La Nation Arabe 1930–1938

(13) 978-1-85207-100-4    Extent:   4 volumes, 2,430 pages
Editor: Shakib Arslan    Published: 1988
Paper: Printed on acid free paper
Binding: Library bindings with gilt finish
See sample pages: not available

This influential journal of Arab political opinion, was published in French from Geneva by the noted publicist and political activist Amir Shakib Arslan. Banned from French North Africa in the 1930s, widely read in Arab and European capitals, La Nation Arabe is a remarkable and important document in the history of Arab-Islamic politics.
The journal first appeared in March 1930; its final number was printed in December 1938. Founded during a period of transition in Arab political thought, La Nation Arabe quickly achieved a prominent position in the new current of anti-Westernism and Islamic self-assertiveness that emerged in the 1930s.
Within its first year, the journal became the spearhead of an international propaganda campaign against the French Berber dahir in Morocco, a degree which La Nation Arabe successfully portrayed as an imperialist attempt to remove the Berbers from the jurisdiction of the shariah. The success of La Nation Arabe and its editor, Shakib Arslan, in orchestrating the campaign against the Berber dahir brought widespread publicity to the new journal and established its reputation as an effective opponent of European imperialism.


By 1930, European imperial control was firmly established throughout the Arab world. The hopes for self-determination that had been aroused in the aftermath of the First World War lay crushed beneath the new Mandate system, the old protectorates, and the burdens of unequal treaty arrangements. In this atmosphere, those Arab politicians and intellectuals who had advocated the emulation of European political and social practices were increasingly discredited. In place of alien institutions, various Arab spokesmen began to advocate the adoption of more familiar forms of political association as the means through which to restore political independence and the proper social order. Thus, the Muslim Brotherhood was founded in Egypt in 1929, the Islamic Congress of Jerusalem was held in 1931, and associations of Muslim youth began to organize throughout the Arab world. La Nation Arabe was a catalyst for this renewed spirit of Islamic-oriented political activism and soon became a powerful and influential organ, both in Europe and the Arab world.


La Nation Arabe, which began as a monthly and ended as a quarterly, was unique in its scope. Unlike the more locally-oriented journals of the Arab capitals, La Nation Arabe addressed issues which concerned the entire Arab world; it was the only successful publication of the period which attempted to integrate the North African struggle for independence with the political activity in the Arab East. In this regard, the journal´s famous campaign against the Berber dahir found support in Cairo and Jerusalem as well as in Fez and Paris. To read the arguments presented during the campaign is to gain an understanding of the symbols by which Islamic political activism could be aroused.
La Nation Arabe is, therefore, a document which allows one to view the major Arab-European confrontations of the 1930s from the perspective of Islamic politics. Whether it was chronicling the first years of the Palestinian revolt, examining Italian policies in Ethiopia, or criticising French rule in Algeria, La Nation Arabe consistently evoked Islamic sentiments in stating its positions. However, the journal was not a religious publication. It was a call to action, a call for the liberation and preservation of a civilisation the values of which had a vital role to play in building a modern society.
In the pages of La Nation Arabe are portrayed the threats which Franco-British imperialism posed to the Arab-Islamic tradition; and in its prescriptions for redress are found the hopes shared by many Arab Muslims, then and now, for a restored Islamic order with a dignified place in the world.

Authorship of La Nation Arabe: role of Shakib Arslan
The journal carried articles by its co-editor, Ihsan al-Jabiri and by occasional guest authors such as Ahmad Belefrej. However, (the dominant voice of La Nation Arabe was that of its famous editor, Amir Shakib Arslan (1869-1946). Although of Lebanese Druze origins, Arslan was formed by his youthful contact with Muhammad Abduh and became a recognised spokesman for Sunni Islam.
His beliefs in Ottoman-Islamic unity led him to oppose the Arab Revolt of 1916 in favour of what he saw as the legitimate authority of the caliph. Banished from the Arab territories that came under French and British control in the post-war settlement, Arslan spent a quarter of a century in active exile, producing treatises on the Islamic condition, writing biographies of his friends, Ahmed Shawqi and Rashid Rida, contributing dozens of articles a year to the Arab press, editing La Nation Arabe, and appearing at strategic moments in Mecca, Jerusalem, Tangiers, and Damascus.
For most of the interwar years, he lived in Geneva where he served as duel representative of the Syro-Palestinian delegation to the League of Nations and where he offered advice and counsel to the stream of visitors that made his residence "the umbilical cord of the Islamic world." As political strategist and mentor to Arab nationalist movements, spokesman for Palestine to the League of Nations, and established author in the tradition of Salafiyya reformism, Arslan commanded a wide audience for his publications. To his supporters, he was "the man of the hour in the Arab-Islamic world," to the French authorities who closely monitored his activities, he was dangerous as "the publicist celebrated in all of Islam as the political counselor of the Muslim community." In large measure, this reputation was established through the articles in La Nation Arabe.
La Nation Arabe was widely read and exercised a considerable influence on educated opinion, both in the Arab world and in European capitals. Although French authorities banned the journal from their North African possessions, its articles often appeared in Arabic translations in the press of Cairo and Damascus, and the journal was essential reading for North African student activists in Paris. In addition, because the journal was in French, it was accessible to European policy-makers who tended to regard it as an index of Arab-Islamic opinion. The journal´s editors claimed that it "elicited great interest" in Parisian political circles, and the British Foreign Office acknowledged "receiving it regularly."
Arslans´s efforts to control so much of the interwar Arab-Islamic protest movement made him a controversial figure, and his efforts, clearly evident in La Nation Arabe, to forge an Arab-Axis alliance against Franco-British imperialism, diminished his legacy. However, his reputation is currently undergoing a revival; his Arabic books are being reprinted, and his vision of Islamic revival has gained a new generation of adherents.


Volume I: 1930-1931
Volume II: 1932-1934
Volume III: 1935-1936
Volume IV: 1937-1938


Each number of the journal contains an average of fifty pages.
Commentaries on events
The lead articles provide a running commentary on the principal events of the time as they affected the Arab world. The subjects treated include:
  • the Berber dahir of 1930
  • the negotiations over the Franco-Syrian treaty of 1936
  • the policies of the British in Palestine
  • the conflict between Imam Yahya of the Yemen and Ibn Saud
  • and extensive treatment of French practices in Algeria.
Polemics and propaganda
There are articles of a polemical nature on specific rulers and political figures; for example:
  • several features on the evils of Ataturk´s secularization program in Turkey
  • frequent praise for Ibn Saud´s regime.
Islamic issues
The journal also deals with specific Islamic issues, including:
  • the Muslims in the Balkans
  • the glories of Islamic Spain
  • the question of the caliphate.
The journal kept its readers abreast of European developments which might have an impact on the Arab world. Especially informative in this regard is La Nation Arabe´s coverage of Italy´s imperial ventures. The journal began by attacking Italy´s policies in Libya, but by the mid-1930s it adopted a defensive tone and conceded Mussolini the title of protector of Islam. Here, La Nation Arabe reflected the trend of some Arab political circles to seek Italy as a European ally against Britain and France.

Message of Arab unity
Throughout the years of its existence, La Nation Arabe continued to contribute to the growing Islamization of the Arab search for independence, reporting on the Islamic Congress of Jerusalem, portraying Italian policies in Libya as a threat to the entire community of Islam, condemning the secular reforms of Ataturk in Ankara and praising the virtues of Ibn Saud in Arabia. As a commentary on events affecting the entire Arab world, La Nation Arabe is a valuable source for showing how appeals to bonds of Islamic solidarity succeeded in creating a sense of shared commitment among Arabs from North Africa to the Middle East.