"Alternative Memory of the Silent Mass" Topic of a seminar

Within the framework of the program of its seminar, the center organized an academic meeting, on Saturday, 3 June 2023, under the title "Alternative Memory of the Silent Mass: Ten Years of the History of a Girl (1800-1810)".

 The lecturer Professor Nasser Suleiman, professor of Modern and Contemporary Social History at Qatar University, began the meeting by asking the following question: how can we look for an alternative memory that allows us to recollect the authentic story of a girl, and prompt her to express herself? Or rather, how can we interrogate her even through the words of those who luckily left us a collection of documents? Those documents constitute a reference that we can use to discover many features of the life of that silent group, and to deal with it according to a critical methodical vision. A vision that places the silent in a context wider than the development of the events associated with them, which makes their story the story of society itself, thus the changes they experienced in their short life become an apparent reflection of a larger change in their society.   

In this methodical context, he touched on ten years of the life of a girl called "Mary Distan" who had mixed Egyptian, Greece and French origins, and who had most importantly been associated with a significant event: Napoleon Bonaparte's campaign to the East (1798-1801). This was a transitional event that constituted a turning point in the East-West relations. The new about the story of "Mary Distan" is that she herself was the product of that event, and it was she who wrote an unknown chapter of the story of Bonaparte's campaign; one that we did not imagine or know about through the Egyptian or French literature. A new chapter whose events took place after the withdrawal of Bonaparte's defected army to France in the later 1801.  

The main conflict of "Mary Distan"'s story was formed in France not in Egypt -as she never saw or visited it; however, Egypt was present in all the elements of the events. The issue of "Mary Distan" was presented in front of French judges and caused them a major challenge while they were discussing and writing the minutes of the story of this girl; a story that formed a problem before the law.  Her story stimulated their motivations to call for the necessity of enacting a new special law pertaining to her case, so that the rights of a generation representing her, or she representing them in her distressing experience, may not be lost. A generation that was the outcome of a colonial wave within societies that were the victim of occupations. The irony here is that the French judges dealt with the problem of this generation from the prospective of justice and humanity, away from the cruelty of the black history colonialism, admitting that it will persist in its foreign expansion, according to interests of the French and European powers, which became a constant reality. This drove them to call the French judicial system to enact a legislation that protect a generation that was born and will be born from the linage of the French soldiers and officers who consorted with the women of the colonies, so what France and its legislations can do in the face of this new challenge?

Away from courtroom, the most significant moral in the story of "Mary Distan" was associated with the awareness of her mother "Anonah" (the Egyptian spelling registered in her answers) or "Anna" (her official name in the French courts). A mother who possessed what we call an alternative memory; a memory that protected her daughter -who grew up along with the development of the issue itself before the court- since she carried her for the first time, when she was an infant of no more than few months of age, to present her case, until she grew up to the age of 10; that is the period of the case. Thus, the last words of "Mary Distan" before the court were: "this is my father whom you deny. If he were alive, he would shout at your face revealing my truth. I am his daughter". Her shout, a blend of sorrow and resentment, was like a gauntlet cast into the face of French society, whose national motto rings hollow with promises of freedom, equality, and fraternity.


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