Prakash, a visiting assistant professor of something called International and Global Studies at Middlebury College, invokes Edward Said as he rehearses a wearying catalogue of sins on the part of the French vis-à-vis their North African immigrants over a 50-year period. He claims that the police of Paris in 1925-75 saw North Africans "as inherently violent, criminally predisposed, irrational, and infantile," and that these views grew out of their "colonial knowledge production," which categorized North Africans as "undisciplined, irrational, fanatically and dogmatically beholden to Islam, and intrinsically prone to violence." Such racism then went on to justify hypocrisy, exploitation, surveillance, injustice, and violence.
Prakash opens with an account of a 1961 incident when the police intruded on one Mohammed Drici, beat him up and then, as he was taken to the local station, "shot [him] in the neck from behind. Miraculously, he survived. Despite his wounds, he was not immediately dispatched to a hospital but instead marched to the local police commissariat. There he was again beaten and kicked by other auxiliary policemen and regular officers." Prakash presents such unaccountable brutality as typical of the North African experience in Paris.
But, this reviewer asks, if life in Paris nearly resembled a concentration camp, why did North Africans move there? After all, none were indigenous to France, no one forced them, and they knew they were not particularly welcome. Prakash informs us that, already from the 1870s onwards, "the fear of and desire to stem Asian migration made the foreign migrant an object of suspicion and concern for many states." In 1888 and 1893, for example, decrees required foreigners to register. The numbers of immigrants rose only slowly; as late as 1912, an official inquiry found only 4,000-5,000 Algerians resident in all of France. Then, filling a need for labor in World War I, 132,000 North Africans moved to France in "one of the first official guest labor programs in Europe." A century later, the number is perhaps thirty to forty times higher and includes multi-generational families.
Mysteriously, Prakash does not confront the paradox of massive North African immigration to a merciless Paris. Just maybe, he ignores it because this sabotages his unremittingly bleak portrait.