The impa­ct of French Colo­ni­a­lism on Tunisia

As a citizen of a nati­ve coun­try Tuni­sia, which was once colo­nized by the French, I have thought deeply about the impa­ct that French colo­ni­a­lism made on our pre­sent sta­te and peop­le. It is real­ly a con­tro­ver­si­al issue; some Tuni­si­ans think that the French influ­en­ce is posi­ti­ve; howe­ver others belie­ve that it is nega­ti­ve. So I’m going to talk about the most important effects befo­re and after inde­pen­den­ce in 1956, with more focus on the impa­ct nowadays.

To start with, it is obvious I didn’t wit­ness colo­niza­tion, but I live its impa­ct on me and society.

Tuni­sia was the first Arab coun­try to be made a colo­ny during the peri­od of impe­ri­a­lism. So if I told you the story it would be that old story, though its outco­me had been chan­ging a litt­le in recent deca­des. It is important to men­tion that when the French first came to Tuni­sia, they found a ‘libe­ral her­i­ta­ge’ of dif­fe­rent thin­kers wor­ks, which were trans­la­ted into Latin.

At the begin­ning, the French seized lands and con­ces­sions. They obtai­ned con­ces­sions to build rail ways from Tunis to Alge­ria bor­der. I’m tel­ling you this, sim­ply becau­se till now Tuni­si­ans use tho­se railways infrastructures.

Inde­ed, after the conquest, colo­ni­a­lism sti­mu­la­ted many chan­ges, improve­ments in seve­ral areas, inclu­ding trans­port, indu­s­try, public health, admi­ni­stra­tion and educa­tion. Alt­hough the­se deve­l­op­ments were welco­me French busi­nes­ses and citizens were clear­ly being favored over Tuni­si­ans. Also, the­se bles­sings of civi­liza­tion ser­ved only the country’s eli­te. A nega­ti­ve aspect was the pur­cha­se of land by rich Euro­pe­ans. As a result many Tuni­si­an pea­sants were for­ced out to the poo­rer areas of the coun­try. A strug­g­le for inde­pen­den­ce was lin­ked to growing natio­nal awa­re­ness, which in turn was bought about by bet­ter educa­tion wit­hin the Arab socie­ty as a who­le, espe­ci­al­ly in north Afri­ca countries.

Lingu­i­stic affi­li­a­tion: langu­a­ge is a power­ful wea­pon to achie­ve the French goals which were lar­ge­ly cul­tu­ral not eco­no­mic in natu­re. So at the first, French schoo­ling was adap­ted inste­ad of the reli­gious schools. But the balan­ce betwe­en the tea­ching of tra­di­tio­nal mora­li­ty ver­sus modern uti­li­ta­ri­an skills beca­me con­te­sted. The it came innova­tions. So peop­le asso­ci­a­ted French with school and educa­tion. The educa­tio­nal system was gea­red to pro­du­ce bilingu­a­lism in French and Ara­bic. Flu­en­cy in French is a sta­tus mar­ker and soci­al con­si­de­ra­tions. As a mat­ter of fact, today daily con­ver­sa­tions peop­le switch from French to Ara­bic even une­duca­ted peop­le use some words in French. also a sig­ni­fi­cant por­tion of the dia­lectal Ara­bic voca­bu­lary bor­rowed or adap­ted from French ( eg: ‘ cui­si­ne= kit­chen = ‘ koujina’ )

Per­haps becau­se Tuni­sia is a rela­ti­ve­ly small and homo­ge­neous coun­try, the sen­se of natio­nal iden­ti­ty is strong. It is con­stant­ly main­tai­ned by refe­ren­ce to recent natio­nal history par­ti­cu­lar­ly the strug­g­le against French colo­ni­a­lism and the sub­sequent efforts to cre­a­te a modern socie­ty. In public holi­days, in the names of stre­ets … to com­me­mora­te histo­ri­cal events. Also the Tuni­si­an flag didn’t chan­ge during and after the colo­ni­al period.

After the inde­pen­den­ce, Fran­ce “wal­ks fine line betwe­en influ­en­ce and inter­fe­ren­ce”. Rela­tions with Fran­ce remai­ned good on the who­le. I can safe­ly say that most Tuni­si­ans aspi­re to a moder­nist model in which the valu­es of the Isla­mic civi­liza­tion embra­ce a system of uni­ver­sal rights.

In gene­ral Tuni­si­ans con­si­der them­sel­ves to be more libe­ral and tole­rant than our neig­h­bors; examp­le, the way peop­le dress in western clo­t­hes but still main­tain the Isla­mic iden­ti­ty. Thus, Tuni­si­ans absorb new cul­tu­ral influ­en­ces from abro­ad- brought by media, poli­ti­cal systems, educa­ted peop­le- open to the deve­l­oped modern wor­ld- whi­le insi­sting on uphol­ding own valu­es. Some are vigilant about the impa­ct of western influ­en­ce on their way of life. Such a blend is seen almost in eve­ry aspects of life; langu­a­ge acqui­red, educa­tion, appea­ran­ce and main­ly atti­tu­des. Here are few pho­tos that shows that.

Øverst: Foto­graf Step­hen Dow­nes 2014 (udsnit) Licens: Cre­a­ti­ve Com­mons — Attri­bu­tion-Non­Com­merci­al 2.0 Gene­ric — CC BY-NC 2.0

Nederst: Pri­vat­fo­tos, Mire­la Redzic, 2016


Hig­hs­chool tea­cher in Sfax,Tunisia

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