Roundtable on Political Islam and International Law

On 28 July 2016, the Laureate Research Program in International Law is hosting a roundtable on Political Islam and International Law at Melbourne Law School. The roundtable will be convened by Anne Orford, and feature two distinguished visitors: Naz Modirzadeh (Director, Harvard Law School Program on International Law and Armed Conflict) and Andrew March (Political Science, Yale). The aim of the roundtable is to explore some of the challenges posed by the rise of militant forms of political Islam to existing international law governing the use of force, armed conflict, foreign fighters, and state responsibility. Questions to be discussed will include whether and how a better understanding of the ideological and normative aspects of political Islam might inform international responses to the civil wars taking place throughout the Middle East and North Africa, what challenges are posed by political Islam to the dominant liberal conceptions of the state that inform many of the projects and principles of international law, which histories of international engagement with the region provide the appropriate context for making sense of foreign involvement in these civil wars, what forms of internationalism or international law are being developed within political Islam, and how international lawyers might better engage with those rival internationalisms.

My abstract for the event is as follows: 

Title: States beyond International Law: Myanmar and the Exclusion of Muslims from Politics

Abstract: Many observers have praised Myanmar’s transition from direct military rule to semi-military rule since 2011. Yet this has not benefited all, and Muslims have in effect been the scapegoats of the reform process. My paper will draw attention to the need for the international community to move beyond conceptions of political Islam in the Middle East, and acknowledge the often precarious potion of Muslim communities in Buddhist-majority contexts. Myanmar is a majority Buddhist country with a highly diverse Muslim minority. Although not widely known, there is a long history of Muslim political participation in Myanmar. In the past there have been a number of Muslim-based political parties active in the 1990 election and 2010 election, and from 2011 there were 3 sitting members of parliament at the national level who were Muslim. These political parties, unlike in neighbouring Malaysia or Indonesia, are not Islamist political parties (that is, they do not advocate for Islamic law, nor for any form of Islamic state). However the recent 2015 elections were marred by significant negative sentiment towards Muslims and corresponding political action to restrict their political participation. This led the government to enact measures that meant ‘white card holders’ (those with temporary forms of citizenship, most of whom are Muslims from Rakhine State, also known as the ‘Rohingya’) could not vote or run for political office. This had a serious impact on the ability of many Muslims to participate peacefully in politics and in the future democratisation of their country. There is a need to recover and reaffirm the past positive contributions of Muslims to public life and to the state in Buddhist-majority Myanmar.