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Bernard Vincent et Jocelyne Dakhlia (dir.), Les Musulmans dans l’histoire de l’Europe, t. I : Une intégration invisible

Gillian Weiss
p. 332
Référence(s) :

Bernard Vincent et Jocelyne Dakhlia (dir.), Les Musulmans dans l’histoire de l’Europe, t. I : Une intégration invisible, Paris, Albin Michel, 2011, 656 p.

Texte intégral

1One can rarely tell a book by its cover. Les musulmans dans l’histoire de l’Europe, t. I, is an exception. Predominantly blank, this cover focuses the eye on a group of miniature figures cropped from a famous panorama. In Joseph Vernet’s original composition from 1754, the mustachioed pair wearing a hooded cape and a fur-trimmed fez and the turbaned woman with décolletage blend into the diverse crowd assembled at Marseille’s port. Here, taken out of context, they encapsulate content. As the subtitle announces, they testify to «an invisible integration»—if not of committed Muslims, then of persons from Islamic lands living within Christian territories.

2This collection edited by Jocelyne Dakhlia and Bernard Vincent has its roots in the «Transméditerranées» seminar held at the École des hautes études en sciences sociales. Bringing together historians who work in France, Italy, the United States and Australia, it spans the Atlantic coast of Portugal to the imperial court of Vienna and the 14th to the 19th century. By its geographical and temporal breadth as well as its theoretical ambition, Les musulmans stands apart from most studies of Muslims in pre-modern Europe published over the last decade. While one strand of recent scholarship has sought to revise older interpretations of Islam in the European imaginary, another has built upon earlier explorations of intellectual and material Orientalism. Innovative monographs about mudejars and moriscos in the Iberian Peninsula aside, this work distinguishes itself by assessing actual people and the places that accommodated them.

3Thus rather than analyze the deployment of textual and visual stereotypes, or the circulation of knowledge and things, the sixteen chapters investigate the social insertion of, say, an Anatolian tailor in an urban guild or a Moroccan prince in the Jesuit order; diplomatic retainers in a city neighborhood, servants in a courtly household, merchants in fondouks, artisans in workshops, soldiers in military units; converts in houses of catechumen; and myriad slaves in homes, galleys, mines, boutiques, prisons, confraternities, mosques and, finally, cemeteries. The result is exhilarating and important but uneven. From start to finish, the book’s voyage of discovery will confirm for general readers that subjects of the Ottoman Empire, Persia and Morocco moved, married, converted, worked and died with greater frequency and across a greater swath of Europe than previously recognized. Yet its numerous side trips via essays 14 to 176 pages in length may deter all but committed specialists.

4In intent, Les musulmans is deeply political. The introduction presents what follows as an explicit historical retort to polemics about the modern «Muslim invasion» of Europe. Rejecting the premise that trans-Mediterranean crossings date only to the colonial period, the book also disputes myths of Islam’s disinterest in Christendom. Rather it documents voluntary and involuntary travels, as well as long-term settlement. Still, most of the contributors do not content themselves with demonstrating demographic presence. They also ask why, in general, this presence has been so difficult to detect in both archival sources and published writings. Several argue that assimilation, whether as banality or strategy, works to conceal a population’s varied origins. Once absorbed into the social body through professional admission, communal affiliation, marriage and especially baptism, individuals from Muslim realms—bearing Europeanized names—no longer reveal themselves to posterity. Other authors offer historiographical explanations. Exposing Muslim traders in the Habsburg capital, for example, challenges a self-justificatory narrative of national triumph over the «Turk.» Finding Muslim slaves in early modern Spain calls into question the self-congratulatory consensus that human bondage vanished from Western Europe after the sixteenth century.

5In content, Les musulmans is truly impressive, though its organization is somewhat mysterious. The first part, entitled «Muslims in Europe: An Initial Inventory,» includes seven essays in little discernible order. Frédéric Hitzel counters accusations that the Ottoman Empire never exported anyone «interesting» to France by reprising the tale of Ayche and Fatma, young women joined to Catherine de Medici’s entourage over their mother’s twenty-year-long protests. David Do Paço moves away from biography and forward two hundred years, surveying captives, merchants and diplomats in Vienna. Then Vincent Denis and Ian Coller return to France. In an Old Regime tax probe and Parisian police files of the Directory and the Napoleonic era, Denis finds small numbers of «gens d’Islam»; in the Revolution and the Egyptian expedition, Coller sees the constitution of a new «politics of Islam.» Focusing on Portugal, António de Almeida Mendes examines two large groups of Muslim ancestry: manumitted slaves who practiced «discreet Islam» and economic migrants out of Morocco who appropriated Christian saints. Emanuele Colombo’s subject is the famed «Muslim of Christ» Baldassarre Loyola de Mandes whose yearning to make a clean break from Islam conflicted with Jesuit superiors’ insistence on touting his former faith. Simona Cerutti’s profile of Gerolamo Motta interprets the associations and donations of this Turin cloth merchant as signs of tenuous integration.

6The book’s second part, «Reconstructing Muslim Presence: A Historiographical Attempt,» is also Chapter viii. This comparative study of France and Great Britain by Jocelyne Dakhlia draws particular attention to baptismal records, basing its onomastic, structural, geographic and juridical analysis on a staggering quantity of examples. The third part, «Muslims through the Prism of Europe: Towards a Dynamic Reading,» features eight essays loosely linked by servitude and southern Europe. «Behind the screen of intermediaries,» Wolfgang Kaiser uncovers North African merchants relying on principles of reciprocity to compensate for institutional asymmetries while buying, trading and negotiating for captives in port cities. Giovanni Ricci brings to light domestic slaves in out-of-the-way Italian places. Alessandro Stella assesses the varying fates of Muslim and black, male and female slaves across Spain. Concentrating on Livorno, Guillaume Calafat and Cesare Santus argue that evidence of servile Muslims obscures signs of free ones. Looking at Aragon, Fabienne P. Guillen shows how free Muslims came to the aid of servile ones. Using the case of Majorca, Natividad Planas reflects on the convergence of forces hiding Muslims along a Mediterranean frontier. Marina Caffiero appraises the differential implications of conversion for Jews and Muslims in post-Tridentine Rome. Bernard Vincent gets the final word when he examines the differential fates of domestic and foreign Muslims in post-expulsion Spain.

7In sum, the magnum opus that is the first volume of Les musulmans dans l’histoire de l’Europe makes a major contribution by providing a diversity of perspectives on a diverse population. It does so with skill and sophistication, albeit perhaps insufficient reference to Anglo-American literatures. Of course, the question still haunting the project is how to identify genuine Muslims and whether such an attempt turns out to be productive. Would a book conceptually framed by geography rather than religion look so very different?

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Gillian Weiss, « Bernard Vincent et Jocelyne Dakhlia (dir.), Les Musulmans dans l’histoire de l’Europe, t. I : Une intégration invisible », Mélanges de la Casa de Velázquez, 44-2 | 2014, 332.

Référence électronique

Gillian Weiss, « Bernard Vincent et Jocelyne Dakhlia (dir.), Les Musulmans dans l’histoire de l’Europe, t. I : Une intégration invisible », Mélanges de la Casa de Velázquez [En ligne], 44-2 | 2014, mis en ligne le 15 novembre 2014, consulté le 27 mars 2017. URL : http://mcv.revues.org/5893

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Gillian Weiss

Case Western Reserve University

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