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Interlopers of EmpireThe Lebanese Diaspora in Colonial French West Africa$
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Andrew Arsan

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780199333387

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2015

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199333387.001.0001

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Fears of A ‘Syrian Guinea’

Fears of A ‘Syrian Guinea’

Commerce, Contagion and Race in French West Africa, 1898–1914

(p.77) 3 Fears of A ‘Syrian Guinea’
Interlopers of Empire

Andrew Arsan

Oxford University Press

This chapter examines the opposition of commercial workers, settlers and colonial propagandists to Eastern Mediterranean migration to French West Africa in the years before the First World War. It traces the contours of the exclusionary discourses crafted by these men, who cast Lebanese migrants as interlopers of empire who upset the neat categories of the colonial order of things, pathogens who threatened the stability of the colonial body politic and the vitality of Guinea’s trading economy. Indeed, notions of commercial propriety were central to these deeply derogatory assessments, alongside those of race and contagion; Lebanese migrants, these writers claimed in their pamphlets and articles, were unwelcome because they lacked the probity and honour characteristic of European traders. While the latter were upstanding moral men, ready to invest in Africa, the former were no more than dishonest, effeminate parasites. These writings were shaped in part by the particular concerns of French settlers, for the most part engaged in trade. But they are not merely colonial discourses, for they also owe a great deal to contemporary metropolitan anti-Semitism. Such family resemblances must be recognised if we are to make full sense of the colonial situation, situating specific colonies within broader imperial webs.

Keywords:   race, commerce, contagion, colonial discourse, settler, anti-Semitism, metropole and colony

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