Although revisionary work in African American literary history has stretched the borders of the Black Atlantic to include a hemispheric America or a Black Pacific, these transnational paradigms ignore the connection of the Black Atlantic's migrations, cultural exchanges, and cross-racial encounters with an Islamic diaspora. By restoring West Africa as a contact zone within overlapping nineteenth-century Black Atlantic and Islamic diasporic histories, this essay traces a complex, ambivalent “islamicism” (or specific Islamic orientalism) within early pan-African or “back-to-Africa” discourse. In key works shaping nineteenth-century political and psychological identifications with Africa, Black Atlantic writers erased the multistoried hybridity of a mixed Muslim, Arab, and “native” West Africa. To imagine a pan-African solidarity figured around nation building on a primitive frontier, early Black Atlantic writers disavowed an Islamic economic, cultural, and political presence. Islam represented an abjected third term that would overturn the foundational binary logic of Anglo-American exceptionalism. Arab Muslim resistance in Algiers, however, complicated this prevailing islamicist denial as Black Atlantic writers also saw in leaders such as Abdelkader early representatives of postcolonial resistance.
Stephen Knadler; Back to “Oriental” Africa: Islamicism and Becoming African in the Early Black Atlantic. Modern Language Quarterly 1 March 2011; 72 (1): 49–73. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00267929-2010-031
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