Professor Lena Salaymeh will discuss how contemporary laws of war rationalize civilian deaths and in particular, two specific legal constructions relevant to warfare: the definitions of civilian and combatant and how they are distinguished. She will discuss two significant parties in contemporary warfare: al-Qāʿidah (aka Al-Qaeda) and the U.S. military. al-Qāʿidah diverges from orthodox Islamic law on these two legal issues, while remaining within the Islamic legal tradition. To scrutinize the nature of this divergence, she will compare al-Qāʿidah’s legal reasoning to the legal reasoning of the U.S. military and argue that the U.S. military diverges from orthodox international law in ways that parallel how al-Qāʿidah diverges from orthodox Islamic law. Specifically, both the U.S. military and al-Qāʿidah elide orthodox categories of civilians and expand the category of combatant, primarily by rendering civilians as probable combatants. The article which forms the basis of this talk is available here.
Professor Lena Salaymeh is a British Academy Global Professor at the Oxford School of Global and Area Studies, University of Oxford. She is a scholar of law and history specializing in critical theory. She uses interdisciplinary and critical methods to ask historical, historiographic, and jurisprudential questions about Islamic law and Jewish law in the late antique, medieval, and modern eras. Her first book, The beginnings of Islamic law: late antique Islamicate legal traditions, received the American Academy of Religion Award for Excellence in the Study of Religion in the category of Textual Studies. At Oxford, she is concurrently researching two projects: the first focuses on the contemporary genre of revolutionary Islamic jurisprudence, which argues for or against revolution based on Islamic legal principles, while the second investigates decoloniality in specific forms of resistance. Professor Salaymeh also co-directs, at the Max Planck Institute for Comparative and Private International Law (Hamburg), a research project on decolonial comparative law. Her research has been supported by a Guggenheim fellowship, an Andrew W. Mellon Fellowship of Scholars in Critical Bibliography, and the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation. She has held visiting positions at the École Pratique des Hautes Études (Sciences Religieuses), Princeton University (Davis Center, Department of History), and the Max Planck Institute (Hamburg). She received her PhD in Legal and Islamic History from UC Berkeley and her JD from Harvard. She is an inactive member of the California Bar. Most of her publications are available here.
Patricia Viseur Sellers, an international criminal lawyer, joins us as the discussant. Ms. Sellers is the Special Advisor for Gender for the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, and a Visiting Fellow at Kellogg College, University of Oxford where she teaches international criminal law and human rights law. She is a Practicing Professor at the London School of Economics and a Senior Research Fellow at the Human Rights Center of the University of California, Berkeley. She served as the Legal Advisor for Gender and a prosecutor at the Yugoslav (ICTY) Tribunal from 1994-2007 and the Legal Advisor for Gender at the Rwanda Tribunal (ICTR) from 1995-1999. She developed the legal strategies and was a member of the trial teams of Akayesu, Furundzija, and Kunarac. These landmark decisions remain the pre-imminent legal standards for the interpretation of sexual violence as war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide, torture and enslavement. She was a Special Legal Consultant to the Secretary’s General’s Special Representative to Children in Armed Conflict. Ms. Sellers advises governments, international institutions and civil society organisations on international criminal law and humanitarian law, focusing on the strategic investigation and prosecution of sexual violence. She lectures extensively and has authored numerous articles. Ms. Sellers is the recipient of several awards including the prestigious Prominent Women in International Law Award by the American Society of International Law. Recently, she was featured in the Discovery Channel series, ‘Why We Hate’ and in the acclaimed documentary film ‘The Uncondemned’.