Medical Imperialism in French North Africa: Regenerating the Jewish Community of Colonial Tunis

Medical Imperialism in French North Africa: Regenerating the Jewish Community of Colonial Tunis

Medical Imperialism in French North Africa: Regenerating the Jewish Community of Colonial Tunis

Medical Imperialism in French North Africa: Regenerating the Jewish Community of Colonial Tunis

Synopsis

French-colonial Tunisia in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries witnessed shifting concepts of identity, including varying theories of ethnic essentialism, a drive toward "modernization," and imperialist interpretations of science and medicine. As French colonizers worked to realize ideas of a "modern" city and empire, they undertook a program to significantly alter the physical and social realities by which the people of Tunisia lived, often in ways that continue to influence life today.

Medical Imperialism in French North Africa demonstrates the ways in which diverse members of the Jewish community of Tunis received, rejected, or reworked myriad imperial projects devised to foster the social, corporeal, and moral "regeneration" of their community. Buttressed by the authority of science and medicine, regenerationist schemes such as urban renewal projects and public health reforms were deployed to destroy and recast the cultural, social, and political lives of Jewish colonial subjects. Richard C. Parks expands on earlier scholarship to examine how notions of race, class, modernity, and otherness shaped these efforts. Looking at such issues as the plasticity of identity, the collaboration and contention between French and Tunisian Jewish communities, Jewish women's negotiation of social power relationships in Tunis, and the razing of the city's Jewish quarter, Parks fills the gap in current literature by focusing on the broader transnational context of French actions in colonial Tunisia.

Excerpt

The benevolent colonizer can never attain the good, for his only choice is not
between good and evil, but between evil and uneasiness.

—ALBERT memmi, The Colonizer and the Colonized

In 1953 Albert Memmi published his first novel, La statue de sel (The Pillar of Salt), to widespread critical acclaim. the semiautobiographical account, set in the French Protectorate of Tunisia during and after World War ii, describes the coming-of-age struggles of Memmi’s doppelgänger, Alexandre Mordekhai Benillouche. Although the plotline of the novel is gripping, the value of Memmi’s work, as an intellectual and sociohistorical document, lies in the introspective, and often painful, soul-searching of the main character in his quest to define himself in a world of emerging colonial identity politics. As indicated by the character’s name (French-JewishTunisian), his persona is splintered among worlds that are increasingly at odds in French-occupied Tunisia. At one point Alexandre contemplates, “I’m a Jew! My home is in the ghetto [hara]; my legal status is native African. I’m poor. But I had learnt to reject these four classifications.” in fact, the polyvalent, overlapping worlds navigated by Alexandre Mordekhai Benillouche in The Pillar of Salt seem to flesh out and make real a world . . .

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