Harrison, associate professor of French and comparative literature at the University of Southern California, traces strands of the history of migrant rights' activists in France from 1970 to the present. These rather thin strands (for which she compensates with dense prose) represent the thinking and production (writing, film, theater) of authors whose influence has been negligible. The study, composed of five essays held together rather shakily by an introduction and an epilogue, nonetheless, has interest; marginal ideas can sometimes become conventional wisdom.
Harrison argues that Palestinianism as a "rallying cry" in the immigrant-rights movements in France in the 1970s has been overlooked. Certainly, the idea that Palestinians are victims of Zionism, rather than of their own leadership, has gained currency. Indeed, at least some of their offspring have joined cries of support for Palestinian terrorist organizations with vituperation against France.
Harrison's subjects are the French writer Jean Genet, the Algerian-French novelist Farida Belghoul, and a trove of tracts, newspapers, and archival materials from leftist migrant-rights organizations. Her heroine, the epitome of what Genet et al. were reaching for in earlier decades, is Houria Bouteldja, a French polemicist and writer who came to France as a baby with her parents from Algeria. Her thesis has been consistent: she is a French native, an indigène, by virtue not of her upbringing in France and its schools but by a right of return.
Bouteldja argues that in coming to France, she (and every other immigrant from the ex-colonial empire) is almost obligated to transform France from a society organized on the principle of white racial supremacy into one of, to take the name of her party, indigènes de la Republique. It is not entirely clear what this project aims for, other than that whites, at least as a political category, will disappear. Ironically, Bouteldja herself
is fair skinned, but no one in France dares to say anything about her skin color.
Maybe this is why Harrison has written on obscure writers rather than explain why immigration is a political issue. It has, to be sure, spurred a debate between fringe political movements and their would-be intellectual spokesmen regarding who has the most right to be called French.
This has been a debate with some impact; after all, the xenophobic National Front of Jean-Marie Le Pen made stopping immigration from Africa its central plank for decades, until the renamed National Rally party, led by his daughter Marine, fired him and toned down the phobia against the xeno. Marine now leads a major bloc in the parliament.
The common thread between the authors and their self-elected spokesmen for the victims is their bias against the liberal, bourgeois consensus. They found in Palestinians a cause worthy of their support that is sufficiently anti-Western.