Hoffman, Katherine E., and Susan Gilson Miller, eds. Berbers and Others: Beyond Tribe and Nation in the Maghrib. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2010. xi + 225 pages. Paper, $25.95.
Berbers and Others is a collection of nine essays written by anthropologists and historians, all well-grounded in the discourse of cultural studies. The authors (minus one) are from British and American universities; two have deep roots in Morocco, but only one teaches in the Maghrib. Included among the contributors are prominent names in Berber studies, including the lead editor, Katherine E. Hoffman, a linguist. These critiques of Berber identity and assessments of Berber practice are based on Berber arts (including how they are displayed in museums), the pre-Islamic literature, the household or takat, and the transcripts of a human rights trial. Together, the contributing authors has woven together threads of content and method to give the reader a few snapshots, if not a comprehensive synthesis, of the Berber/Amazigh/Kabyle peoples (all three referents are used) in a post-colonial world.
The "others" in the book's title refers to what the "the state" has done to the Berbers: it has "othered" them. The states of North Africa have promulgated an Arab-Islamic "state idea" and cast the Berbers as a rural remnant on the road to assimilation. In fielding this collection of papers (derived from a workshop at Harvard University), the editors appear to be seeking answers to two essential questions: Is the field of Berber studies approaching maturity? And can the Berbers of North Africa project their own voices and resist the pressure to assimilate into North Africa's nationalistic Arab cultures? Of course, post-publication events (i.e., North Africa's Arab Spring), may have more to do with answering the second question than any action the Berbers could take.
Nationalisms in North Africa have insisted that "we are all the same," minorities do not exist, and any identity pre-dating the arrival of Islam has been or eventually will be over-ridden. The Berbers have never fit into that mold: they are not the same as the state-forming Arabs; they do exist as minorities in a land where they were once the titular majority; and their identity is acknowledged in Greco-Roman manuscripts. Furthermore, they do not fit the prevailing dichotomy: urban Arabs vs. rural Berbers, a categorization that almost all of the authors attack. What Hoffman and Miller's book does well...