David Mednicoff


Compelling intellectual interest, theme, or question:

How have the historical significance, social appeal, robustness, and enduring legacies of rule of law ideals and practices in Islamic shari’a been damaged, redefined, and misunderstood by not only encounters with colonialism, but by being analyzed generally through the lens of their relationship with the colonial West? What might a contemporary understanding of legal norms in the Arab Islamic world look like that does not use deviation from Western norms and practices as the norm, but also considers global economic and political flows, both historical and modern?


Provisional sketch of essay:

Using some recent scholarship on law, the rule of law, and Islam as illustrative texts (including Timur Kuran 2010), I problematize the general tendency of discussions of contemporary shari’a, and legal values more generally, on beginning with implicit or explicit reference to general or particular legal expectations derived from Western Europe and the US. This is both an analytical problem, and a practical one, given the challenges for governments and NGO’s outside of Muslim-majority states to frame critiques of specific political-legal problems in language that reflects the local and multi-faceted nature of legal legitimacy. Looking at specific exemplar contemporary Arab and influential Middle Eastern diasporic interpretations of shari’a and the rule of law, along with primary data I collected on meanings of the rule of law in Kuwait and Qatar, I try to indicate avenues for broader engagement and dialogue with non-Western-centric and historical understandings and hybridizations of legal ideals in the contemporary Arab Middle East and North Africa, while at the same time clarifying challenges to the extrication of legal values and practices in a region that continues to be bound-up in external military and political interference.