A little-known story about the history of Islam in France is the construction of what is sometimes claimed to be the first mosque in the French hexagon. Promoted as an accommodation to the religious needs of France's Muslim soldiers serving during World War I, it was inaugurated in April 1916 in the Parisian suburb of Nogent-sur-Marne at the far eastern end of the Bois de Vincennes (hereafter Nogent Mosque) (Fig. 1). Parisians and tourists alike are familiar with the Great Mosque of Paris, which opened in 1926 in central Paris and was dedicated in honor of the 100,000 Muslim subjects who died in World War I. Like the Great Mosque, the Nogent Mosque figures within a genealogy of colonial exhibition practices, tourism culture, imperial surveillance, and an epistemology of Islam. But the Nogent Mosque's wartime construction and location on a former exhibition site make it a pivotal signifier in a shifting colonial imaginary. Further, the French Army's production and circulation of photographs and postcards of the Nogent site and the mosque reveal a profound ambivalence between demands for loyalty placed upon colonial soldiers and trust in their fealty to France.
The Nogent Mosque was built on a site then known as the Jardin Colonial, which housed a colonial agronomy school founded in 1899. Before the war, the school commissioned greenhouses, buildings for instruction and collections, and exhibition pavilions. It hosted an agricultural exhibition in 1905 and a colonial exhibition in 1907. During the war, the instructional buildings and former exhibition pavilions were transformed into a temporary hospital largely serving colonial soldiers, many of whom were from France's North African territories. The hospital, intended to serve a largely Muslim community, added the mosque in the middle of the war. Built in the context of a wartime propaganda campaign, it was a response to a German mosque constructed for French prisoners-of-war in a camp near Berlin. The French military then circulated photographs of the Nogent Mosque in a bilingual French-Arabic counter-propaganda pamphlet, on bilingual and Arabic postcards, and in wartime photography albums.
How the mosque is interpreted and remembered in contemporary culture raises questions about the legacy and losses of colonialism. Closed in 1919 when demobilization required colonial soldiers to return to their homelands, the mosque was destroyed in the 1920s after construction on the Great Mosque of Paris had begun. Its location is now marked by a simple stone stele depicting the façade and the dates marking its construction and closure: 1915–1919 (Fig. 2). Now known as the Jardin d'Agronomie tropicale, the terrain serves at least three functions: a public garden; the setting for the Centre de coopération internationale en recherche agronomique pour le développement (CIRAD), a research center on tropical plants; and a historical library in one of original agronomy school buildings. Although the site holds itself out on its website and signage as a site of memory, most of the structures from the colonial era have not been preserved and are in ruins. These ruins include the first agronomy building, completed in 1902; several structures brought from the 1900 Universal Exhibition in Paris; others transferred from the 1906 colonial exhibitions in Marseille and in Paris; and pavilions constructed for the garden's 1907 colonial exhibition. The site still includes statues of colonial-era administrators; war memorials dedicated to colonial soldiers in the interwar years; and a collection of monuments to “the glory of colonial expansion.”
In this paper, I am concerned with how the mosque signified within competing assertions of colonial benevolence and demands for loyalty, contradictory claims that emerged within the context of multiple challenges to French colonialism. Isabelle Levê;que's research on the site, initially a study for the city of Paris, provides the best documentation (Levê;que, Pinon and Griffon 2005; Levê;que 2003). Michel Renard's (2015) research deepens the documentation on the mosque but maintains a focus on Islamic iconography. However, these histories do not address how the mosque signified within the visual culture and discursive formations of orientalism and colonialism. As Robert Aldrich has argued (1999; 2005: 61–67), the Jardin Colonial is a case study of the “vestiges of the colonial empire” in and around Paris. Claimed by historian Naomi Davidson (2016) as a precursor to the Great Mosque of Paris, which exemplifies a postwar “Islam française,” the Nogent Mosque might also be understood as a precursor to the 1931 Colonial Exhibition, whose colonial pavilions encode what Patricia Morton (2003) describes as an “architectural physiognomy” that reinforced stereotypes and hierarchized colonized cultures. The mosque's design figures within architectural histories traced by Zeynep Çelik (1992), Mark Crinson (1996), Patricia Morton (2003), and Steven Nelson (2007). Their research investigates colonialist and orientalist ways of looking at indigenous architecture as well as ideologies invested in exhibition era structures. The Nogent Mosque and the Jardin Colonial became the subject of multiple postcards, photographs, and films whose circulation and distribution had, I argue, competing and contradictory functions and audiences. As scholars such as Ali Behdad (2016), Luke Gartlan (2013), and Martin Jay and Sumathi Ramaswamy (2014) have shown, photography played a historic role in the formation of orientalism and in the shifting political and power dynamics of the colonial and imperial gaze.
During the war, the Nogent Mosque was a key element of a propaganda battle for the loyalty of the Muslim subject in French territories, and this battle was largely fought on a visual-cultural terrain that deployed photography, film, and postcards, as well as architecture. In serving as a material manifestation of France's counter-propaganda aimed at retaining and preserving the loyalty of its Muslim subjects, the Nogent Mosque foregrounds the rituals, structures, and personnel of religious institutions at the expense of other political-social and cultural types of association. Although the mosque's construction occurred in response to enemy propaganda, German propaganda was not the only or even the primary threat to loyalty. Dissent, criticisms, resistance, and revolutionary threats came from multiple sources within the empire. How then did the French military understand the mosque as a visual tool in the propaganda war? Why would they imagine it to be an effective symbol of French benevolence when other material conditions were not addressed? How might the mosque have functioned not only as a projection of French orientalist fantasies but also as a materialization of a benevolent self-image that simultaneously disavowed colonialism's brutality and oppression?
THE MOSQUE AS ORIENTALIST SIGN
Architectural diagrams of the Nogent Mosque show that it can be understood within French orientalist designs for colonial exhibitions as sites of imaginary travel, leisure, and entertainment (Figs. 3–4). The undated designs, probably produced in December 1915, are signed by “the architect of the Jardin Colonial. M. Péri.” But little information about him exists. Ostensibly intended as space for the hospital's Muslim soldiers to pray, the mosque's main room was only about 46 square meters (495 square feet). In addition to its primary entrance, the mosque had separate entrances for the minaret and a small “lavatorium.” It is unclear what the function of this lavatorium would have been, since ritual ablution depends upon running water near the main public entrance. Nor is it clear if this smaller room was ever completed, since no photographs of the rear of the structure exist. The directional orientation on the plan indicates that, in order to face east towards Mecca, the believer would have to position himself facing the minaret and the area marked “prières” (prayers). Its size and scale to the human figure, as represented by the male figure depicted near the entrance, suggest that it was similar in size to colonial pavilions already on site. A photography album maintained by the Jardin Colonial permits a comparison between the Pavillon de la Guyanne built for the 1907 colonial exhibition and the mosque (Figs. 5–6). Although the mosque is perhaps a third taller and wider than the Guyana pavilion, which was used during the war as a ward for twenty-two soldiers, both are relatively intimate spaces. In both the soldiers appear organized before the structure in wide, distant shots aimed to capture the building and the men. In the image of the Guyana pavilion, the tallest of the six French men turns toward a military photographer in the foreground at far right, whose black armband signals the war's losses.
The incorporation of the military photographer in the Guyana pavilion image reminds us that the French military had to compete with illustrated photography magazines over the image of the war, and that, in early 1915, it sought to gain control of that public image through a combination of censorship policies and the formation of photography and film sections (Forcade 2004: 451–66; Véray 2004: 701–16). In the mosque photograph (Fig. 6), no photographer is visible, but the colonial imaginary is evident in the staging of a soldier on the balcony of the small minaret, his arms raised in a performative display of a call to prayer. By comparison to the photograph of the mosque in Figure 1, the mosque now has Arabic calligraphy above the portal proclaiming “Praise be to Allah alone,” suggesting that Figure 1 was taken shortly before the final decoration was attached. The figures in the later photograph animate the scene. Uniformed men sit on the steps of the mosque and stand together in conversation before the minaret, invoking it as a communal space but also suggesting the soldier at leisure and on leave. Rather than permitting the viewer the fantasy of faraway travel and exotic lands, the visibility of North African men as soldiers calls attention to the immediacy and proximity of the war.
Exterior shots of the Nogent Mosque, taken on multiple occasions starting early in 1916, suggest that its style borrowed from orientalist architecture and exhibition culture. The mosque's entrance portal projects from the facade of the main building, forming a simple porch with a few steps, in the Hispano-Islamic architectural language used at Maurice Yvon's former Ecole colonial (1896) (now Ecole nationale d'administration publique) in Paris. The mosque's large, carved wooden double door is framed by a double jamb, surmounted by a stained glass window in a geometric design, and set in a rounded and tapered horseshoe arch. The door, transom window, and framing jambs are in turn framed by color tiles and surmounted by the Arabic inscription. The cornice crowning the portal is decorated with a blind arcade and rectangular pediment, resembling and miniaturizing elements of the entrance portal for the Great Mosque of Kairouan in Tunisia, which had in turn been replicated in the Tunisian Pavilion by Henri Saladin for the 1900 Universelle Exposition de Paris. The pairs of horseshoe-arched windows, their stained glass, framing bas-relief patterns, and the rectangular decorative tiles all participate in the visual language of orientalist architecture in Paris constructed over the preceding fifty years.
The mosque's orientalist aesthetics, especially its crenelated roof and simplified facade with decorative floral tiles, share the features of two extant buildings at the Jardin Colonial, suggesting a common architectural style. These design elements resemble the garden's original building for the Ecole nationale superieur d'agronomie colonial (hereafter ENSAC) (1902) and the Pavillon de la Tunisie (1907) (Figs. 7–8). The ENSAC building contained a sixty-person lecture hall, chemistry laboratories, and a concierge apartment, but was used as a movie theater during the war, while the Tunisian Pavilion displayed Tunisian products during the 1907 colonial exhibition but functioned as a hospital ward with thirty-two beds during the war (Levê;que 2003: 100–101). Isabelle Levê;que, Dominique Pinon, and Michel Griffon credit F.-R. Lapeyrère, an architect-entrepreneur from Bordeaux, with designing these two buildings, as well as the Pavillon de l'Indochine, but little information exists about his career or other projects (Levê;que, Pinon and Griffon 2005: 60, 85, 90). The original color tiles are still visible on the ENSAC and Tunisian buildings, although the Tunisian pavilion has since lost its dome and crenelated roofline (Figs. 9–10). The similarity of the mosque tile design to these suggests that it may have been designed by the same architect or drawn from the same craftsmen for the exterior decorations. One report interpreted the ENSAC building as “pure Tunisian style decorated with faïence that someone had the whimsy to bring from Turkey and some of which came from the Bardo Palace, now partially demolished” (quoted in Levê;que, Pinon, and Griffon 2005: 60). It is not clear if the writer is referring to the original Bardo in Tunisia or the replica built in 1867 at Parc Montsouris as the Tunisian pavilion for the colonial exhibition that year. What the review does suggest is that the “pure Tunisian style” decorations, Turkish faïence, and Bardo tiles (original or not) are an undifferentiated mix and that origin and originality are indistinguishable from simulacra and replica.
The mosque as a recurring motif exemplifies Edward Said's (1994) argument about orientalism as a set of discursive, systemic, institutional, and career-making practices taking force from the Napoleonic era onwards. From the time of Napoleon's Egyptian campaign in 1789 through the nineteenth century, the caravanserai, bazaar, hammam, and mosque became architectural genres taught at the Ecole des Beaux Arts and an important part of French academic eclecticism (Leconte 2009: 43–67). As Zeynep Çelik has shown, mosque facades or simulacra became a significant part of exhibition culture in the nineteenth century, from Léon Parvillée's designs for the Ottoman Empire in 1867 to the Algerian pavilion, conflating elements of multiple Tlemcen mosques, in 1878, to Henri-Jules Saladin's Tunisian pavilions in 1889 and 1900 (Çelik 1992: 96–100, 125–31). The first permanent functioning mosque in France was the Great Mosque of Paris, designed by French architects Robert Fournez and Maurice Mantout, constructed after World War I from 1922 to 1926. A diminished form of Al Qairawan in Fez and a “cité musulman,” the mosque complex is, Moustafa Bayoumi argues, a permanent display of colonial travel and a “co-opted and digestible Islam for a native French population” (Bayoumi 2000: 284). The mosque at Fréjus (1928–30) in southern France was built by the French military for its African soldiers. Modeled after the Great Mosque of Djenne in Mali and planned as a part of a West African village, it never served any religious purpose and lacked a qibla, mihrab, and prayer space. Christine Gruber has argued that it was a propaganda effort intended to suggest the soldiers' homeland (Gruber 2012: 37, 46).
Not a grand structure like the Paris or Fréjus mosque, the Nogent Mosque's small size and interior design configure it within the legacy of colonial exhibition pavilions, which enclosed cafés, replicated marketplaces, or displayed colonial products for the visual pleasure of the bourgeois consumer. The Nogent Mosque's small interior displays an orientalist's horror vacuii. Textiles and ornamentation cover the walls and ceiling, resembling a fantastical rug merchant's shop more than a mosque interior (Figs. 11–12). Reports in the September 2, 1916 issue of the Parisian daily Excelsior claim that Algerian and Moroccan carpets came on loan from the Louvre, a lantern from General Hubert Lyautey, then governor general of Morocco, and a mihrab from the Sultan of Morocco. The prewar Nogent exhibitions provided earlier iterations of this genre of display. In a long article describing the August 1905 exposition at the Jardin Colonial, La Dépê;che colonial illustrée published a photograph of the Fine Arts Room with a corner of the room transformed into a tentlike structure constructed of multi-patterned textile panels and furnished with stuffed armchairs.
The pavilion-sized Nogent Mosque, its orientalist style, its interior décor, and its setting within a former exhibition space locate it within a genealogy of voyeuristic and objectifying cultural practices. As Timothy Mitchell has argued, the orientalism on display in the 1889 Exposition Universelle de Paris represented not only a French imperial power but also a “new machinery for laying out the meaning of the world,” the “world as exhibition,” and the “subject as object” (Mitchell 2009: 409–23). In the Egyptian section, un rue de Caire (“a Cairo street”), the mosque was a façade. Because Europeans took the exhibition as a display of the real, this “reality effect” claimed an exact relationship to the external world. Yet the model—in this case, the mosque façade—was also differentiated in time and space from the thing it represented, that is, a mosque in Cairo. The visitor was thus alienated from the material referent through mediating materials—the catalogs, plans, signs, programs, guide-books—that constituted meaning through its discursive formations and modes of representation. These alienating and objectifying modes of seeing extended to French spectators' attitude towards Egyptian visitors, as described in Arabic accounts.
This “reality effect” in the eye of the European and the simultaneous objectifying and alienating impact upon colonial subjects are evident in reports about the Jardin Colonial hospital and mosque. In September 1916, a French journalist reported on the Jardin Colonial's transformation into a temporary hospital and captured the scopophilic gaze of an exhibition-going public. But the garden's “curious mix” of former colonial pavilions in the “verdant enclosure” seemed to contradict “the even more strange” appearance of the “wounded who live there.” The “contrast between nature, stone, and faces strikes you,” he wrote, as though a desire to find a pleasurable if inanimate colonial spectacle had been undermined by the living, discerning gaze of the colonial soldier. Guided by “an Arab surgeon and doctor,” the journalist toured the hospital, encountering convalescing soldiers in the Madagascan pavilion. One, singing a popular French song, “stops on our approach, petrified.” The journalist's use of the word médusé (petrified) suggests not only that the soldier froze in response to the journalist's presence but also that the journalist manifested the same kind of objectifying and alienating gaze that the Egyptian visitors experienced on the rue de Caire in 1889. That the exhibitionary mode of seeing had by 1916 become naturalized is suggested by the journalist's closing description. On leaving the park, as he passes the open door of the mosque, he describes an orientalist tableau: “His feet naked, an Arab has just prostrated himself. It is already the hour of evening prayer” (Annebault 1916: 9). Made to be a voyeur, the reader is invited to see religious ritual as theatrical display.
The mosque as stage set for an exotic tableau seems aimed to reassure the French reader (and writer) that the colonial subject could be contained within an orientalist spectacle. It is at odds with the more dissonant image the article begins with: the modernity of the colonial soldier within a garden that had, only a decade before, presented the colonial subject as a figure of primitivism. The disjuncture between the garden's prewar use as a site of spectacle and leisure for the Parisian and its wartime function for injured soldiers convalescing from a traumatizing new kind of war raises questions about the shift in how the colonizer and colonized encountered each other. If the mosque was a visual display of benevolence, who was meant to see it, to be its audience or “consumer”: the wartime Parisian, the wartime colonial soldier, or some other visitor or viewer? How how did prewar conceptions of leisure figure in what viewers saw in the image of the colonial soldier in convalescence and at rest in a colonial garden?
The significant numbers of colonial soldiers fighting on French terrain, convalescing in hospitals in and around Paris, and being buried in regional cemeteries dramatically challenged prewar visual and spatial codes. Before the war, there had been a minuscule number of colonial subjects in France, perhaps as few as 5,000 (Bayoumi 2000: 278). But due to the manpower needs of the war, France recruited some 600,000 colonial men as soldiers and workers, about half of whom were from Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia (Deroo 2014: 138–39). Hospitals in the Paris region, including the Jardin Colonial, Hôpital Cochin in the center of Paris, Hôpital Villemin in the Bois de Boulogne, and the American Red Cross Hospital in Neuilly cared for French colonial soldiers. Between August 1914 and May 1919, the Jardin Colonial hospital cared for almost 5,000 wounded soldiers, most of whom were North Africans and Muslim. By November 1915, there were 172 beds in five pavilions with plans to expand (Levê;que 2003: 99–105).
UNCERTAIN LOYALTIES AND CERTAIN REVOLTS
In this wartime context, the Jardin Colonial's transformation into a hospital undermined the colonialist and orientalist fantasies foregrounded in exhibition aesthetics and consumer culture. Archival records and photography albums show that news reports, film, photography, and postcards of the Jardin Colonial, the mosque, and the convalescing soldiers became an important part of wartime propaganda about France's treatment of its Muslim soldiers and their loyalty to France. But the war's mass production of wounded and dead also put pressure on France's war ministry to respond to the religious needs and demands of these Muslim soldiers.
By September 1915, the War Ministry had created a photography album of the Jardin Colonial intended to be distributed and published in North African newspapers for a popular audience. Meant to show the types of medical care and restful garden environment provided to injured soldiers, the album, now in Nanterre's La Contemporaine archives, also evidence the imposition of a Christian iconography. According to letters in the Archives Diplomatiques at La Courneuve, the Ministry sent photography albums to the French governor general of Algeria (September 16, 1915), Governor General Lyautey of Morocco (October 6, 1915), and the consulate general of France in Egypt (November 1915) (AD-LC 1CPCOM 1663). The letters state that the images should be disseminated “among the indigenous populations” and should testify to the “support and concern that the Government of the [French] Republic has brought to the benefit of our wounded Muslim soldiers all desired comforts and the progress of science.” The photographs in the album depict shots of the buildings; medical technologies such as the radiography room, the isolation chamber, and an ambulance; group photographs of soldiers; interior scenes of the hospital wards; and wounded soldiers reading and playing cards or croquet in the garden (VAL 403). At least two images suggest the projected imposition of religion that came under attack during the war. In one, a bedridden soldier in the isolation chamber looks up at the camera, but a small Gothic-style saint's niche on the wall above him and to the viewer's left establishes the religious paradigm. In another photograph, taken in the hospital's small “mortuary chamber” prior to the construction of the mosque, an enormous Red Cross banner covers the entire back wall and visually dominates two flag-draped beds and a coffin below it (Fig. 13). This image precedes a series of photographs of “a Muslim funeral” on January 12, 1916, probably of Bouabdallah Lakhdar Ben Ahmed, an Algerian who died the day before and who is buried in the Nogent cemetery.
Religious accommodations, represented by the mosque, may have responded less to the demands of colonial subjects than attacks by an enemy propaganda campaign. Before the war, on June 25, 1911, the French president had decreed the formation of the Commission interministérielle des Affaires musulmanes (CIAM), a committee supervised by the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Colonies and the under-secretary of state to the interior, that sought to manage French relations with its Muslim subjects (Levê;que 2005: 169). But in 1915, the Germans and Ottomans launched campaigns to encourage French Muslim soldiers to defect to the opposing side. Around the same time, on July 3, 1915, the Parisian daily Le Rappel announced that two Algerian imams, Cheik Bou Mezrac el Mokrani and Katrandji Sid Abderrahmane, had been designated by Governor General of Algeria Charles Lutaud for appointment by the War Ministry to serve under the wartime military government of Paris for the purpose of ministering to Muslim soldiers at hospitals and health services in the region. Articles in Le Matin on December 10, 1915 and Le Petit Journal the next day announced that the CIAM planned the construction of the mosque under Mokrani's supervision, a hadj to Mecca and Medina, and the inclusion of more Muslim advisors on the CIAM.
A key feature of the German propaganda campaign was the construction of a mosque for French prisoners of war in the Crescent Camp at Zossen near Berlin. The publication and dissemination of images of the Zossen mosque motivated the War Ministry's flurry of activity. Yet the Nogent Mosque was promoted to the French press as benevolence, colonial cooperation, and religious accommodation. In a note dated December 3, 1915, P. de Margerie of the CIAM announced to the prime minister that the “construction of this mosque, in addition to producing the best effect in the Muslim world, would permit the Jardin Colonial Hospital to rival that of the Crescent Camp that the Germans have installed at Zossen, where our infantrymen prisoners find all the facilities conforming to the precepts of their religion” (AD-LC 1 CPCOM 1663). An ink drawing of the planned mosque suggests that the role of the Algerian imams was to promote an image of cooperation and accommodation between France and colonial soldiers. One version of the drawing is attached to Margerie's note, but a second version in the CIAM file shows that a handwritten text in Arabic has been added to the drawing of the mosque with a French translation below (AD-LC 1 CPCOM 1663). In this second version, Mokrani and Katrandji's names and titles endow the mosque and the text with their authorization and approval (Fig. 14). The French description claims that the mosque will be built according to “the model of Mohamaden mosques,” “oriented towards the kibla [Mecca],” and permit Muslim soldiers “to fulfill their religious duties.”
The architect of the mosque text and other parts of the propaganda campaign may have been Emile Piat, a longtime colonial functionary who was then charged with surveillance of Muslim soldiers under the health care services in the Parisian region. But the file also shows his misunderstandings about religion, political and social history, and how the campaign might have been received by a North African public. A note dated January 5, 1916, from the consul general in Tangier to Prime Minister Aristide Briand, rejected two photographs of Muslim tombs in the Nogent cemetery as a poor choice for propaganda purposes. The photographs, sent by Piat in December 1915, depict staged scenes of mourning soldiers, their heads bowed as they gaze upon their comrades' graves, whose horseshoe-shaped wooden markers are decorated with a star and crescent design and Arabic text (Fig. 15). The consul returned the photographs and rejected their use as propaganda after consulting a Moroccan named Naib Tazi. Tazi had advised that the images could “awaken in their [the Moroccan public's] thoughts the idea that the war had made among their ranks more numerous victims.” Further, the star and the crescent “had no religious significance for the Moroccans and … could evoke in their spirit the memory of the Ottoman flag” (AD-LC 1 CPCOM 1663). To the Moroccan viewer, the photographs not only projected an image of the colonial soldier as cannon fodder but also confused Ottoman iconography for a generalized Islamic symbol. In addition, in the context of colonialism's social and racial hierarchies, the soldier's bowed head, staged by a military photographer, suggests not just mourning but also compulsory submission to authority.
Like the cemetery photographs, news reports indicate that the mosque's construction served to stage expressions of loyalty to France as much if not more than its manifest aim as a sign of friendship and cooperation. From 1916 to the end of the war, the press (mostly unillustrated) covered Mokrani and Katrandji's appearances, while Army photography and film document their ministry to colonial soldiers. In numerous photographs, they appear in front of or inside the mosque. A middle-aged man with a salt and pepper beard, Mokrani is seated in the center of the mosque in one interior shot (Fig. 11) and Katrandji is probably the younger mustached man seated in the corner behind Mokrani and to his left (viewer's right). Identified in an Army film, Mokrani appears as the focus of a clip in which he displays his croix de guerre medal awarded in June 1919 (Fig. 16). Yet the film also identifies Mokrani as a descendant of the leader of the 1871 Algerian revolt.
This wartime press campaign, like the Excelsior article, addresses a Parisian public acculturated to exhibition spectacles yet nervous, in the context of war, about the loyalty of France's Muslim subjects. Army photography too served to document Mokrani and Katrandji's almost monthly appearances at official events at the Jardin Colonial and elsewhere, events reported in the Parisian dailies. On March 7, 1916, Le Petit Parisien reported on an awards ceremony presided by General Lyautey that took place the day before at the Jardin Colonial; Mokrani and Katrandji were photographed awaiting the general (VAL 403/082). On April 16, 1916, Le Petit Journal reported that “the imams attached to the military government of Paris” had the day before inaugurated the Nogent Mosque. The mosque, it reports, was “richly decorated with expensive Oriental carpets and … three magnificent lamps … from the Tunisian government.” Its inauguration, celebrated with a feast of couscous and méchoui (barbecued lamb), served as a reunion of wounded and convalescing Muslim soldiers from around the Paris region, reunited for an “enthusiastic protestation of devotion to France, ‘their mother'” (Fig. 17). Other photographs document Mokrani's visits to soldiers at Cochin Hospital and the Jardin Colonial Hospital in October 1916 and his reception of the colonial minister, René Besnard, at the Jardin Colonial in September 1917 (VAL 373/040; VAL 403/005; VAL 403/099).
This Parisian press activity remained silent, however, about German propaganda. In 1915, an Algerian from the French Army deserted to the German-Ottoman side and published a forty-page pamphlet under the name of Abdallah El Hadj: L'Islam dans l'armée française (Islam in the French Army) (Fig. 18). In it, Boukabouya Rabah, the author's true name, denounced the French military's treatment of its Muslim soldiers. As historian Richard Fogarty has shown, Boukabouya's attack focused on institutionalized racism within the French Army, such as the privileging of white officers despite their frequent failure to conform to the French ideal and the establishment of contradictory policies limiting indigenous advancement to officer status (Fogarty 2008: 96–132). Boukabouya also complained about the status of religion, charging that France repeatedly left Mecca and Medina open to attack, that Islam was not respected as a religion, and that its holy days were not observed, “nor were Muslim dead placed in appropriate tombs” (Mokrani and Katrandji 1916: 21, 37). Indeed, to this day, the military section of the Pantin cemetery in the outskirts of Paris retains crosses marking the graves of “unknown Muslim” soldiers.
The cover of Boukabouya's pamphlet is illustrated with a drawing of the mosque constructed at the Crescent prisoner of war camp at Zossen near Berlin. The Zossen mosque was built to recruit French colonial subjects to the Ottoman side. Imams and speakers came from the Ottoman Empire, a German ally, to lecture about Islam, its history, and its great empires. Photographs of the Zossen mosque and these events appear in Der Grosse Krieg in Bildern, a photography album published in twenty-two issues from 1915 to 1917 and in seven languages, including French and German but not Arabic (Fig. 19). They show, by the scale of the human figures to the mosque's domed structure, that it was a much larger building than the Nogent Mosque. Its large dome rises above an octagonal base with a triple-arched façade and seems modeled upon Sinan's domed mosques built during the era of Suleyman the Magnificent.
In response to Boukabouya's pamphlet, the French published L'Islam dans l'Armée Française. Réplique à des mensonges (Paris 1916), which included photographs of the Nogent Mosque. Nominally authored by Mokrani and Katrandji, the document may have been written by one of the French members of the CIAM. The fifty-nine page bilingual French-Arabic counter-propaganda pamphlet quotes and counters each of Boukabouya's claims, using six photographs, captioned only in Arabic, to support its argument. Three depict soldiers' residence halls; although not identified in the text, the images depict the distinctive architecture and garden setting of Carrières-sous-Bois, a former sanatorium transformed into a wartime military hospital for Muslim soldiers (Rominger 2018: 701–708). The photographs serve as visual evidence supporting a claim that the French hospitals are “like these, a paradise on earth” (Mokrani and Katrandji 1916: 36). A fourth photograph depicts a cemetery with star and crescent tombstones; a very similar image in the Fonds Valois identifies the location as the Ivry cemetery and the war dead as Jardin Colonial soldiers (VAL 402/088). The counter-propaganda pamphlet asserts that, as of February 3, 1916, Mokrani was charged with the care of these Muslim tombs (Mokrani and Katrandji 1916: 38). Finally, two photographs represent the interior and exterior of the Nogent Mosque: “A mosque has been built in the immense hospital garden of Nogent-sur-Marne, where the Muslims are the most numerous” (Mokrani and Katrandji 1916: 39). The exterior shot (similar to Figure 6) shows several soldiers posed on the steps and in front of the minaret, this time without the man in the minaret balcony. An interior shot shows Mokrani (center right) and Katrandji (center left) seated on the floor, facing the camera with a few soldiers on either side (Fig. 20). The photographs seem selected to present France's Muslim hospitals as therapeutic garden settings and France as attentive to religious and burial practices.
Later in 1916, after the construction of the Nogent Mosque and the bilingual Arabic-French counter-propaganda pamphlet by Mokrani and Katrandji, the Jardin Colonial produced bilingual and Arabic postcards of the mosque in an attempt to address the North African subject. The director of the garden, Emil Prudhomme, initiated or facilitated this process, possibly with an additional aim of fundraising to support hospital expansion plans outlined in a November 1915 memo (AD-LC 1 CPCOM 1663). On November 7, 1916, he wrote to the CIAM to propose that he select 10 photographs and commission a print run of 5,000 per image for a total of 50,000 postcards (AD-LC 1 CPCOM 1661). The six photographs accompanying Prudhomme's message include three shots of a former pavilion transformed into a hospital ward and three interior images of the mosque. These interior photographs foreground the décor. One depicts a wide shot of the interior space, another is a close-up of a carpet, and a third shows Mokrani with four soldiers arrayed before a carpet hung on the wall (Fig. 12). The large print run imagines a renewed attempt to address the “indigenous populations” of North Africa that had been intended as the audience for the photography albums distributed in fall 1915. While Prudhomme's focus is on the carpets, the postcards that ended up in production suggest not only the mosque's luxurious interior but also an imagined pastoral function. One of Prudhomme's recommendations, similar to the interior mosque scene published in the propaganda pamphlet, did become a postcard with an Arabic caption identifying the setting as the Nogent Mosque. Another postcard, an exterior shot of the mosque, this time with green tinting, has a bilingual caption (Fig. 21). Other wartime postcards, now in the Nogent Museum collection, show Mokrani and Katrandji standing with a group of soldiers before the mosque; a row of bedridden soldiers brought outside, “weather permitting”; soldiers exiting the ENSAC building, at the time a movie theater; soldiers lining up at the refectory door; and decoration ceremonies officiated by French politicians and generals. One image shows a group of mostly African soldiers, one wearing a bathrobe, some with bandaged heads, others leaning on canes, wearing dusty, worn-out boots or even slippers. They have been compelled to leave the hospital to pose together, waving their postcards in an enactment of a traveler's salutation modeled by Prudhomme, the man in the lab coat holding an album (perhaps the Fonds Valois photographs) (Fig. 22). Although the postcard images are illegible, the group photograph suggests that the desired sender is the North African soldier and the imagined recipient is his faraway family.
CRITIQUE AND DISSENT AMONG SOLDIERS AND ELITES
But just how successful or not were the French propaganda campaigns—the Mokrani counter-propaganda pamphlet, the news reports, photography albums, and postcards—in responding to dissent among the troops? While there is no known evidence of the Jardin Colonial soldiers' written reactions to the propaganda campaign, the postcard photograph conveys the methods of survivors. Their gazes alternatively avert or confront the verbal slap of a military photographer's barked-out orders; one anxiously hides his face, his eyes preoccupied and downcast as he grips his cane, while four seasoned soldiers in the front row perform the part with a mix of exhaustion, compliance, fear, defiance, and resilience. Like the compulsory postcard image, the theatricalized uses of the Nogent Mosque may have generated negative reactions. Judging by the commentary on another Parisian “mosque,” the Nogent Mosque seems likely to have been read as an orientalist spectacle for a French public and failed in its propagandistic purpose.
About five months before the opening of the Nogent Mosque, on December 15, 1915, a Parisian aid society called Les Amitiés Musulmans published a photograph of the interior of their “mosque” in the first issue of their short-lived newspaper. Although the newspaper image is a poor quality reproduction, another photograph of this interior appears in the Fonds Valois albums (Fig. 23). It shows the small carpet-covered orientalist interior with four men, their backs to the camera, seated on the floor to the left of a wooden lectern. A lantern hangs at upper left before a floral-patterned wall décor that is framed by a striped band. Despite claims in their paper that the organization was supported by the French government, a debate ensued in another paper, L'Oeuvre, about the organization's true leadership. Archival documents confirm that Les Amitiés Musulmanes was run by a Dr. Loufti, a Turkish subject, and eventually, mounting complaints and surveillance of the organization resulted in its closure and Loufti's expulsion from France in September 1916 (AD-LC 1 CPCOM 1661).
In the debate that unfolded in L'Oeuvre, a Tunisian writer attacked the Amitiés Musulmanes mosque as a mockery, outlining an argument that could have equally applied to the Nogent Mosque. In an article published on January 25, 1916, and entitled “Les Faux Amis d'Islam,” a gentleman named Abd el Karim Josset wrote from Tunis claiming to represent the sentiments of group of Tunisian Muslims:
[W]e have discovered that the false friends of Islam are those that try their best to ridicule our religion by unabashedly inaugurating caricatures of mosques that the papers proclaim are “furnished and decorated with taste.” That means they are decorated with Syrian torches, Turkish lamps modernized with electric bulbs, and a thousand and one knick-knacks of Oriental bric-a-brac that one can procure in the bazars and Tunisian souks. True mosques, those to whom entry is forbidden to non-Muslims, are shorn of anything susceptible to distract the eyes of the faithful while the soul is elevated towards the master of the world (Josset 1916: 3).
Josset goes on to argue that such mosques are created not by true believers but by those who want to create “exotic attractions” for the “promenading Parisian.” They mount “imaginary ritual[s]” as spectacles, promote an essentially “anti-Muslim” idea of the cleric by casting the imam as a “Mahomaten priest,” and misunderstand that “the cadis, muftis, the cheik [and] Islam itself are only jurists and [have] no authority over the faithful.” Josset then turns from religious practice to pay equity, an issue that Boukabouya had raised. Josset attacks the inequity in military spousal pay for Muslim soldiers' wives, who receive only 75 centimes per day, while other (presumably French) women receive 1fr25 per day. Finally, in a classist and racist dig at the Amazigh minority considered uneducated by the Arab elite, he claims that among educated Tunisians, Les Amitiés Musulmanes provokes “sweet hilarity” since the Arab text seems to have been edited by “an ignorant Kabyle, so grievous are the errors sprinkled throughout.”
Perhaps the highest-ranking colonial subject who criticized French policies towards North African soldiers was Si Kaddour Ben Ghabrit (or Benghabrit), who visited the Jardin Colonial in November 1916. Ben Ghabrit was the founder of the Islamic Institute and Great Mosque of Paris, which he led until his death in 1954, the year Algerians launched their war of independence. An Algerian by birth, he was chief of protocol for the sultan of Morocco, Moulay Youssef, and designated by the CIAM to lead a hadj of notable Muslim leaders and scholars to Mecca in 1916. On their return, Al-Hashimi, the cherif of Mecca, and the “Muslim delegation”—including Ben Ghabrit, Moulay Youssef, and others—visited Paris landmarks, museums, and factories. Their final stop, as documented in a French Army film of the visit, was the Jardin Colonial for a decoration ceremony. The film clip and a captioned postcard depict Ben Ghabrit watching the politician Gaston Doumergue awarding a medal to the cherif of Mecca, Husein ibn ali al-Hashimi, as a Moroccan Sufi scholar engages with the camera (Fig. 24). Curiously, the film does not depict any of the notables before the Nogent Mosque, perhaps because the pavilion-sized mosque failed as a benevolent gesture before elites more accustomed to grander structures, pomp, and power than the hospitalized soldiers. Or perhaps the mosque's propagandistic uses were less significant than the image of North African and Arab leaders being recognized by the military and political leadership of the French republic. The transformation of the scene into a postcard suggests a French belief in the potency of the image.
Ben Ghabrit has sometimes been dismissed as a “colonial collaborator” and ally of “treacherous leaders” like the sultan of Morocco, in contrast to future revolutionaries like Messali Hadj, the father of the Algerian revolution (Bayoumi 2000: 286–87). Archival evidence indicates that Ben Ghabrit remained under surveillance his entire career and that Lyautey saw him as maintaining a façade of collaboration while evading Lyautey's claims to be his superior, notably when Ben Ghabrit extended an invitation to Lyautey to attend the opening of the Great Mosque of Paris only ten days before the event (AD-Nantes). Instead, some evidence indicates that Ben Ghabrit, perhaps drawing upon his legal training, sought to advocate for Muslim subjects. In a remarkable twenty-three page report dated April 5, 1920, he argued for a coherent policy recognizing the “universality” of Islam and the rights of its subjects. Under cover of a letter dated three days later, he sent the report to then president Alexandre Millerand (AD-LC 55 CPCOM 12). Ghabrit's report flatters the French image of maternal benevolence by contrasting it to the British, who have “only one argument: force.” The report adopts the discourse of mutual friendship in order to advance the cause of equality, while at the same time cautioning the limits to “friendship.” France can count on “friendships in the Muslim world, but those friendships risk being alienated if she [France] does not … realize the promises of liberty in whose name she convinced Muslims to come fight in her defense.” The report then provides a territory-by-territory analysis, beginning with Morocco and continuing to Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, Hedjaz (the Arabian peninsula), Syria, and Turkey, detailing many complaints that Boukabouya, Josset, Messali Hadj, and others had or would soon make. Ben Ghabrit argues that indigenous people should not be treated as subalterns when “their loyalty and work merit higher status.” For example, he asserts that indigenous agents should receive equal status with the French but currently receive different salaries and inferior treatment. He prophetically cautions that the consequences of France's colonial practices in contradiction of its republican ideals are likely to lead to rebellion: Algerians who fought for French freedom “are naturally led to demand liberty for themselves.”
In the context of the war as a fight for democracy and freedom, the history of the Nogent Mosque exemplifies colonialism's contradictions and France's desire to project an image of benevolence even as the French military regularly staged colonial subjects in performances of deference and gratitude. The Nogent Mosque may have responded to the German propaganda about the status of Islam in France, such as the need for correct burial processes, but most of the demands that Boukabouya, Ben Ghabrit, and others advanced during and after the war address material conditions, not religious mandates. The Nogent Mosque's orientalist exterior and crowded interior seems unlikely to have convinced anyone of French benevolence except Parisians, colonial generals, politicians, and administrators acculturated by a century of colonial exhibitions and eclectic academicism. The North African soldiers made to pose before and in the mosque could well have applied Josset's criticism of the Amitiés Musulmanes “mosque,” seeing the Nogent Mosque as a “caricature” that distracts the eye and resembles a bazaar or souk. The mosque is best interpreted as a contested stage upon which French and North African subjects encountered each other. The Zossen mosque and Boukabouya's pamphlet, key features of the German-Ottoman propaganda wars over the loyalties of Muslim soldiers, may have motivated the construction of the Nogent Mosque. But the representations and reproductions of the mosque's exterior and interior and the compulsory stagings of soldiers before it or elsewhere in the Jardin Colonial all suggest a façade of collaboration that would cloak repression and motivate revolution in the years to come.
I would like to thank Victoria Rovine for the invitation to participate in this special issue of African Arts. The article benefited from her comments and corrections as well as advice from other specialists: Radha Dalal, Richard Fogarty, Elizabeth Thompson, and an anonymous reviewer. Aziza Doudou assisted with translations of Arabic captions.