Ben Badis' Jews: Islamic Reform and Colonial Subjecthood in Interwar Algeria

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Averroës Lectures on Jewish Communities in Muslim Lands Lecture by Joshua Schreier (Vassar College)

Among Algeria’s interwar Muslim reformists, ‘Abd al-Hamid Ben Badis, the son of an old, notable family in Constantine, was the most prominent. Serving as editor of the journal al-Shihab which he published between 1925 and his death in 1940, he was a key figure in the articulation of a modern Arab-Muslim political identity that informed subsequent decades’ Algerian nationalism. As suggested by a number of articles in al-Shihab, this project involved not only reporting on events in Palestine, which recent scholarship has usefully addressed, but examining the meaning and place of Jews and Judaism in history—as well as how modern colonialism had transformed that place. So while Ben Badis gained notoriety for calming tensions between Jews and Muslims during several days of riots in Constantine in 1934, he also sought to understand and explain how French rule had transformed Jews, a longstanding component of Constantine’s Arab-Muslim society, into something different—and potentially threatening.

Joshua Schreier works at the intersection of Middle Eastern, Algerian, Jewish, and French histories. He is the author of Arabs of the Jewish Faith: The Civilizing Mission in Colonial Algeria (Rutgers, 2010) and The Merchants of Oran: A Jewish Port at the Dawn of Empire (Stanford, 2017). His scholarship looks at Algerian Jews in the first decades of the French occupation of Algeria, exploring how colonialism affected local commercial networks and alliances, how the occupiers turned to local notables for help and expertise, and how pre-colonial Jewish elites continued to exercise influence under the new order. More recently, his work has looked at how a century of colonialism had informed how Muslims and Jews understood their relationships to Algeria, France, and their shared North African history by the final three decades of colonial rule.

Joshua Schreier was raised in Boston and Baltimore. He received his BA from the University of Chicago and his MA and PhD from New York University. He teaches history at Vassar College.

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Published: Thursday, May 26, 2022