In an article published posthumously, in the Revue de la Méditerranée in 1951, Augustin Berque, the intellectually accomplished but professionally somewhat unrecognized former Director of Native Affairs at the Government-General of Algeria, examined difficulties in the public management of religious affairs, and the failures of policy toward successive, competing spokesmen for Islam in France's colonial possessions. In concluding his assessment of this thorny question, Berque addressed his reader as in an imaginary dialogue: “And so? Oh, I quite agree with you! The one great remedy is our laïcité, which would leave to the Faith its secret oratory, intimate and inviolable. But [what are we to do] in the meantime?” There remained at the time a tenacious assumption that the empire, at least in Africa, might still endure into the unforeseeable future and that institution of a rational, public secularism as a lasting benefit of France's rayonnement civilisationnel could still be anticipated as an ultimate goal. But, of course, “the meantime” was in fact all the time that Berque and his colleagues had, and it was running out much faster than they imagined. That as late as 1951 the well-informed, scholarly, and policymaking readers of the Revue could still be expected to imagine the relationship between imperial and Islamic authority in these terms suggests an extraordinary capacity for self-delusion, or a remarkable intractability in the terms of a debate that had been near the top of the colonial policy agenda for almost half a century.
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