Decolonising international law. Emotions and glocal sovereignties in the Middle East in the long 19th century


The new challenges of globalisation and its transnational and immaterial flows, like cyber crime or certain environmental issues, have brought new actors, such as rising non-Western powers and  transnational actors, to the fore of international law, and have called its positivist epistemology into question. For instance, the place of emotions in normative production has been highlighted by the WHO’s efforts to counteract shaming and stigmatisation in the terminology regarding the COVID-19 pandemic in its legal texts. The emergence of new challenges and new actors has revealed a certain impotence of the state coupled with a form of democratic disappointment. As a result, political and legal debates have gradually acknowledged the multipolarity and the complexity of normative production in international law. Not only the state, as its main classical actor, is being challenged; the Westphalian concept of sovereignty is also being criticised for its exclusively territorial, state-centric and Eurocentric genesis and development. These developments have also led many historians of international law to reflect critically on their object of study. In line with these recent historiographical and theoretical developments, my project aims to rethink modern international law by studying the role of emotions and the plurality of sovereignties in the Middle East during the long 19th century, with a special focus on the turn of the 20th century.
The Middle East is often singled out as an area where international law is insufficiently implemented or where its authority is undermined by inextricable regional conflicts and emotional tensions. The persistence of these conflicts and the failure to implement international law are often attributed to emotions like outrage, fear and anger. However, before examining what emotions may have affected the effectiveness of international law, should one not consider that (these and other) emotions entangled with colonial history  were also involved in the genesis the legal norms – including sovereignty – that underlie the post-WWI configuration, which is itself at the heart of the tensions? How did the role of emotions in normative production affect local sovereignties? Did individual and collective emotions influence the production of international norms and their hegemonic taxonomy? Despite the numerous studies on the mandate system, colonial history and globalisation as well as a number of critical voices, international law is still often seen as autonomous of the historical construct of a systemic hegemony. But wouldn't continuing to consider international law as the only force capable of saving the region be a way of perpetuating the colonial paradigm that haunts any attempts to ensure stability in the region? This research project intends to examine the question of whether one could not validly suggest that international law in part contains the seeds of the problems it claims to solve.


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