Mind of the Musulman: Preface
I have not the honour of Mr. André Servier's personal acquaintance: I only know La Psychologie du Musulman, of which he has been kind enough to send me the manuscript. The work impresses me as excellent, destined to render the greatest service to the French cause throughout Northern Africa, and at the same time to enlighten the natives themselves as to their own past history.
What I admire most of all is his vigorous assault upon the great mass of French ignorance. One of the prejudices most likely to lead us to disaster lies in the belief that our African rule is nothing more than an incident in the history of the country, in the same way as we look upon the Roman dominion. There is a number of writers who persistently maintains that Rome made but a short stay in Africa, that she remained there but a century or two. That is a monstrous error. The effective empire of Rome in Africa began with the destruction of Carthage, 146 B.C., and it only came to an end with the Vandal invasion about the year 450 of the Christian era — say, six hundred years of effective rule. But the Vandals were Christians who carried on the Roman civilization in its integrity, and who spoke and wrote Latin. In the same way, the Byzantines who succeeded them, even if they did not speak Latin officially, were able to regard themselves as the legitimate heirs of Rome. That went on until the end of the seventh century.
So that Africa had eight hundred and fifty years of effective Latin domination. And if we consider that under the hegemony of Carthage the whole region, from the Syrtes [gulf near Tripoli] to the Pillars of Hercules, was more or less Hellenized or Latinized, we arrive at the conclusion that Northern Africa had thirteen hundred years of Latinity, whereas it can only reckon twelve hundred years of Islam.
The numerous and very important ruins that even up to the present time cover the country bear witness to the deep penetration of Greco-Latin civilization into the soil of Africa. Of all these dead cities the only one the uninstructed Frenchman or even the Algerian knows is Timgad. But the urban network created by the Romans embraced the whole of North Africa up to the edge of the Sahara; and it is in these very regions bordering on the desert that Roman remains are most abundant. If we were willing to go to the trouble and expense of excavating them, were it only to bring to light the claims of Latinity in Africa, we should be astonished by the great number of these towns, and as often as not by their beauty. Mr. André Servier is well aware of all this; but he goes a good deal further. With a patience and minuteness equally wonderful, he proves scientifically that the Arabs have never invented anything except Islam — that “secretion of the Arab brain,” that they have made absolutely no addition to the ancient heritage of Greco-Latin civilization.
It is only a superficial knowledge that has been able to accept without critical examination the belief current among Christians during the Middle Ages, which attributed to Islam the Greek science and philosophy of which Christianity had no longer any knowledge. In the centuries that have followed, the Sectarian spirit has found it to be to its interest to confirm and propagate this error. In its hatred of Christianity it has had to give Islam the honour of what was the invention, and, if we may so express it, the personal property of our intellectual ancestors. Taking Islam from its first beginnings down to our own day, M. André Servier proves, giving chapter and verse, that all that we believe to be “Arab” or “Muslim,” or, to use an even vaguer word, “Oriental,” in the manners, the traditions and the customs of North Africa, in art as well as in the more material things of life — all that is Latin, unconsciously, or unknown to the outside world — it belongs to the Middle Ages we have left behind, our own Medievalism that we no longer recognize and that we naively credit as an invention of Islam.
The one and only creation of the Arabs is their religion. And it is this religion that is the chief obstacle between them and ourselves. In the interests of a good understanding with our Muslim subjects, we should scrupulously avoid everything that could have the effect of strengthening their religious fanaticism, and on the contrary we should encourage the knowledge of everything that could hring us closer together — especially of any traditions we may have in common.
It is certainly our duty to respect the religious opinions of the natives; but it is mistaken policy for us to appear more Muslim than they themselves, and to bow down in a mystical spirit before a form of civilization that is very much lower than our own and manifestly backward and retrograde. The times are too serious for us to indulge any longer in the antics of dilettantism or of played-out impressionism.
Mr. André Servier has said all this with equal truth, authority and opportuneness. The only reserves I would make reduce themselves to this: I have not the same robust faith as he has in the unlimited and continuous progress of humanity; and I am afraid that he is under some illusion in regard to the Turks, who are still the leaders of Islam, and are regarded by other Muslims as their future liberators. But all that is a question of proportion.
I am willing to believe in progress in a certain sense and up to a certain point; and I have no hesitation in agreeing that the Turks are the most congenial of Orientals, until the day when we, by our want of foresight and our stupidity, provide them with the means of becoming once more the enemy with whom we shall have to reckon.
23rd September, 1922.