Settler Colonial Sovereignty: Some implications of Jasbir Puar’s conception of the sovereign right to maim

The fourth contribution to our symposium on Jasbir Puar’s The Right to Maim comes from Darcy Leigh and Cynthia Weber. Dr Darcy Leigh currently teaches decolonial and queer legal perspectives, as well as interdisciplinary ‘widening access’ programming, at the University of Sussex Law School. She has previously been a Teaching Fellow and/or Research Assistant at the universities of Edinburgh, Ottawa and Alberta. Dr Leigh has also worked as a facilitator, researcher and/or consultant with decolonial higher education projects Dechinta Centre for Research and Learning and the Akitsiraq Law School, as well as in the equalities and policy sectors in School, as well as in the equalities and policy sectors in Scotland. Cynthia Weber is Professor of International Relations at the University of Sussex.  She has written extensively on sovereignty, intervention, and US foreign policy, as well as on feminist, gendered and sexualized understandings and organizations of international relations.


State sovereignty, as a central analytical category in the field of International Relations (IR), has been too often uncontested (Walker, 1993). In spite of a wave of critical sovereignty studies in the 1990s (Ashley, 1988; Bartelson, 1995; Weber, 1995; Biersteker and Weber, 1996; Walker, 1993), with few exceptions those debates largely skirted or ignored altogether how state claims to sovereignty are woven through and require specific relationship to race and sexuality (Doty, 1996; Peterson, 1999; Weber, 1999). Only very recently have IR scholars come to recognize the centrality of sexuality and race in sovereign state formation (Anievas, Manchanda & Shilliam, 2015; Agathangelou et al 2008; Inayatullah & Blaney, 2004; Leigh, 2017; Manchanda, 2015; Rao, 2012, 2014; Richter-Montpetit, 2007, 2015, 2016; Sabaratnam, 2017; Shilliam, 2015; Weber, 2016). More recently still, IR scholars are beginning to recognize the centrality not just of sexuality and race, but also of settler colonialism and disability (Beier, 2005, 2009; Crawford, 1994, 2007; Howell, 2011, 2018; Leigh, 2015; Shaw, 2008).

Jasbir Puar’s challenging and provocative new book, The Right to Maim, pushes these discussions further, demonstrating the inextricability of state sovereignty from settler colonialism as configured through racialized and sexualized relations of debility, capacity and disability. In so doing, Puar contests the function and meaning not only of sovereign statecraft, but also of settler colonialism.

In this short piece, we focus on the implications of Puar’s reworking of sovereignty and settler colonialism.

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Spectrums of Debility and Resistance

The second post in our symposium on Jasbir Puar’s Right to Maim is by Isis Nusair, who is Associate Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies and International Studies at Denison University. She is the co-editor with Rhoda Kanaaneh of Displaced at Home: Ethnicity and Gender among Palestinians in Israel, and translator of Ramy Al-Asheq’s book of poetic prose Ever Since I Did Not Die. She is the writer and director with Laila Farah of Weaving the Maps: Tales of Survival and Resistance; a one-woman show based on research with Iraqi, Palestinian and Syrian refugee women.  Her upcoming book is titled Permanent Transients: Iraqi Women Refugees in Jordan and the USA. She is currently conducting research on the narratives of crossing of Syrian refugees into Germany. Isis previously served as a researcher at the Women’s Rights Division of Human Rights Watch and the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network.

Jasbir Puar’s The Right to Maim: Debility, Capacity, Disability makes an important contribution to our thinking about the connection between debility, capacity and disability. The book challenges binary thinking and offers a continuum when thinking about dis/ability. Puar argues that capacity, debility and disability exist in mutually reinforcing constellation and are often overlapping or coexistent, and that debilitation is a necessary component that both exposes and sutures the non-disabled/disabled binary (xv).

Puar’s analysis emphasizes how intersectional and interdisciplinary approaches should shape our understanding of state sovereignty and the importance of examining the intersection of race, class, gender, sexuality, ability in the production of power structures in society. Her analysis of debility not only links the social, economic, political and environmental conditions in which people live but the ways these power structures manifest themselves in the global north and south.

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Anarchy, Security, Hierarchy: Reading IR with Jasbir Puar

The first post in our symposium on Jasbir Puar’s The Right to Maim is by Sankaran Krishna who teaches politics at the University of Hawai`i at Manoa. His latest essay (“Manhunt Presidency: Obama, Race and the Third World”) will be published in the journal Third World Quarterly in 2019.


Jasbir Puar’s The Right to Maim: Debility, Capacity, Disability (Duke, 2017) sensitizes us to how binary categories organize our thinking and our disciplines –and often do so in ways that obscure important ethical issues. In this brief essay, I first adumbrate Puar’s thesis in her remarkable book and then take a critical look at the role that a certain binary – anarchy/security – plays in constructing the discipline of IR in specific ways, and end with some speculations on what the introduction of a third term, hierarchy, does to re-center issues of inequality, domination, racism and violence in the study of our world.

To peremptorily summarize Puar, she argues that the western discourse of disability rights is a quintessentially “white” political, economic, social, cultural and racial formation. Disability rights are fought for by and accrue primarily to affluent or middle-class citizens of western, developed societies even as these societies are themselves –through their military, economic, political, social and other interventions- responsible for much of human and planetary pain.

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The Right to Maim: A Symposium

Alison Howell is Assistant Professor of Political Science at Rutgers University – Newark, where she is also affiliated to Women’s and Gender Studies, the Division of Global Affairs, and Global Urban Studies. Her research examines the global politics of science and technology, especially as it relates to the uses and abuses of medicine in war and (settler) colonialism. She is currently co-authoring a book with Melanie Richter-Montpetit, under contract with Oxford University Press, titled Race and Security Studies.


I’m delighted to provide an opening introduction to the Disorder of Things symposium on Jasbir Puar’s The Right to Maim.

Clearly, Puar’s vast body of work has already had a significant impact on International Relations. Recently published in a tenth anniversary edition, Terrorist Assemblages offered IR students and scholars a set of concepts including homonationalism, which continue to help us to develop deeper understandings of the queer politics of global racial violence and imperialism. The Right to Maim is no less bold in its interventions, yet again re-shaping our understandings of topics at the heart of much IR research, including war, security, (settler) colonialism and capitalism. It also offers altogether new avenues for research.

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Lily Ling: A Life of Courage and Compassion

A guest post from Swati Parashar.


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One day before, we had been exchanging a series of emails on ISA and those related to India and China. Lily forwarded the email from Mark Silinsky that she had received and we talked about contemporary anxieties, changing the ISA culture, getting members to demand more from the Association. She was on extended medical leave in Syracuse and seemed upbeat and hopeful. And on October 2nd, just as I landed in Kigali to talk about epistemic compassion and global knowledges from Africa, I heard that Lily was gone, just like that. I had never imagined writing an obituary for her but here I am, putting into words the most difficult of emotions.

I have known Lily for a while, mainly through our ISA encounters and her extraordinary scholarship. When she was program chair, the sapphire panels were introduced by the ISA, for which she copped unfair criticism from members. She always took pains to explain the situation and her generosity and empathy were easily grasped. When I requested her to write the afterword for a special issue of Postcolonial Studies on ‘Feminism meets Postcolonialism’, that I was editing, she immediately agreed and we received such a thoughtful text from her.i

During the last year, our email exchanges had expanded to so many different ideas of common interest including psychoanalysis, philosophy and dream interpretation. My angst filled ‘eastern’ (Indian) upbringing and orientation found a wonderful scholarly companion and mentor in Lily. We talked about the civilizational legacies of India and China, Hinduism, Sufism and Buddhism, the Mahabharata, the life of the Buddha and the Hindu philosophy of Advaita Vedanta. We discussed how in the Western tradition, the terms ‘mind’, ‘self’ and ‘consciousness’ are often used synonymously. In the Eastern traditions, mind and body, are considered to be the results of Maya or Prakriti, fundamentally material principles. We debated the differences between the senses, reason or intellect, the ego and conscious memory. Those emails are staring at me today, reminding me of what it could have been had we had a few more years of these conversations and exchanges.

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A Palestinian Perspective on Labour’s Anti-Semitism Row

Nimer SultanyThis is a guest post from Nimer Sultany. Nimer is is Senior Lecturer in Public Law, SOAS, University of London. His book Law and Revolution: Legitimacy and Constitutionalism After the Arab Spring won the 2018 Book Award of the International Society of Public Law, and is shortlisted for the Society of Legal Scholars’ Peter Birks Prizes for Outstanding Legal Scholarship.  

 


Imagine the uproar if the leader of the Labour Party Jeremy Corbyn were to cite Mahatma Gandhi on the question of Palestine (November 1938): “But my sympathy [to Jews’ conditions in Europe] does not blind me to the requirements of justice. The cry for the national home for the Jews does not make much appeal to me… Palestine belongs to the Arabs in the same sense that England belongs to the English or France to the French.” It is unlikely that Corbyn would cite Gandhi on this, however. According to the controversial IHRA definition of anti-Semitism, which the Labour Party is set to adopt in full, “denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination” is anti-Semitic.

The timing of this suppression of free speech is troubling. At the very time the Israeli government is implementing ever more extreme policies that solidify Jewish supremacy vis-à-vis Palestinian citizens inside Israel like me, Corbyn’s critics seek to expand the definition of anti-Semitism to the extent that it would stifle criticism of these very racist policies. At the time Israel routinely kills scores of Palestinians with impunity, Corbyn’s critics seek to deny him the ability to express unwavering solidarity with the Palestinian struggle for freedom and equality, and deny us Palestinians the means by which we can express our suffering and name our oppression.

Whereas Corbyn’s critics seek to portray him as “palling with terrorists”, they have no qualms about celebrating, as Mark Regev did, Zionist leaders like Menachem Begin who was the leader of a breakaway alt-right group that murdered British officials and Palestinian civilians. Begin’s actions were part of the Zionist movement’s audacious armed robbery of the Palestinian people’s homeland to establish an ethnocracy.

Are Corbyn and his critics equally selective? Are Begin and Arafat both terrorists-turned-to-peacemakers?  This discourse that makes Corbyn on the defensive is one that supports the violence that maintains colonialism and apartheid but condemns violence that seeks to resist it. It sanctions violence that sustains the longest military occupation since World War II. Yet, it is anti-colonial militants who seek to put an end to this systematic violence who are routinely condemned. The context in which violence occurs is eradicated.

Zionists like Andrew Feldman, the former chair of the Conservative Party, reduce Zionism to “Jewish national self-determination” in order to equate anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism. Yet, the opposition to Zionism is precisely because it is not “a national self-determination” movement, but rather a settler-colonial movement. Continue reading

Verticalities of the Mega-Event: The Israeli Giro D’Italia


Samuel Mutter is an MPhil/PhD researcher in the Department of Politics at Birkbeck, University of London. His interests include issues of urban politics, security, space and aesthetics, while his current research project examines the governance of circulation and disruption on the London Underground network.


The 2018 edition of the Giro D’Italia, one of the three ‘Grand Tours’ of men’s professional cycling – alongside the Vuelta a España and, of course, the Tour De France – began in unusual fashion. Rather than starting in any part of Italy, the cyclists set off from the Western, Israeli-controlled side of Jerusalem. The 2nd and 3rd stages were also held in Israel – from Haifa to Tel Aviv, and then from Be’er Sheva to Eilat – before the race returned to more familiar territory for the 4th stage in Catania, Italy. At first, this could simply be taken as an indication of the sport’s increasingly global reach and popularity (while in France, its homeland, it has begun to be thought of as out of date; an old man’s game). Indeed, this is by no means the first time the opening stage of a Grand Tour has set off from abroad. In its 101st edition, this was the 13th time the Giro had started outside Italy. Nor are the other Grand Tours strangers to foreign beginnings: the ‘Grand Depart’ of the 2014 Tour de France, for instance, was held in Leeds, Yorkshire, before making its way south to London, and skipping across the channel.

However, two things make the Israeli Giro stages stand out. First of all, unlike the UK, where cycling as a sport (as well as a middle-class urban lifestyle; all lycra, sourdough, and frothed milk) has boomed over recent years – especially since the success of the Great Britain track team in the 2012 London Olympic velodrome, and the subsequent Tour de France victories of Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome under the auspices of Team Sky (asthma and Jiffy bags notwithstanding) – Israel cannot be said to be in the grips of cycling fever. While thought of as a trendy way of getting around in Tel Aviv, the country has little to no historical pedigree in biking as a competitive sport.[1] If the Israeli Giro is representative of an infectious uptake of cycling in Israel, it is not the symptom but the first case.

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