New Publication: The Routledge Handbook of Translation and Activism

The Routledge Handbook of Translation and Activism, ed. by Kayvan Tahmasebian and Rebecca Ruth Gould, was released earlier this month:

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While this interdisciplinary volume spans the disciplines of literature, history, and the many other areas of inquiry involved in translation studies, I wanted to highlight in this post that there is a special section on Translation and Human Rights, with these three chapters focusing on the translation of human rights discourses in different national and international legal frameworks:

Translation and Human Rights

Chapter 17. Noelle Higgins (Maynooth University): ‘The Right not to Have an Interpreter in Criminal Trials: The Irish Language as a Case Study

Chapter 18. Sahar Fathi: ‘The Right to Understand and to be Understood: Urban Activism and US Migrants’ Access to Interpreters’

Chapter 19. Miriam Bak McKenna (Lund University): ‘Feminism in Translation: Reframing Human Rights Law Through Transnational Islamic Feminist Networks’

Check out the publisher’s page for more information. Those with institutional access can download the book here. Feel free to reach out to the publisher or to me (as co-editor) about review copies.


The Jurisprudence of 9/11 and its Aftermath


I am offering a new course at the University of Birmingham to students in Law and Modern Languages, entitled “The Jurisprudence of 9/11 and its Aftermath.” The course has a public website, where readings and other resources are listed and where student work will be posted in due course.  The full syllabus is available here. Any and all comments (in particular suggestions for items to include on future syllabi and/or to list on the website) welcome!

Here is a summary of the course:

Using the aftermath of 9/11 and the US invasion of Iraq as a case study, this module asks why states engage in torture, giving particular consideration to why liberal states euphemise, conceal, and downplay this practice. We will examine the ramifications of 9/11 across multiple legal domains, domestically within the US and internationally. As part of their involvement with the War on Terror, US politicians, commentators, and jurists developed a range of new legal measures that reconceptualised international law, human rights, and civil liberties. Our inquiry into these transformations is divided into four parts. Part I considers the jurisprudence of emergency within liberal states historically, through the writings of Carl Schmitt and Giorgio Agamben. Part II links the theoretical foundations of part I with US discourses justifying the invasion of Iraq and immigrant detention, including treating the immigrant as an enemy. Part III considers the impact of these discourses on the rule of law within the United States and globally in connection with torture, the denial of habeas corpus and extraordinary rendition. Part IV concludes by considering how the war on terror has fostered the domestic suppression of Muslim dissent, violated freedom of expression rights, and underwritten the effort to ban Muslims from entering the United States.

CfP: Law, Translation, and Activism


The editor of the Routledge Handbook of Translation and Activism (Rebecca Ruth Gould), are seeking contributions relating to the intersections of law, translation, and activism. The full CfP is here. If you would be interested in contributing chapters dealing with any of the following themes (or other themes engaging with law and translation) please get in touch (preferably to

  • the politics of court interpretation
  • indigenous language rights
  • migration law
  • law in multilingual societies
  • translating human rights
  • legal translation as a profession and technique

This volume will be published in 2019 as part of the Routledge Handbooks in Translation and Interpreting Studies. A preliminary website for the volume has been set up here.


New Book: Writers and Rebels: The Literature of Insurgency in the Caucasus

Writers and Rebels


To celebrate the news that my book, Writers and Rebels: The Literature of Insurgency in the Caucasus (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2016), has been awarded the University of Southern California Book Prize in Literary and Cultural Studies and the award for Best Book by a Woman in Slavic/Eastern European/Eurasian Studies by the Association for Women in Slavic Studies, as well as honorable mentions for the Rothschild Prize in Nationalism and Ethnic Studies and the Davis Center Book Prize in Political and Social Studies, I am posting an excerpt from the epilogue here.

The book traces the development of the anticolonial bandit (abrek) who resisted Russian rule in the Caucasus, and argues that the form of anticolonial resistance he cultivated altered the relationships among colonial, indigenous, and Islamic law in the Caucasus. The epilogue seeks to come to terms with the abrek’s complex relationship to violence

Epilogue (excerpt, with minor edits)

Like the Bolshevik Revolution that preceded it by one month and from which it derived its inspiration, the November 1918 revolution that culminated in the creation of the Weimar Republic generated a ferment of discussions concerning the possibilities of dissent, the limits of state coercion, and the ethics of violence. One result of these new intellectual currents was a series of pioneering reflections on the foundations of political sovereignty by the legal theorist Carl Schmitt, whose “state of exception” anticipated the mentality governing the Third Reich, under which he later worked.[1] A second result of this ferment was Benjamin’s “On the Critique of Violence.” Benjamin was Schmitt’s sometime admirer and trenchant, if subtle, critic.[2]

Benjamin regarded his “Kritik” as a chapter in what was to become an ambitious book-length study on the problem of violence in politics, a project cut short by his untimely death. Far from simply judging violence negatively, as the English term critique imprecisely suggests, Benjamin aimed to systematically review the conditions for violence, to account for its efficacy, and to document the means through which violence attains hegemony in political modernity. In concluding this consideration of the literatures of anticolonial insurgency, I move from transgressive sanctity’s variegated critiques of colonial violence to the critique of the transgressive sanctity’s own forms of violence. While the concept of transgressive sanctity has driven this book, the relevance of its anticolonial ethos to politics as such remains unprobed.

Max Weber’s definition of the state as a Gewaltmonopol, an entity that wields a “monopoly on the legitimate use of violence [Gewalt],” was one stimulus for Benjamin’s “Kritik.” Weber first described the state in relation to its dependency on Gewalt in “Politics as a Vocation,” a lecture he delivered to the Free Students Union at the University of Munich in 1919. In the preceding year, Aslanbek Sheripov had used the abrek to legitimate revolutionary violence. Weber anticipated Benjamin by defining the modern liberal state in relation to violence (Gewalt) during a period of political upheaval when the governmental forms that were to replace the old political order increasingly ceased to compel obedience.[3] When Benjamin incorporated Weber’s alignment between the state and violence into his “Kritik,” however, his focus on the conditions for the emergence of violence led to him to place the Weberian conception of the state’s legitimacy in a different light.

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A Double Standard for White Terrorists

Almost immediately after it emerged that a white supremacist had stabbed three men who were trying to prevent him from attacking Muslim women in a Portland train, killing two of them, efforts at mitigation began.

“We don’t know if he’s got mental health issues,” Sgt. Pete Simpson said in the first public statement about the May 26 incident. Added the perpetrator’s childhood friend, “All I have to say is I hope this brings attention to the need for mental health facilities and more outreach.” His mother struck a similarly apologetic note: “He’s always been spouting anti-establishment stuff but he’s a nice person.”

Inevitably, those close to the perpetrator tried to explain away the hate that drove this crime. Yet what this individual did was fundamentally a political act, and in a country where politicians are increasingly wary of condemning racially motivated violence. In his trial for the Charleston shooting, another white racist, Dylann Roof, made clear the real motives for his crime: “I don’t want anybody to think I did it because I have some kind of mental problem. I wanted to increase racial tension.”

An act of terror by a self-identifying Muslim would never have been treated as apologetically as have the Portland stabbings and the Charleston massacre. Compare these reactions to those following the Boston Marathon bombing and the San Bernardino massacre. Why the double standard? Why do we excuse the racist hate that led the Portland stabbings and the Charleston shootings?

Among the most frightening aspects of the Portland stabbings is that the perpetrator, Jeremy Joseph Christian, 35, was long known to police and others as someone who endorsed murderous acts. To his Facebook followers, Christian’s willingness to kill innocent people should come as no surprise. But the authorities turned a blind eye to the threats that fill Christian’s public posts.

As his Facebook posts demonstrate, Christian made numerous appearances at white supremacist rallies in recent months. He was a well-known member of the Portland community, not an outsider, an alien, or an immigrant. He delighted in his own notoriety, noting in one post how a local reporter called him “the Lizard King.”

On May 9, Christian wrote on his Facebook page (still online as of this writing): “I want a job in Norway cutting off the heads of people that Circumcize [sic] Babies….Like if you agree!!!” More than two dozen of Christian’s Facebook followers signified their approval. One vowed to set up a fund to support “Americas newest hero Jeremy Joseph Christian.”

Christian began verbally attacking two women on a train, one of whom was wearing a hijab. Police said he “began yelling various remarks that would best be characterized as hate speech toward a variety of ethnicities and religions.” When three men tried to intervene, he stabbed them. Two of them—Ricky John Best of Happy Valley, Oregon, 53, and Taliesin Myrddin Namkai Meche of Southeast Portland, 23—died from their injuries.

At a court appearance this week, Christian was defiant, saying, “You call it terrorism, I call it patriotism!”

Had Christian been deploying the rhetoric of ISIS on Facebook, he would have been under FBI surveillance. Why, then, are white supremacists allowed to threaten violence against innocents while authorities look the other way? Why are people still willing to make excuses when expressions of racist hate turn into racist action?

In stark contrast, Egyptian-American Tarek Mehanna was sentenced to seventeen years in prison exclusively on the basis of his association with jihadist ideology, and not for any specific act of violence. But whereas Mehanna was immediately incarcerated for his support of violence, Christian’s threats have been ignored, or tolerated, by the authorities. Like many white supremacists, the perpetrator of the Portland stabbings was regarded prior to his murders as merely a nuisance by authorities.

Like Christian, Mehanna supported an ideology that is associated with violence. Both ideologies must be condemned. Yet the point here is that Mehanna was imprisoned for his views, while white supremacists like Christian are all too often tolerated until blood is spilled.

The fight against racism is a battle that cannot be abdicated to others. It has poisoned this country and will continue to do so until white racism is taken as seriously as the terror that clothes itself in Islamic rhetoric.

I passed much of my adolescence on Portland’s streets. I attended poetry readings in Portland cafes and volunteered in soup kitchens, and hanging out in Powell’s, the country’s biggest bookstore. The violence of the past few days does not represent the Portland I know. However, it does represent a plausible future for a country increasingly driven by an ideology that must be actively resisted rather than silently condoned.


Cross-posted from The Progressive

Telling Places with Georgian IDPs

Photograph of Georgian IDP camp, copyright Hannah Mintek, 2010.

Telling Places with Georgian IDPs

Although it created new opportunities for many Soviet peoples, the end of Soviet rule also left many wounds unhealed, while creating new traumas. In the Caucasus, the post-Soviet decades were marked by frequent bloody conflict, from Chechnya to Nagorno-Karabakh to Abkhazia. Wars raged among Georgians, Russians, Ossetians, Chechens, Ingush, and Abkhazians over borders that had been contested since the advent of Soviet rule, if not earlier.

In the Republic of Georgia, one upshot of over two decades of violence is the nearly 300,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) who now reside a country with a total population of 4.6 million. How can these IDPs be integrated into Georgian society, and move on with their lives, given all the damage that has been inflicted by war and the fact that many of them still lack permanent homes? How, in short, do people build new lives after catastrophe?

A new project I am organizing with geographer Elizabeth Dunn of Indiana University, “Telling Places: Forced Migration and Spatial Memory in the Caucasus,” seeks a partial resolution to the emotional upheavals of the 2008 Georgian-Russian war. In partnership with Georgian NGOs and Georgian scholars, we will use digital mapping technologies (GIS) to create a resource that will be eventually managed by IDPs. This resource will provide a transferable technology usable by IDP communities around the world seeking to reconstruct their lives.

We are calling this resource a ‘convening point’ rather than a website, given the degree of interactivity we envision. The Telling Places convening point will interactively map the villages from which IDPs were ethnically cleansed, and keep the pasts these villages represent for IDPs alive in digital form. As a spatially-organized multi-media repository, Telling Places will gather interviews, video, and writings by IDPs with the family documents and maps that IDPs have preserved during their displacement. This resource will help IDPs rebuild their attachments to their home villages and preserve their memories for future generations.


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