Of Saints and Scouts: Performing Religious Ethics in Colonial Algeria’s Youth Movements
In 1930 the French celebrated the Centenaire, their one-hundredth anniversary of conquest in Algeria. Central to the festivities were sporting competitions and a scout camp attended by young adults (of both sexes) as well as girls and boys from metropolitan France and from among North Africa’s settler population. Many of these athletes and scouts were active in Christian (mostly Catholic) youth associations, exemplifying a trend towards a ‘Muscular Christianity’ designed, in part, to change the bookish, ascetic image of the devout Christian. Ironically, it was precisely these triumphalist celebrations that gave renewed impetus to the anticolonial activities of the indigenous Muslim community in Algeria, leading to the proliferation of Muslim sports clubs and associations and finally, the burgeoning of ‘Muscular Islam’. However, in contrast to interpretations that focus largely on the club’s role as a substitute for political associations, this paper will shed light on the ethical contents of sports and physical activity practiced in such clubs. I argue that the concrete practice of physical activities and the moral values they were supposed to embody lay, in fact, at the heart of youth movements in late colonial Algeria.