History of Modern France

The Third French Republic 1870-1940. Part 4

12 May 2021

France Encounters the Muslim World

with Mariam Habibi

The history of France’s encounters with the Muslim world is a long one. In the early period these encounters took place mainly on the battlefield. Each side used force to impose its will with little success; the Muslims did not conquer France and the Franks* did not expel the Muslims from the Holy Land. The adversaries then turned to diplomacy and commerce.  They met in palaces and courts, signed agreements and treaties, exchanged ambassadors and merchants: each trying to outdo the other and benefit more from the transactions. This relatively smooth exchange was abruptly interrupted when the French set off on a military adventure into Muslim territories. First in 1798, when Napoleon and his soldiers landed in Alexandria, Egypt and then in 1830, when Charles X’s troops entered Sidi Ferruch in Algeria, a totally new set of encounters were initiated. With the approach of the twentieth century the Muslims ‘returned’ to France – this time not as ‘invaders’ but as soldiers fighting against France’s enemies and later as workers reconstructing France. These Muslim encounters have added a multicultural dimension to France’s art, architecture, literature, cuisine, music and society as a whole. The multiple settings in which these ‘encounters’ took place have each sketched a portrait of the other: these portraits form the backdrop of our talk.