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.
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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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