Can Muslims be French Citizens? The North African Muslim Soldiers in the French Army during the Great War (1914–1918)
- Issue date
Oficyna Wydawnicza AFM
National Science Centre, Poland
- France; The Great War (1914-1918); French Army; North African Muslim Soldiers; Political Culture of Third Republic; Colonial People; Politics of Multiculturalism; Algeria; Tunisia; Morocco
"North African Muslims gave their best sons to fighting for France and responded enthusiastically to France's call to join the fight against Germany. /... / They showed loyalty to the degree that amazed even the greatest Arabophobes. In this situation, we ask the French authorities: are the indigenous soldiers – conscripts and voluntary enlistments for the entire duration of the war – going to die as patriotic defenders, or are they cattle led to slaughter?" The author of these words was Lieutenant Rabah Boukabouya, an indigène from Algeria, a school teacher from Constantin, and a lieutenant in the Algerian units of the French Army. In 1915, he deserted along with 70 other soldiers and was sentenced by the French military to death as a traitor in absentia. During 1914–1918, the French Army deployed almost three hundred thousand Muslims from North Africa. The French authorities had to manage several challenges provoked by this fact. The first challenge was the cultural diversity of the newcomers. The Muslim soldiers had to eat, drink, to be healed and buried according to their tradition. The second challenge was the necessity of providing wages, enlistment bonuses, invalidity, and military pensions for soldiers and their families. At the center of the book's narrative is French authorities' third challenge, the naturalization of the indigènes. On November 20, 1914, Alexandre Millerand, Minister of War, proposed to create formal and legal possibilities for Algerian soldiers to choose between their current personal status and the acceptance of French citizenship (la nationalité française) as "compensation for their loyalty to us." Finally, this idea was rejected. The answer to why this happened requires explaining the historical context of the events in question, particularly the political culture of France during the Third Republic.
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