifying how difficult it is to apprehend the material and moral aspects of religion. On the one hand, French policy during the interwar period and later during the Algerian nationalist mobilizations worked to politicize Islam, thereby making it of great importance to immigrants. On the other, immigrants often became more lax in their religious practices, while some stopped practising altogether.

Chapter 4 recounts how Algerians participated in political mobilizations from the 1920s to the 1980s. Emigration played a key role in defining the Algerian community. Political mobilization was weak initially, but that changed with the founding of the Section Française...


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