An Imperial Entanglement: Anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and Colonialism

Ethan B Katz. American Historical Review. Volume 123, Issue 4. October 2018.

In The Origins of Totalitarianism, Hannah Arendt argued that the rise of empires “would have necessitated the invention of racism” had it not already existed. Almost thirty years later, in Orientalism, Edward Said described his subject as the “strange, secret sharer of Western anti-Semitism” and its “Islamic branch.” For all the attention that both books have received, scholars of anti-Semitism have largely ignored the point where Arendt’s and Said’s remarks converge: the complex historical relationship between anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim racism, referred to here as Islamophobia, and the manner in which colonialism has proven crucial to their interwoven development. Anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and colonialism have rarely been treated in concert by scholars, especially historians.

To be sure, developments of the late twentieth and early twenty-first century have catalyzed a growing scholarship that considers anti-Semitism and Islamophobia in a single analytical frame. To date, analyses have fallen into two categories. The first is, in effect, the “replacement theory”: Muslims in contemporary Europe have become the “new Jews,” the former succeeding the latter as Europe’s emblematic “Other.” Secondly, in what we might call the “Orientalism school,” scholars emphasize the longer-term historical relationship between anti-Semitism and Orientalism or other strands of anti-Muslim thought, seeing exclusionary ideas about Jews and Muslims as, until at least the early twentieth century, overlapping currents within the same stream of nationalist or broader Western ideas.

Though they have been largely absent from the emerging conversation about anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, historians are positioned to make a critical set of interventions. A new paradigm is needed, one that neither treats anti-Semitism and Islamophobia in a strictly comparative fashion—as entirely separate phenomena with disparate ideologies and chronologies—nor collapses them as “secret sharers” into a larger story of Orientalism. The histories of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia constitute what we might call, paraphrasing Ari Joskowicz, an entangled history of Othering—a history that remains unwritten. Historians need to trace the precise ways in which anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, to borrow Joskowicz’s words, “became entangled, reinforced each other, and together shaped different modern visions of political belonging and progress.”

Entanglement constitutes a useful framework because it holds up simultaneously the deep interconnections between anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, on the one hand, and the fact that the two ideologies remained discrete, each with its own distinctive facets and trajectory, on the other. Fundamentally, the respective positions of Jews and Muslims in modern European history can be understood only by examining the two groups together. Just as it proved nigh impossible for policymakers, nationalist ideologues, and racial theorists not to think Jews and Muslims together, so too must it be for historians. In part, this is because not only was anti-Semitism entwined with Islamophobia, but it was also frequently facilitated through discourses of Islamophilia, or the valorization (however racialized) of Muslims. Likewise, anti-Muslim policies often occurred in combination with those that were philo-Semitic, in that they singled out Jews in a positive way. In short, when statesmen or polemicists set off one group from the other, they did so by evoking what Jews and Muslims had allegedly long shared in common.

Furthermore, integral to such a paradigm is the history of colonialism. Colonialism has received little attention in most accounts that see Muslims as the new Jews, while forming a vaguely omnipresent background for the Orientalism school. Yet the rise of overseas empires in the nineteenth century marked a crucial turning point in the histories of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, and of their interrelation. Through the lens of Christian theology and the claims of enlightened modernity, many European thinkers had long given Jews and Muslims disproportionate attention, and posited a close kinship between the two groups. There were important premodern instances when ideas and practices that were discriminatory toward Muslims and Jews became linked, from the Crusades, to the expulsions from Iberia, to the plays of Shakespeare. Nonetheless, it was the Enlightenment and the emergence of modern Western liberalism, nationalism, and, most directly, colonialism that brought anti-Semitism and Islamophobia to the fore and linked the two. From the late eighteenth to the mid-nineteenth century, the rise of liberalism, with its notions of individual rights, equality, and citizenship, was joined with that of nationalism, which at its core, David Bell has argued, constitutes a program for “casting… human raw material” into a unified sovereign body. Post-Enlightenment liberal and nationalist thinkers and policymakers both sought to flatten public differences and made distinctions according to ethnic origin, religion, class, and gender. Jews became Europe’s quintessential ethno-religious minority, widely perceived as in need of “regeneration” and secularization if they were to assume the duties of modern citizenship. By the early twentieth century, the high water of colonialism stressed differences and pressed questions of inclusion among a wider diversity of cultures in overseas territories.

With the imperial conquest of large parts of the Middle East, Africa, and Asia, Europeans suddenly had to govern and live among millions of Muslims, rather than simply imagining them. Though these Muslims’ Jewish neighbors were at one level more familiar to Europeans, they often looked very different from the Jews in mainland Europe. In language, attire, culinary habits, hygiene, skin color, and more, these Jews frequently resembled their Muslim neighbors as much in real life as they did in Orientalist racial thought. But colonial administrators and ethnographers attempted—here as elsewhere—to differentiate among the native population. They established policies of divide and rule and authored reams of “scientific” reports, struggling to establish clear categories such as “white,” “non-white,” “European,” “native,” “Jew,” “Muslim,” “Arab,” and “Berber.” In lands where Jews and Muslims had cohabited for centuries, the very articulation and hardening of such categories entailed the creation of sharper stereotypes and distinct policies regarding both groups. These stereotypes and policies relied on comparing Jews and Muslims to one another and to the “Europeans” of the mainland and the settler classes.

Moreover, colonial expansion catalyzed new linkages between European and so-called Eastern Jewish communities. For Jews, these connections carried both emancipatory potential and perilous optics. In the wake of the successful intervention of leading British and French Jewish personalities on behalf of their persecuted brothers and sisters in the 1840 Damascus Affair, the twinned developments of the Jewish “Eastern question” and international Jewish solidarity emerged. These took institutional form in 1860 with the founding of the Alliance israélite universelle (AIU) and its effort to facilitate equal citizenship and European culture and education for Jews across the Middle East, North Africa, and the Balkans. The AIU frequently set up schools in places with majority Muslim populations where France, Britain, and other leading European powers were establishing colonies or spheres of influence. The growing presence of the AIU had a paradoxical impact. The success of a particular Jewish “civilizing mission” in Muslim lands relied upon racial ideas about Jews as more assimilable to European culture than Muslims, at the same time that it fed anti-Semitic conspiracy theories about Jewish power as the surreptitious source of imperial conquest and oppression of Muslim natives.

As Dorian Bell argues, for anti-Semites, these developments had the virtue of bridging what had previously been largely disparate strands of economic and racial hatred against Jews: the first was reinforced by the stock character of the “Jewish colonial conspirator,” the second by the native Jews of Muslim lands, who appeared more non-white, primitive, and racially Other than their frequently bourgeois and integrated co-religionists on the mainland. Once again, the role of Muslims proved critical. For economic anti-Semites, the native Arab or Muslim—depicted as simple, law-abiding, faithful, patriotic, and naïve—was the perfect victim of the Jewish capitalists. European Jews, meanwhile, became far easier to racialize via the visible proximity of so many of their brothers and sisters across the Mediterranean to a Muslim culture that was widely perceived as foreign and exotic.

Entangled histories of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia in the colonial setting challenge scholarly assumptions in multiple fields. First, in modern Jewish history, as Jonathan Judaken argues in the introduction to this roundtable, such an approach places the treatment of Jews in wider historical contexts, and highlights the need to differentiate carefully between prejudice, discrimination, ideology, and systematic oppression. Second, these interwoven histories map a field of discourses and practices that transcend a persistent metropole-colony dyad in European history, wherein anti-Semitism has appeared to be exclusive to Europe proper, and anti-Muslim racism is confined to colonists in faraway lands. Rather, these discourses and practices—and increasingly the very Jews and Muslims who were their object—circulated constantly between metropole and colony. Further, the approach outlined here belies two interrelated conventions in the literature on Islamophobia: scholars frequently suggest that Islamophobia emerged only in the late twentieth century and emphasize essentializing prejudices toward Muslims in lieu of state policies or systems of oppression. In short, the character and scope of both Islamophobia and anti-Semitism become newly illuminated when we examine them side by side. In this manner, entanglement constitutes at once a descriptive and a methodological moniker.

The example of France and French North Africa, particularly Algeria, offers a striking illustration. In these territories, larger numbers of Jews and Muslims were housed together, for longer, than was the case anywhere else among Europe’s liberal nation-states and their empires. Moreover, France—the country of the Rights of Man, the mission civilisatrice, and violent colonial conquest on a large scale—struggled from the time of the French Revolution to define the nation, citizenship, equality, and liberty, at home and overseas. Jews and Muslims were frequently in the crosshairs. Focusing on the Francophone sphere has the added benefit of directing our gaze away from the question of Israel/Palestine, which looms so large in contemporary linkages between anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, and toward other dynamics that historically were often more central.

In the French orbit, the place of Jews and Muslims was never equivalent. The two groups constituted foils for each other, but in a paradoxical manner. At the level of electoral politics and intellectual discourse, among the French settler classes, anti-Semitism was a widely endorsed program, central to a worldview that was openly hostile to the premises and legal protections of liberal democracy. Anti-Semites treated Jews as wicked, corrosive, and dangerously powerful; rhetorically, they employed an Islamophilia that positioned Muslims as Jews’ more positive Semitic twin. Yet in government policy, the positions of the two groups were—with the important exception of the Vichy period—reversed: Islamophobia was a legally encoded assumption crucial to the colonial enterprise. Moreover, the very position that most Algerian Jews enjoyed after 1870 as equal French citizens depended directly on philo-Semitic comparisons, between the allegedly hopeless backwardness and all-consuming religiosity of Muslims and the steady progress toward civilization on the part of what one French administrator termed “Arabs of the Jewish faith.”

Any effort to understand the mechanics of entanglement between anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and colonialism would do well to begin with the documentary traces of this as yet unwritten history. Three historical fragments from key moments in France and French North Africa (the 1880s, World War I, and World War II and the Holocaust) offer highly suggestive starting points. These fragments are exemplary in at least two ways. First, they are all ostensibly more about anti-Semitism than Islamophobia. Yet on closer examination, each document reveals that an emphasis on Jews is embedded within a larger context, wherein the inferiority, opaqueness, and violence of Islam and Muslims are widely assumed. Second, the fragments show how debating the place of Muslims and Jews has repeatedly been a way of debating the contours of French and European civilization.

In the opening pages of his 1886 bestseller La France juive, the French anti-Semitic polemicist Edouard Drumont spoke of a longstanding racial struggle between Aryans and Semites, a group in which he included Arabs (interchangeable for him with Muslims). The Jew, Drumont claimed, had replaced with trickery the “noisy invasions” and “armed hordes” of centuries past, like the Moors halted by Charles Martel. It is unsurprising that Drumont treated Jews as clever conspirators spreading their tentacles across all fields of power. What is striking is the way he highlighted Jews’ negative characteristics; the implicit doppelganger of the Jew is the Muslim barbarian at the gates of Europe, vanquished long ago and giving way to the less visible but equally menacing designs of his Semitic sibling.

At the start of the second volume of La France juive, Drumont turned greater attention to Jews and Arabs as he focused on Algeria. Here he attacked Adolphe Crémieux and the “Crémieux Decree,” the act of October 1870 that made Algerian Jews French citizens en masse. Drumont contended that Crémieux, despite knowing that the decree would provoke Muslim unrest, could not resist the opportunity that defeat in the Franco-Prussian War had afforded him to assist his Jewish brethren. This decision not only reignited the Arabs’ primordial hatred of the Jews but was patently unjust. “While the Arabs were fighting for us,” Drumont claimed, “the Jews, on the contrary, were applauding our defeats with the most indecent cynicism.” Crémieux’s act of treason, he wrote, had been the cause of the 1871 Al-Muqrani Revolt, a fierce if brief guerrilla uprising in the northern mountainous region of Kabylia led by local Muslim sheiks.

But Drumont did not merely revive this longstanding anti-Semitic canard popular among many Algerian colonial settlers. He asserted: “Opposite the sneaky Jew like Crémieux, who betrayed the country that was entrusted to him, we must place the noble and loyal figure of our valiant enemy Sidi Mohamed Ben Ahmed el Mokrani.” Al-Muqrani, Drumont noted, had served France as long as it was at war with Prussia, initiating the revolt only after the war ended. The leader of an anticolonial rebellion thus became the embodiment of the formidable, upright warrior, the inverse of the surreptitious, unknowable Jew who behaved like a statesman one day and betrayed his country the next. Following the Crémieux Decree, the Jews had become “the absolute masters of the country,” carrying out the financial ruin and exploitation of native Muslims. According to Drumont, the latter were sober, modest, and generous. In short, Muslims were the “good Semites” whose specific virtues contrasted with the physical and moral depravity, materialism, corruption, greed, and oppressive nature of the Jew.

Drumont’s was hardly a solitary voice. He directly cited prior Arabophile accounts such as Louis Serre’s 1873 Les Arabes martyrs: Étude sur l’insurrection de 1871 en Algérie. Drumont’s notion of Semites drew upon Ernest Renan and other Orientalists who posited a linguistic-racial group that included Jews and Arabs and traced its origins to Western Asia. But whereas Renan lauded Judaism’s achievements, regarded the “Israelites” of his time as having transcended their Semitic heritage, and took a far dimmer view of Islam and Muslims, Drumont inverted the hierarchy. Here he strongly echoed French psychologist Gustave Le Bon in the latter’s 1884 work La civilisation des Arabes. Le Bon condemned the Jews but praised Arab civilization for its rare retention of the traditional fundaments of society. A year after the appearance of La France juive, Georges Meynié published L’Algérie juive, which was dedicated to Drumont, and which offered its own opposition between Jews, whom Meynié portrayed as dishonest, rootless, and a threat to the lifeblood of the nation, and Arabs, whom he presented as primitive, brave, and loyal to France.

Drumont’s virulent anti-Semitism aligned as well with the emerging far right “Latinist” movement in Algeria. According to the latter, France was the new Rome, restoring Algeria to its proper place in the European imperial orbit, opposed by the primitiveness and barbarity of Arab civilization. The settlers were the vanguard of a new “Latin” Mediterranean race. The Latinists saw the Crémieux Decree as a disturbing affront, for Algerian Jews’ citizenship blurred the hierarchy of colonizers and colonized that underpinned the imperial enterprise. This anxiety was particularly acute among those who had immigrated to Algeria from southern Europe; anti-Semitism became a way for these newcomers to assert their claim to belong to the “Latins of Africa.”

For many of these settlers, Drumont’s attacks on Jews constituted the linchpin of a larger politics. Like other conservative anti-Semites, Drumont, a devout Catholic, was deeply hostile to the anticlericalism of the “Opportunist” supporters of the early Third Republic and the democratic values of the French Revolution. Going so far as to allege falsely that republican leader Léon Gambetta was Jewish, Drumont associated Jews with all the evils of the republicans’ democratic, secular, and egalitarian vision of France. Likewise, Drumont’s anti-Semitism was linked to his criticisms of French empire. He exploited widespread perceptions that the French invasion of Tunisia in 1881 had been the result of financial and political schemes orchestrated by Jews in France and Tunisia. This enabled him to portray Jews across the Mediterranean as bound together within a single power-thirsty international entity that simultaneously embodied the worst fears of both economic and racial anti-Semitism. Thus in the imperial landscape, Drumont and other anti-Semites did not always treat Jews as simply a racially inferior colonized group. Rather, they sometimes attacked Jews via a critique of empire itself, branding colonization as a mistake brought on by what Dorian Bell contends became a stock character of public scandal and popular literature—”the colonially conspiring Jew.”

In these contexts, particularly following the Crémieux Decree, Algeria became the setting both for utopian fantasies of a traditionalist, hierarchical society that would restore the glory of European civilization, and for dystopian nightmares about Jews controlling French imperial policies and acting powerfully in international concert. By this time, the territory was substantially annexed to France and had a large European settler population. Much more than in the mainland, anti-Semitism found political success in Algeria, becoming integral in many local elections by the late nineteenth century. Algeria was the site of the worst anti-Semitic violence during the Dreyfus Affair (1894–1906). In 1898, elected to the National Assembly, Drumont himself became one of four anti-Semitic deputies among Algeria’s six parliamentary representatives. During the same period, Islamophilia surged in concert with anti-Semitism. Politicians such as Max Régis and newspapers including L’Antijuif algérien in Oran and Drumont’s La Libre parole repeatedly called for “the solidarity of the French and the Arabs” against the Jews.

The entanglement of Jews and Muslims in the rhetoric of Drumont and his fellow travelers was the mirror opposite of that found in the register of policy. In a series of official reports, government-commissioned studies, and ethnographies across the nineteenth century, French officers and social scientists consistently depicted the Arab Muslim population of Algeria as incompatible with French modernity and morality. This critique took many forms. Islam was by turns impenetrable and mysterious, hostile to science, and immutably bound to a set of Quranic laws; Muslims were violent by nature, sexually immoral and primitive, and “fatalistic” in their dependence upon Allah, making them lazy and dishonest. Some saw the French conquest as the reclamation of a part of Roman Christendom from the oppressive yoke of Islam, while others concentrated on Islam’s incapacity to adapt to French laïcité. What all these critiques shared was an insistence that Islam itself was the problem.

Many of the same writings fashioned what scholars call the “Kabyle myth”: the idea that the Berbers of Algeria, particularly their largest group, the Kabyles of the northern mountains, were very different from the Arabs. Kabyles were individualistic, hardworking, democratic, similar in their customs and family life to the French, and possibly assimilable. Racially, the Kabyles were European and potentially white. The underlying explanation for all these dichotomies was that the Kabyles’ Islam was superficial and surmountable, unlike that of the religiously fanatical Arabs.

For Jews, too, disassociation from Islam proved crucial. Beginning in the 1840s, Jewish and non-Jewish advocates for Algerian Jewish rights portrayed a contrast between the increasingly bourgeois, French-inflected education, religious practices, hygiene, and gender norms of Algeria’s Jews and the backward, cloistered, primitive existence of Muslims. They further claimed that the former, unlike the latter, were prepared to abandon the jurisdiction of their traditional religious law and become French citizens.

Indeed, while the bestowing of Jewish citizenship in 1870 embodied the egalitarian promise of France and its empire, the contrasting position of Muslims revealed the interdependent nature of citizenship for some and subject status for others. According to the 1865 senatus-consulte, all “indigènes” (the legal category for indigenous inhabitants) who sought French citizenship had to go before a judge and renounce their “personal status” under Jewish or Islamic law. With the Crémieux Decree, however, the category of indigènes became split along ethno-religious lines: Jews were made citizens, and Islam became the singular impediment for those who were not. At the same moment, Algeria came under French civil control. In the following decades, French administrators and colonial settlers dismembered indigenous social institutions and imposed crushing tax burdens. Violence against Muslims, integral to the French conquest since its outset, remained endemic. In 1881, the French instituted the code de l’indigénat, consisting of thirty-three harsh prohibitions imposed only on Muslims. With the nationality law of 1889, in part designed to counteract the Crémieux Decree, Italian, Maltese, Spanish, and other European immigrants to Algeria became full French citizens; the law explicitly forbade “Muslim indigènes” from enjoying this right.

Thus the late nineteenth century not only witnessed the rise of an ideologically and sometimes physically violent anti-Semitism, but it also saw Islamophobia become legally encoded and institutionalized. By 1885, even for an avowed racist like Drumont, depicting Muslims as Jews’ positive twins was risk-free. When he claimed that “one would not have been half-shocked” had Muslims been enfranchised following their service in the Franco-Prussian War, it was fifteen years after the war, and the prospect of such reform seemed remote. Rather, Islamophilia cleverly served the ultimate ends of Drumont’s anti-Semitic worldview. By comparing Muslims favorably to Jews, he linked assimilated French Jews racially to Muslims, whose inequality and foreignness went virtually unquestioned on both sides of the Mediterranean. The comparison enabled Drumont to reinscribe the Otherness of Jews and police the boundaries of authentic Frenchness.

The right-wing politics of fin-de-siècle France and Algeria may be understood in part as a conservative effort to disaggregate both nationalism and colonialism from liberalism. A generation later, the Great War would do much the opposite, highlighting more than ever the tensions between these three forces. In the Third Republic, military service was a mandatory civic rite of passage, the “school of the fatherland” required of all able-bodied males. Beginning less than ten years after the Dreyfus Affair, the war offered Jews of France and Algeria an opportunity to cement their integration into the nation via the very institution that had been the site first of Dreyfus’s rapid advance, and then of his disgrace through false charges of treason. Jews, along with Catholics and Protestants, became part of France’s constantly invoked wartime “sacred union.” Nonetheless, various groups—from France’s Russian Jewish immigrants to the Jews of Tunisia—were attacked, sometimes physically, for allegedly shirking their military duty, and more than 150 anti-Semitic publications appeared in France during the war.

Meanwhile, for the first time, France called upon considerable manpower from its empire: more than 800,000 colonized subjects, almost half of them Muslims from North Africa, served in the French forces or worked as laborers in support of the war effort. Throughout the war, French officials worried about the loyalty of Muslim soldiers. The army endeavored to meet their presumed religious needs, from halal food to copies of the Quran, and constantly monitored their morale. Often focusing on Islamic religious and family practices, legislators in Paris debated whether Muslim soldiers were capable of becoming French citizens. The wartime duty of military service consequently pointed up the tensions between France’s ideal of liberal, democratic citizenship and the hierarchies and exclusions that underpinned imperial rule.

It was in this context that a second fragment appeared: a lengthy confidential memo of November 1916 from Gabriel Alapetite, the French resident-general in Tunisia. This document reveals how entangled accounts of Jews and Muslims continued to lay bare the contradictions of modern France. The resident-general wrote in response to the suggestion of the French war minister that Tunisian Jews, who had previously been exempted from conscription, might be included in the 1917 recruitment class.

Having heard, and objected to, proposals to grant French citizenship to Tunisian Muslim soldiers, Alapetite presumed that for Jews, conscription would also equal a path to citizenship. He thus wrote that the French regime in Tunisia faced a choice: “If we orient ourselves… toward an extension of the Crémieux Decree to [Tunisia], this would be to accept the obligation going forward of containing the Muslim population only by force; this would be exchanging the faithfulness of important and proven [Muslim] military contingents for a [Jewish] secondary force [that seems] mediocre in every regard.” Jews, according to Alapetite, were isolated, refused to help the French cause, and preyed financially on Muslims. Granting citizenship to Jews would give them political power, the only thing they lacked, and thus enable them to “enslave the Muslim natives.” Militarily, the Jews were cowards who would jeopardize what had thus far been the good soldierly conduct of Muslims.

Alapetite’s account, with an economic and racial anti-Semitism nourished by Islamophilia, mimics much of the logic of Drumont’s from three decades earlier. Jewish disloyalty, cowardice, and greed sharply contrast with a paternalistic image of the patriotism, prowess, and decency, but also potential barbarity, of Muslims. But Alapetite was no polemicist attacking the republic. He was a career civil servant and a committed republican who believed deeply in the protectorate model of governance and prioritized social peace. His assumptions simultaneously described the hostility, parasitism, and power of the colonially conspiring Jew vis-à-vis Muslims; this reflected both a measure of discursive continuity from the era of Drumont and a moment of imperial crisis. With the manpower of the colonized needed to win what the French constantly dubbed “a war to save civilization,” anxiety ran high about how to maintain the empire’s constantly shifting categories and manage the tensions between universalism and hierarchy. Numerous French officials struggled with fears and aspirations regarding Jews’ and Muslims’ wartime roles and relations. Furthermore, the resident-general’s reference to the Crémieux Decree reveals its haunting effect across the region as an act of entanglement. With Jews’ and Muslims’ racial and legal statuses interrelated, an anti-Semitic litany became an opportunity to underscore the anti-Muslim racism fundamental to the colonial regime’s rigid hierarchies.

By the 1930s, ideas like Alapetite’s were no longer confined to confidential government memos. They had reentered mainstream political discourse. Economic downturn, political stasis, and cultural malaise combined to produce an acute sense of crisis across much of France and its empire. In light of the period’s waves of immigrants, colonial migrants, and eventually refugees, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia both increased, most notably on the nascent far right. The newfound large-scale presence of North African Muslim workers in the metropole—more than 100,000 by the late 1930s—meant that ideologies that were exclusionary of Jews and Muslims became more widespread and interconnected on both sides of the Mediterranean. In the mainland, the most successful extreme right groups were the Croix-de-Feu (CF) and the Parti populaire français (PPF). In Algeria, CF and PPF branches competed alongside popular settler movements such as the Unions latines and Amitiés latines. By this time, the latter groups had taken up the banner of a distinct “Algerianist” racial identity, opposing the republican government in Paris and calling for autonomy or even independence.

For these activists, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia became more tightly entangled in the face of Jewish-Muslim political alliance. The Front populaire (FP) government, elected in May 1936 with Léon Blum, a proud Jew and leader of the Socialist Party, at its head, elicited substantial Muslim support. It proposed the “Blum-Viollette Plan” for the enfranchisement of 21,000 Algerian Muslims. From 1936 to 1938, particularly in Algeria, far right activists engaged in savage, often physical attacks against Jews, at the same time that they fiercely opposed legal equality for even a small number of Muslims. In this era, anti-communism further linked anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. On the one hand, leaders of leagues such as the CF accused the communists and FP—whom they depicted as agents of international Jewry—of infiltrating and teaming with Muslims to try to throw off imperial rule. On the other hand, the same far right groups employed Islamophilic rhetoric in efforts to rally Muslims around the causes of anti-Semitism and anti-communism.

Far right efforts to recruit Muslim supporters reflected the ways in which, even as Jews and Muslims were each frequent foils for notions of “true France,” their fates in the 1930s were entangled, not equivalent. Muslims were by definition of a status markedly inferior to that of Jews, both legally and racially. For anti-Semites, Jews were more actively threatening and difficult to detect than Muslims, because of their citizenship, integration, frequently “white” appearance, and relatively small numbers.

With the fall of France in 1940, the German occupation of the northern half of the country, and the establishment of the authoritarian, anti-Semitic Vichy regime in the south, efforts to pit Muslim against Jew took on new ferocity. Anti-Semitism became not only a political program but an escalating set of government policies. Jews in the mainland were classified as “non-Aryans” and faced relentless, ultimately lethal persecution. In Algeria, all Jews were stripped of French citizenship, which fulfilled one of the longstanding demands of the likes of Drumont and the Latinists. Meanwhile, it appeared to many that France’s bargaining position and future grandeur rested on retaining the empire. This hence became the apogee of the concept of the Muslim as the “good Semite.” While still lacking citizenship, Muslims were racially akin to “Aryans.” Vichy, the Nazis, and collaborationist parties all courted Muslim support. One of the primary strategies remained the deployment of Muslim-directed anti-Semitism.

It was in this environment that Mohamed El Maadi, the author of a final illustrative fragment, came to the fore. A number of Muslims chose collaboration during World War II, but few did so as ardently or with such a clearly expressed worldview as El Maadi. El Maadi was a veteran of the extreme right in the 1930s, most notably as a founder of the association Algérie française. Competing directly with the nascent Algerian independence movement, this group sought to align Algerian Muslims with French rule and the ideology of the extreme right, including anti-Semitism. The latter was long essential to El Maadi’s effort to assert his and his Muslim followers’ nationalist bona fides; historian Joshua Cole has recently discovered highly suggestive evidence that El Maadi may even have played a leading role in several murders of Jewish individuals and families during the 1934 riots between Muslims and Jews in Constantine.

Under the occupation, El Maadi became an unceasing advocate of Nazi collaboration among his fellow Muslims. In 1944 he published L’Afrique du nord, terre d’histoire, in which he detailed his outlook and program. El Maadi blamed many of North Africa’s historical and current troubles on Jews (“the veritable masters”). He repeatedly used the term “Judeo-Anglo-American” to describe the “seizure,” “occupation,” and ongoing “dictatorship” of North Africa.

El Maadi did not simply repeat anti-Semitic stereotypes. He sought to turn Islamophobic ones such as physical barbarity and primitiveness in a new direction, and in the process transform North African Muslims from good Semites into good Europeans. When discussing the challenging terrain of Africa for the European, he declared: “Only a single white man is capable of breaking through in the humid and hot equatorial forest; only one will be able to reclaim and prepare this land for European industry. This man is the North African Muslim. This Arab-Berber… will form, whether you like it or not, the avant-garde of the European penetration in Africa.”

Novel though it might seem, El Maadi’s formulation drew upon prior sources. It echoed nineteenth-century notions such as Renan’s view that although Semites were unequal to Aryans, they too were racially white. More specifically, El Maadi both borrowed and inverted various ideologies of the Algerian settler classes. In his vision of how North Africa would be reclaimed for Europe, rather than the “Latins of Africa,” he looked to what we might call the “Arab-Berbers of Europe,” while depicting them in terms reminiscent of the Kabyle myth. Simultaneously, his account echoed Muslim nationalist and ulama movements of the 1930s that had countered colonialist arguments by valorizing a single, unified “Arab Islamic civilization.”

Throughout El Maadi’s transmutation of Islamophobic stereotypes into Islamic attributes and his transplantation of Arabs and Berbers from the Maghreb to Europe, Jews played an integral role. He insisted that the 1934 anti-Jewish violence in Constantine—widely perceived as in part a Muslim attack on French colonialism—actually constituted a pro-French “pogrom.” Most explicitly, he declared, “We Muslims, we fight on the side of Europe; our liberation depends on its victory, which will purge the world of the bloody Jewry.” For El Maadi, the entanglement of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia set the two ideologies, and Jews and Muslims, utterly at odds.

It is difficult to assess how widely El Maadi’s ideas were disseminated. While the initial print run for L’Afrique du Nord was a modest 510 copies, El Maadi appears to have had a larger following. In late 1943 and 1944, Paris police estimated that El Maadi’s party, the Comité musulman de l’Afrique du Nord, had several thousand members, and put the print run of the party’s newspaper, Er Rachid, which El Maadi edited, at 25,000. Several hundred Muslims joined other pro-collaboration, anti-Semitic groups in the course of the occupation. Like El Maadi, such groups embraced a muscular Islamic politics that mirrored the fears about Muslims articulated in the Islamophobia of the preceding decade.

The histories of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia are entangled in multiple ways. In particular, this entanglement has been characterized by proximity, opposition, and simultaneity. Proximity denotes how Jews and Muslims were seen and depicted as similar, often as fellow “Semites.” Particularly for state officials such as Alapetite, this perceived kinship, and its frequent instability in the face of the rise of empires and Great Power politics, aroused anxieties about racial boundaries and hierarchies that helped to fuel the development of both Islamophobia and anti-Semitism. Opposition refers to two different phenomena. The first is the widely held assumption of mutual hostility between Jews and Muslims (frequently posited by the very intellectual and political actors who depicted the two groups as blood relatives), but it also signals that anti-Semitism and Islamophobia were not necessarily complementary sets of ideologies and practices in the colonial context. Rather, in the hands of writers such as Drumont, the image and place of one group could be promoted at the expense of the other. Finally, simultaneity points up how Jews and Muslims in the same time and place have frequently faced different forms of racial discrimination or oppression. The precise character of Islamophobia and anti-Semitism can thus become far clearer when we examine the groups’ positions as entangled. This approach has implications far beyond France and its North African empire: it could fruitfully be brought to bear on other imperial and postcolonial settings as well, from British Palestine, to tsarist Russia, to Germany under National Socialism and in the postwar era.

Finally, entangled histories of anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and colonialism have major implications for our understanding of the broader historical relationship of both Jews and Muslims to European racism. Despite its distinctiveness in the history of modern Europe, anti-Semitism, even when articulated most vociferously, has often been only one of multiple racisms at play in the very rhetoric, program, or policies most explicitly targeting Jews. Thus this group of documents focused most evidently upon Jews forces one to take Islamophobia seriously as a longstanding historical phenomenon. Meanwhile, Jews and Muslims have never simply been fellow victims of European racism. Rather, both groups sometimes exercised agency as each sought to exploit exclusionary discourses and practices directed at the other group. Such instances range from the role of Jews in the debates over citizenship for the indigenous in nineteenth-century Algeria, to the choices of Muslims under Vichy and the German occupation. Furthermore, by examining Islamophobia alongside anti-Semitism, we can both historicize and relativize the development of Islamophobia in contemporary Europe. Today’s Islamophobia is inseparable from a colonial past. But for all of its ferocity, it remains far more contested and less systematic than the regime instituted more than a century ago in French Algeria. Placing the history of anti-Semitism alongside that of other exclusionary ideologies and practices thus alters our perspective not only on anti-Semitism, but also on other forms of marginalization.