Watson surveys the sustained relationship between France and Islam, presenting a chronological historical narrative (149 pages) complemented by useful documents with head notes (87 pages). He begins with the Franks of the eighth century and includes eras of French expansion against Muslims—i.e., the Crusades, the Napoleonic incursion in Egypt and the Levant, the New Imperialism (from the mid-1800s), and the consequences of World War I. He considers decolonization of what he calls the "French Islamic Empire" and looks at length at the Algerian conflict of 1954-62. The narrative concludes with postcolonial relations between France and Muslim countries. Watson's approach is mainly political and focuses on the French empire-building project in Muslim lands.
Watson claims that modern France has inherited a sense of cultural superiority stemming from its successful military encounters with Islam. However, as decolonization in the Mashriq and Maghrib illustrated, that attitude alienated Muslims, provoking effective resistance and revolution against French rule. The author correctly views France's experiences with Islam and Muslim peoples as instructive and timely, especially in the post-9/11 world. For example, he cites French successes at dismantling Muslim terrorist networks. Watson also includes other domestic controversies associated with the Muslim population in contemporary France ranging from women students wearing the hijab (headscarf) to the nativist reaction of the Front National.
Tricolor and Crescent offers students directions for further study regarding this significant subject but it contains flaws. The narrative is occasionally superficial, even taking into account its ambitious geographical and historical dimensions. Muslim perspectives are too little represented and the research relies heavily on secondary English-language sources. Numerous typographical and factual errors flaw the text, e.g., misspelling the Kabyle insurgent Muqrani as "Muzraqi" and confusing "Lallah Zaynab," the renowned Rahmaniyya leader, with Lallah Fatma, a remarkable rebel. This reader regrets not finding detailed considerations of such topics as al-Jabarti, Faidherbe, and Cardinal Lavigerie.