Tag: French History

The Other Intellectuals: A Conversation with Daniel Steinmetz-Jenkins About Raymond Aron and International Order

Raymond Aron represents one of the most important intellectuals to take stock of the global situation in the twentieth century. A frequent commentator to French debates through his position at the Sorbonne and Collège de France, and his long-time column at the newspaper Le Figaro (and, later, L’Express), he engaged in debates about the Algerian…

Making the Pilgrimage to the “Mecca of Revolution”: A Conversation with Jeffrey James Byrne on Algerian Internationalism and the Third World

Revolution, what revolution? In the spring of 2011, protests and revolutions rocked much of North Africa and the Middle East. Improbably, the immolation of a Tunisian fruit vendor triggered the collapse of regimes not only in Tunis but also in Cairo, the heart of the Arab World. Whether the cause was Twitter or deeper-seated socioeconomic dysfunction, protests cascaded throughout the region, leading to regime collapse in Sana’a, a civil war and eventual regime overthrow in Tripoli, and Armageddon in Syria.

Against this gruesome background, Algeria—Africa’s largest country since the partition of Sudan in 2011—remained relatively calm. Anti-regime protests forced an end to a state of emergency that had existed since 1992. But President Abdelaziz Bouteflika not only stayed in power but managed to establish, in 2012, a record as the longest-serving head of state in Algerian history. The stability was all the more surprising given that Algeria had descended into civil war in 1991 once the ruling FLN (from the French Front de Libération Nationale) effectively cancelled elections that would have delivered Islamist parties to power.

Yet Algeria’s position as a stable authoritarian regime in a region rocked by the mutual learning processes of one “Arab Street” from the other is ironic, since, as University of British Columbia historian Jeffrey Byrne shows in his recent book, Mecca of Revolution: Algeria, Decolonization & The Third World Order, the country’s identity was from its founding deeply tied up with its identity as a “pilot state” for anti-colonial revolution. After all, Algeria gained its independence from France in the first place through combination of guerrilla warfare against the French military and the deft diplomacy of twenty- and thirty-something diplomats-cum-revolutionaries operating between Peking, Moscow, and the United Nations. From 1962–1965, when revolutionary Ahmed Ben Bella served as President of the young republic, Algiers was on the itinerary of every self-respecting revolutionary group out there, from Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress to Yasser Arafat’s Palestinian Liberation Organization to European Trotskyists. No less than Frantz Fanon, the Martinique-born Afro-Caribbean intellectual who was the psychologist of colonization and decolonization par excellence, used Algeria as the basis for his works like The Wretched of the Earth.

Mecca of Revolution cover

What happened? How did an avowedly revolutionary state and champion of Third World solidarity become one of the Arab World’s most entrenched authoritarian regimes post-2011—all the while never officially disavowing its revolutionary credentials? In Mecca of Revolution, Byrne argues that the trajectory of the Algerian cause was symptomatic of bigger shifts within the Third World more broadly. Originally, he explains, anti-colonial movements like the FLN were forced by virtue of their colonial oppressors to operate within an “open” international society of liberation movements liaising with one another, as well as their (often stubborn) patrons in Peking, Cairo, and Moscow.

Paradoxically, however, once these movements gained power through the vehicle of the post-colonial nation-state, they turned toward a “closed” vision of international society centered around states, not transnational movements like the FLN, ANC, or PLO. Even the post-colonial or anti-colonial forms of internationalism that self-proclaimed revolutionary states embraced, moreover, like the Organization for African Unity or the G-77, took the nation-state for granted as the default form of political organization. Byrne’s, in short, is a rich and demanding story constructed on the basis of painstaking work in Algerian, Yugoslav, and European and American archives. The Toynbee Prize Foundation’s Executive Director Timothy Nunan recently sat down with Professor Byrne to discuss it, beginning with Byrne’s own personal journey to writing Mecca of Revolution.…

Thicker Than Water: Revisiting Global Connections on the Banks of the Suez Canal with Valeska Huber

Thanks to the haze of time, the first great age of globalization during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century can sometimes seem like a golden age. It’s true that we live in an age of unprecedentedly inexpensive air travel, cell phones and Skype often replacing long travel to business meetings, and financial management tools making it easier to speculate on the ups and downs of the S&P or Nikkei, the ruble or the euro. But perhaps as we find ourselves bogged down by the kinks in this new post-1970s world of re-globalization–the passport checks, the baggage fees, the broken connections–it’s all the easier to reimagine the world of high imperialism, a lost golden age. Chroniclers like Stefan Zweig and John Maynard Keynes chronicled the time as an age in which

The inhabitant of London could order by telephone, sipping his morning tea in bed, the various products of the whole earth, in such quantity as he might see fit, and reasonably expect their early delivery upon his doorstep; he could at the same moment and by the same means adventure his wealth in the natural resources and new enterprises of any quarter of the world, and share, without exertion or even trouble, in their prospective fruits and advantages; or he could decide to couple the security of his fortunes with the good faith of the townspeople of any substantial municipality in any continent that fancy or information might recommend. He could secure forthwith, if he wished it, cheap and comfortable means of transit to any country or climate without passport or other formality, could despatch his servant to the neighboring office of a bank for such supply of the precious metals as might seem convenient, and could then proceed abroad to foreign quarters, without knowledge of their religion, language, or customs, bearing coined wealth upon his person, and would consider himself greatly aggrieved and much surprised at the least interference.

There was perhaps no more potent symbol of this world of ultra-connectivity than the Suez Canal, built in what was still Ottoman Egypt in 1869 and connecting the Red Sea with the Mediterranean. The Canal increased world trade. It also  soon became a vital strategic artery for the British Empire, since it made the “passage to India” via intermediary stations like Suez and Aden far shorter than the former trip around the Cape of Good Hope. So powerful was the imaginary of the Canal as one of the crucial changes of the epoch that, when Henry Morton Stanley finally located David Livingstone (of “Dr. Livingstone, I presume?”) on the shores of Lake Tanganyika in 1871, the Canal was the first thing that came to Stanley’s mind when Livingstone asked him what had changed in the world during his many years out of contact with the Western world.

Channelling Mobilities (Cambridge UP, 2015), the recent book of Valeska Huber (German Historical Institute London)

Channelling Mobilities (Cambridge UP, 2015), the recent book of Valeska Huber (German Historical Institute London)

Yet as Dr. Valeska Huber, a research fellow at the German Historical Institute in London, shows in her recent book Channelling Mobilities: Migration and Globalization in the Suez Canal Region and Beyond (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, paperback 2015), the Suez Canal did not so much open as channel migration and globalization during this world of increasing trade and economic integration.

Sure, the opening of the Canal made it easier for passengers—that is, especially if they were white, wealthy, British, or best, all three—to travel around the world, often unencumbered by passport checks. But our popular memory of the Canal often forgets the fact that building a giant channel of water in the middle of the Egyptian desert obstructed the migratory routes of Bedouin tribes who formerly moved from east to west. More fundamentally, the very opening of the Canal and the transformation of the region into a giant transportation hub gave rise to new worries about the movement of slaves, prostitutes, Muslim “fanatics,” or disease across the region. Contemporary fears that cholera originated in India led to the imposition of quarantine and disease control regimes along the shores of the Red Sea. At the same time, shipping titans and imperial bureaucrats debated the wisdom of dividing shipping routes’ staffing between Asians (for the hot and sticky days of shipping through the Indian Ocean, supposedly unbearable for the “white race”) and Europeans (so as to avoid the problem of Asian or Arab crews outstaying their welcome in Southampton or the London docklands). The Canal channeled as much as it connected.

Huber’s work is, then, valuable not only as an intervention into the field of Middle Eastern Studies, relying as it does on British, French, and Egyptian archives. It constitutes a welcome foray into the broader conversation about the history of globalization and the history of the late nineteenth century as a time not only of increasing connectivity, but also of increasing channelling—that is, processes and institutions whereby migration of goods and people is cordoned off, classified, or restricted, often relying on distinctions of race, sex, or level of civilization. In order to discuss Channelling Mobilities more with Dr. Huber, Toynbee Prize Foundation Executive Director Dr. Timothy Nunan (TN) made use of the twenty-first century’s aforementioned telephonic tools to speak with Dr. Huber (VH) across oceans–fitting, given that telegraphic cables were just one of many pieces of infrastructure to cross the Suez Canal during the period her book studies.…

City of Light, City of Revolution:  Walking the Streets of Anti-Imperial Paris with Michael Goebel

Paris, nous t’aimons! For centuries, foreigners have come to Paris with the expectation of reinventing themselves, finding inspiration on the Left Bank, or simply being bowled over by what was–once if not now–the European cultural capital par excellence. For decades after American writer Ernest Hemingway spent a much-mythologized few years in the French capital, wannabe writers would frequently waste a few years moving from café to café along the Seine in hopes of making their prose more like that of Hemingway’s, or indeed other writers from the Lost Generation. Today, as a burgeoning East Asian middle class seeks to explore the City of Lights, the institution of the stay in Paris has taken on new dimensions, as Japanese and Chinese tourists reportedly suffer from “Paris Syndrome,” whereby an exaggerated, romanticized view of the French metropole quickly gives way to the reality of cigarette butts, push Parisiens on the Metro, and–in lieu of Maxim’s–the encroachment of le Big Mac onto the French diet, if not also waistline.

Michael Goebel's "Anti-Imperial Metropolis: Interwar Paris and the Seeds of Third World Nationalism"

Michael Goebel’s “Anti-Imperial Metropolis: Interwar Paris and the Seeds of Third World Nationalism”

Paris, in short, defiantly challenges the stereotypes that both travelers East and West so readily project upon it. But as the work of Michael Goebel, Professor of Global and Latin American History at the Freie Universität Berlin and the latest guest to the Global History Forum, shows, scraping off the romantic stereotypes attached like barnacles to the banks of the Seine might make not only for a more realistic engagement with what remains a great city, but also with the history of the emergence of the “Third World.” For as Goebel shows in his new book, Anti-Imperial Metropolis: Interwar Paris and the Seeds of Third World Nationalism, Paris has long played host to a rather different cast of characters than the romantic writers of the 1920s, or the stick-figure models imagined to inhabit the city by so many Asian tourists. More compellingly, during the 1920s and 1930s, Paris played host to an astounding array of intellectuals who would go on to lead national liberation and Communist movements around the Global South in the decades to come. Some of them, like Ho Chi Minh, Zhou Enlai, and Deng Xiaoping, are familiar to almost everyone; others, like George Padmore, César Vallejo, and Messali Hadj, perhaps less so, even if they, too, played a fundamental role in the making of African, Peruvian, and Algerian history. During the interwar years, Goebel shows in his tightly argued book, published by the Global and International History Series of Cambridge University Press this fall, Paris became a crucial incubator for different models of anti-colonial confrontation that would reshape the world in decades to come.

Recently, Goebel made a visit to Harvard University to present his work at the Harvard International and Global History Seminar. Before the talk, Toynbee Prize Foundation Executive Director (and fellow author in the International and Global History Series that Anti-Imperial Metropolis appears in) Timothy Nunan sat down with him to discuss the making of the book and his future plans as he seeks to integrate not only the history of metropole and colony, but also–as we find out in the conversation–of social and intellectual history.…