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In a number of important passages he demonstrates that all the kingdoms and viable political organizations founded in North Africa were established by “nomadic” or “Arab” peoples or by tribes with very similar socio-political characteristics.
For reasons that remain unclear, the terminology used by Ibn Khaldun is not very precise.
The confusion is not simply a matter of translation problems.
As we shall see, Ibn Khaldun is quite right to classify them together.
We are not, then, dealing with “nomads,” “Bedouins,” or “Arabs” but rather with groups having similar political and social structures though very different “ways of life.”Ibn Khaldun does make a methodological distinction between two major groups which are usually referred to as “Arabs” or “Bedouins” and “sedentary groups” respectively.
In the excerpt below, Lacoste shows how Ibn Khaldun's work refutes the myth of the "Arab invasions [of the Maghreb] of the eleventh century," despite the uses to which it has been put by the authors of the myth.
Many contemporary historians and specialists in North African history give the impression that the major interest of Ibn Khaldun's work is that it provides us with a complete explanation of the crisis that put an end to the social and economic development of the Maghreb. Julien, the most famous specialist in North African history, the Hilalian invasion was “the most important event of the entire medieval period in the Maghreb.” It was, he writes, “an invading torrent of nomadic peoples who destroyed the beginnings of Berber organization — which might very well have developed in its own way and put nothing whatever in its place.” does not provide a systematic account of this crisis, the effects of which were still visible in the fourteenth century.But the truly radical distinction is between the rural population, the people of the — a category which includes both nomads and sedentary farmers — and the townspeople and farmers who live near the towns.Ibn Khaldun does criticize the destructive Arabs who were robbers and incapable of founding a state, but he does so in order to contrast them with the “good” Arabs who did found empires.It is, of course, quite legitimate to formulate a thesis by collating scattered data.But the theory that the “Arab invasion” was the determining factor in the crisis of medieval North Africa is less than legitimate, as it takes into account only part of the data provided by Ibn Khaldun.It would be not merely simplistic but quite wrong to think that in the fourteenth century Ibn Khaldun described the characteristics of an objectively underdeveloped country.He was studying medieval structures which slowed down or blocked social, political, and economic development It was only several hundred years later that these structures combined with outside influences to facilitate colonization, and colonization determined the appearance of the phenomenon of underdevelopment.The Arab language there is entirely submerged in the non-Arab native idiom of the Berbers.” and that “It is noteworthy how civilization always collapsed in places the Arabs took over and conquered, and how such settlements were depopulated and the very earth there turned into something that was no longer earth.” But in other related passages Ibn Khaldun praises the moral qualities and political virtues of the Arabs, claiming that they are “closer to being good than a sedentary people.” There is no way we can evade this apparent contradiction.Ibn Khaldun is too good a historian to forget that the Arabs founded great and stable empires in both the east and the west.They argue that the crisis was the result of the gradual invasion of North Africa by nomadic Arab tribes from the east, first the Beni Hilal and then the Beni Solayn. Ibn Khaldun gives no methodical account of the underlying causes of this destructive phenomenon.The describes a series of upheavals and crises, and several unsuccessful attempts to establish a centralized monarchy.