Amazighs criticized Willow Smith’s novel for portraying the community in the same colonialist tone that savagely stigmatized them for decades.
Willow Smith accused of spreading “hate” against Amazighs in her latest novel. [Getty]
The daughter of Hollywood actor Will Smith is being criticized for portraying Amazighs, the indigenous people of North Africa, as ‘dangerous thieves’ in her upcoming novel Black Shield Maiden.
Willow Smith, a 21-year-old singer, songwriter and activist, is set to launch a fantasy novel on October 4 about two women navigating their destinies in a strange world of “savage shield maidens, tyrannical rulers and mysterious gods”. .
The book’s publisher, Penguin UK, released an exclusive excerpt from Smith’s story earlier this month, which includes a paragraph titled “Amazigh”.
“The Amazigh are dangerous when they are at their best. They have little regard for those who do not worship the Muslim god – and even their own tribes are always at war with each other. … The desert is lawless, and those who do not revere not traveling under the protection of Ghāna may fall prey to Amazigh thieves and slavers,” the excerpt reads.
Smith’s story, which apparently does not discriminate between Muslims and Amazighs, sparked outrage on social media, with users decrying such “offensive and horrific” statements about the Amazigh community.
“How could a privileged person like Willow Smith not find someone to educate her, or at least inform her, about the Amazigh community and Muslims before posting such nonsense?” tweeted an account that would belong to a North African woman.
Thousands of years before the rise of Islam and Christianity, the Amazigh community ruled over territories that stretched from the Canary Islands off the West African coast to western Egypt. They believed in animism – the belief that all living things, including plants and animals, have a soul and a spirit.
Islam spread to Amazigh societies following Arab invasions and power shifts through Arab and Amazigh dynasties. While some Amazighs have embraced Christianity and Judaism, others have chosen to retain their ancient faith.
Pakistan-based Muslim book blogger Sudra, who shed light on the controversy surrounding Smith’s book in a wire on Twitter, said The new Arabic that Penguin UK had contacted Muslim book bloggers to promote the soon-to-be-released novel.
“I am not Amazigh, so I cannot speak on behalf of the community. But many book blogger friends contacted me after they received the Penguin email about the book. This is how we became aware of this concerning content,” Sudra said. The new Arabic.
Penguin promoted the book as “an epic series of medieval fantasy that will make visible the stories and mythologies of medieval African peoples and women”, which have long been erased by mainstream Western narratives.
On the contrary, the Amazigh community argues that Smith’s fantasy novel is written in the same colonialist tone that savagely stigmatized them for decades.
In Western history books, Amazighs were once called “Berbers” (barbarians), a pejorative term that was first adopted by the ancient Greeks in reference to indigenous communities, i.e. non-Greek gibberish speakers. Centuries later, French colonization used the same term to belittle and vilify local communities like other uncivilized ones.
“Why does Willow Smith hate my people? It’s bizarre and unacceptable, and I hate that this bigoted fictional character is the first introduction to Amazigh culture for American audiences,” said Amber, a Moroccan Amazigh who lives in the United States. The new Arabic.
In the wake of growing backlash, book co-author Jess Hendel noted on Instagram that the novel “directly tackles prejudices about Amazigh and other Islamic peoples”, adding that “they have done a ton of research on the early Islamic caliphates and their many complexities and overlooked contributions”.
Despite Hendel’s defense of his research efforts, the published excerpt has already offended members of the Amazigh community, which includes more than 25 million people scattered between Algeria, Morocco, Mauritania and Tunisia.
Willow Smith and Penguin UK have yet to respond to the ongoing controversy.