Review of Elena Fiddian-Qasmiyeh’s “The Ideal Refugees: Gender, Islam, and the Sahrawi Politics of Survival”

April 2015

The Ideal Refugees claims to make gender visible in the politics of Sahrawi refugee survival, but it does so at the expense of making the geopolitical conditions of the Sahrawis’ dispossession, exile, and brute refugeeness invisible. In The Ideal Refugees, the invisibility of the larger forces acting upon the Sahrawi refugees is evidenced in the fact that France and the United States, the two states that have done the most to determine the lives of Sahrawis through their support of Morocco on the UN Security Council, are mentioned so rarely as to be omitted from the book’s index. The connections between the conflict’s “high” politics of international diplomacy and the “low” politics of refugee survival are plainly obvious to most dedicated observers of the conflict. But all we get in The Ideal Refugees is the low politics of camp life vis-à-vis the entrenched rule of Polisario and the naiveté of solidarity activists.