Algeria: Islam and the Politics of Resistance in Algeria, 1783-1992

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Islam and the Politics of Resistance in Algeria, 1783-1992, by Ricardo Rene Laremont. Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press, 2000. xiv + 226 pages. Append. to p. 227. Notes to p. 259. Bibl. to p. 275. Index to p. 291. $21.95.

Reviewed by Yahia H. Zoubir

In the book under review, Ricardo Rene Laremont, a new scholar on Algeria, has addressed an important theme in the field of North African studies. The objective of the author, as denoted in the title of the book, is to underscore the role that Islam has played in mobilizing resistance to oppression and that "politicized Islam has had manifold expressions ranging from liberalism to theocracy to socialism" (p. ix). The author does a remarkable job in demonstrating the role of Islam in opposing France's attempts to destroy the cultural and religious identity of Algerians, especially during Algeria's colonial period from 1830 to 1962.

In the first chapter, the author discusses how Islamic reformers and Islamic revolutionaries alike challenged Arab regimes and sought to upset the status quo when those regimes failed to deliver on their promises. Throughout the book, the author shows convincingly that the concept of substantive justice, as opposed to formal justice, "drives most 'fundamentalist' Muslim political movements" (p. 8).

With respect to Algeria, Laremont argues that, in fact, Islam "played a consistent and central role in the stimulation of political movements for over two centuries," that is, during Ottoman rule, well before French colonization (p. 27). To that effect, he reviews various Sufi brotherhoods (zawiyas), such as the Qadiriyya, to which Emir Abdel Qadir belonged. Laremont contends that the Qadiriyya brotherhood's ideology rested on four components: an appeal for jihad (holy war) to oppose foreign aggression; a pledge to establish a socially just and egalitarian community; the institution of shari'a law; and the nomination or election of a political leader who enjoys the highest moral standards and knows shari'a law well (p. 36). Indeed, when France invaded Algeria, Emir Abdel Qadir followed a path of resistance based on religious values, justice, and egalitarianism.

Laremont points out that the French denied Algerians any political rights. Not only did French colonialism impoverish Algerians, but it also denied them religious rights by imposing administrative control over mosques and by destroying the Islamic educational system. Far from being passive, Muslim Algerians carried out religious, cultural, and political resistance. For instance, they practiced Islam outside the mosques controlled by the French, especially in the zawiyas (p. 49).

In chapter four (pp. 57-102), Laremont provides a lengthy discussion of the development of the nationalist movement. His main objective is to underline the important role that Muslim clerics played in that movement. In his view, the Association of the Ulama', which replaced the Sufi brotherhoods as the main religious association partaking in politics, "helped reestablish Islam and Arabic as the cultural bases of Algerian nationalism" (p. …