Will Smith daughter under fire for portraying Amazighs as ‘thieves’ in her book.. Amazighs have criticised Willow Smith’s novel for portraying the community in the same colonialist undertone that has stigmatised them with savagery for decades.
The daughter of Hollywood actor Will Smith is under-fire 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 on October 4 a fantasy novel about two women navigating their fate in a strange world of “savage shield maidens, tyrannical rulers, and mysterious gods”.
The book’s publishing house, Penguin UK, published earlier this month an exclusive excerpt from Smith’s story, which includes a paragraph titled ‘Amazigh’.
“The Amazigh are dangerous on their best day. They have little regard for anyone who doesn’t worship the Muslim god — and even their own tribes are always at war with one another. … The desert is lawless, and those who don’t travel under the protection of the Ghāna can fall prey to Amazigh thieves and slavers,” read the excerpt.
Smith’s story, which apparently does not distinguish between Muslims and Amazighs, has sparked outrage on social media, with users denouncing these “offensive and horrific” statements about the Amazigh community.
“How could a privileged person like Willow Smith not find a person to educate her, or at least inform her, about the Amazigh community and Muslims before publishing such nonsense?” tweeted an account that purportedly belongs to a North African woman.
Thousands of years before the advent 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 souls and spirits.
Islam spread in Amazigh societies following Arab invasions and power shifts through Arab and Amazigh dynasties. While some Amazighs embraced Christianity and Judaism, others chose to keep their ancient faith.
Pakistan-based Muslim book blogger Sudra, who shed light on the controversy surrounding Smith’s book in a thread on Twitter, told The New Arab that Penguin UK had contacted Muslim book bloggers to promote the soon-to-be-released novel.
“I am not Amazigh, so I cannot speak for the community. But many book-blogger friends contacted me after receiving the Penguin email about the book. That was how we became aware of this concerning content,” Sudra told The New Arab.
Penguin promoted the book as “an epic medieval fantasy series that will make visible the histories and mythologies of medieval African people and women,” which have long been erased by dominant Western narratives.
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