Anirban Karak, New York University
Ramzi Rouighi, Inventing the Berbers: History and Ideology in the Maghrib. Philadelphia: Pennsylvania University Press, 2019.
In this major historiographical intervention, Ramzi Rouighi challenges the oft-repeated cliché that a unified and singular “Berber” people lived in the Maghrib region before waves of Arab conquest, colonization, and conversion. On the contrary, Rouighi shows that the category of “Berber” evolved historically, and it was used in different contexts for different purposes in a range of medieval Arabic texts. A major figure in this story is the fourteenth-century Maghribi historian and social theorist Ibn Khaldūn, whose work marked the culmination of the process by which disparate communities with little or no shared histories were given a coherent and unified identity. Rouighi also devotes two chapters to the French colonial production of Maghribi history, in which the Berbers were recast as ancient and “indigenous” inhabitants, and Khaldūn’s work became a crucial primary source. The author leaves us with the sobering realization that reconstructing a history of the Maghrib that doesn’t fall prey to at least some aspect of the ideology of “Berberization” is a mammoth task indeed.
Palagummi Sainath. The Last Heroes: Foot Soldiers of Indian Freedom. New Delhi: Penguin Viking, 2022.
India is now well into its 76th year of political independence, but there is still neither scholarly nor political consensus about the legacy of the nationalist movement. In a context where nationalism has almost become the sole prerogative of majoritarian Right-wingers, award-winning journalist P Sainath offers us what may be called a “people’s history” of the nationalist movement. Based on interviews and fieldwork conducted over more than two decades, Sainath tells us the remarkable stories of 16 ordinary citizens who stood up against colonial rule. The heroes, hailing from most regions of India, include farmers, dalit landless laborers, adivasi women, homemakers, domestic helps, couriers, and school drop-outs. We get to see how strongly these subaltern actors believed in the cause of freedom, and how they sought to combine anti-colonial resistance with the fight against modes of oppression such as untouchability, labor exploitation, and patriarchy within the nation. Nevertheless, most of Sainath’s chapters end on a melancholy note: we realize that many of the heroes received scant recognition and respect from their fellow citizens, and all of them believed that independence in 1947 did not lead to genuine freedom. The question that lingers on is whether this failure should be ascribed primarily to internal weaknesses within the nationalist movement, or to contingent developments in the post-1947 period.
Mahia Bashir, Harvard University
Roy Bar Sadeh, Questioning Imperial Minority Rights: The General Islamic Conference of 1931in Jerusalem and the Fate of Soviet Muslims, SICE Blog
In this article, the author offers a historical vignette of Soviet Muslim muhajirs, and their activism against Bolshevik oppression in the 1930s. These muhajir activists like Ğayaz İsxaqıy found common cause with Arab thinkers against imperial aggression, condemned Soviet aggression through the Arab press and participated in the Jerusalem General Islamic Congress of 1931. This article points towards the broader history of ’minority rights’ in the interwar period.
Oliver Cussen, Cities of Fire and Smoke, London Review of Books
In this review of Affluence and Freedom: An Environmental History of Political Ideas by Pierre Charbonnier, Cussen provides a succinct overview of the book that charts the role of ecology and nature in Enlightenment philosophy.