A Virtue Of Disobedience
Header Image:Holding Image inspired by the parable of the lion and the three bulls, by Byline Books. This is not a final book cover.
“A new work of political philosophy, Asim Qureshi reflects on injustice in the world he sees around him. Covering issues from torture and extrajudicial killings, to racism and discrimination, A Virtue of Disobedience takes the reader on a journey through the history of oppression, and begins a conversation about how previous acts of resistance and disobedience, through faith and virtue, can be liberating in the range of contemporary issues communities face today.”
About This Project by J.J. Patrick, Publisher at Byline Books:
A new work of political philosophy, Asim Qureshi reflects on injustice in the world he sees around him. Covering issues from torture and extrajudicial killings, to racism and discrimination, A Virtue of Disobedience takes the reader on a journey through the history of oppression, and begins a conversation about how previous acts of resistance and disobedience, through faith and virtue, can be liberating in the range of contemporary issues communities face today.
Asim Qureshi graduated in Law (LLB Hons) and LLM, specialising in Human Rights and Islamic Law. Currently he is undertaking a PhD in political science. He is the Research Director of the advocacy organisation CAGE, and since 2004 has specialised in investigations into the impact of counter-terrorism practices worldwide. In 2009, his book, Rules of the Game: Detention, Deportation, Disappearance, was published by Hurst and Columbia University Press. In 2010, he began advising the legal teams involved in defending terrorism trials in the US and at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Also included in the book is the poem ‘A Virtue of Disobedience,’ by poet and writer Suhaiymah Manzoor-Khan, who graduated from a history degree at Cambridge University and master’s in Postcolonial Studies at SOAS. She writes and speaks about politics, race, gender, feminism, Islam, being visibly Muslim, Eurocentric academia, decolonising minds and bodies, and more. (Suhaiymah will be contributing to an anthology of essays by hijab-wearing women in Britain called Cut From The Same Cloth.)
“This book is an attempt to reflect on the world we live in, and by centring faith, to posit a notion of virtuous disobedience, one that is congruent with the history and experience of others who have fought for the rights we are seeking.”
As a team, we are bringing this book to life in paperback and ebook format, and producing a hardcover edition.
We are making sure the distribution reach of A Virtue of Disobedience is global, ensuring this compelling work can be read on every electronic device, and can be bought from every retailer, distributor, and supplier.
We cannot do this without meeting the funding target. Your support of this project goes directly towards the production costs of this significant publication.
Time is short, too. We are running this crowd-funder over sixty days and, behind the scenes, we will all be working flat out to hit the publication date of April 27, 2018.
Please take the time to choose a reward option which suits your budget and preferred format, and be part of something truly special.
The state of exception is not a modern phenomenon. In times of political crises and repression, states have resorted to emergency powers, often directed at a specific suspect community/ies. Whether it is the period of Nazi Germany, the black civil rights movement, Apartheid or the Troubles in Northern Ireland, there has been a tension between the way that power exerts itself and those who seek to resist the excesses of the state.
Movements seeking rights and equal treatment before the law produced vast amounts of literature to intellectually describe and challenge the reality and discourse of their periods – they formed a body of resistance literature that has been crucial in formulating what we consider today to be among the most important works on anti-racism and anti-tyranny.
As a Muslim, whose adult life has been spent largely responding to the excesses of the global War on Terror – I have found there has been no faith-centred response to these same challenges. Further, the issue for Muslims is compounded by a class of scholarship that preach quietism in the face of despotism in the East, and a non-confrontational approach in the West. Doctrine is used politically and religiously to neutralise any dissent to the state, in whatever circumstance this might occur.
I am concerned by this, and history teaches us that this is not how human beings should respond to authoritarianism. I want to study the movements of the past and learn lessons from their plight, but more importantly, their resistance. I want to understand how they went about enforcing the morality of the law, in a circumstance where it was being structurally decimated. I also want to understand how the past is connected to the present, and so want to look at the killing of Philando Castile in the US, the Grenfell Tower fire tragedy in the UK and the general state of political violence in our world.
This book is an attempt to reflect on the world we live in, and by centring faith, to posit a notion of virtuous disobedience, one that is congruent with the history and experience of others who have fought for the rights we are seeking. This book does not attempt to provide all the answers, but to start a conversation about what the status quo is, and what philosophies we can adopt in furthering rights for ourselves and others. Do the scholars have it correct, that we must wait for the hereafter for justice, or as the actor Jessie Williams states, ‘the hereafter is a hustle’. My hope is that by being disobedient to authoritarianism, we can put forward a claim to being obedient to our principles.
“We are making sure the distribution reach of A Virtue of Disobedience is global, ensuring this compelling work can be read on every electronic device, and can be bought from every retailer, distributor, and supplier. Time is short, too. We are running this crowd-funder over sixty days and, behind the scenes, we will all be working flat out to hit the publication date of April 27, 2018.”
Chapter 1 – Illuminating the Heavens
The introductory chapter presents my reflections on the status quo and my dissatisfaction with the world I see. I write of the way in which I see scholars turn away from their role of holding themselves as well as authority to account. It is here that I pose my main contentions about the possibility of adopting a virtue of disobedience – one that questions race, class and power – but derived from both spirituality as well as politics.
Although the introduction is short, this is largely due to its non-traditional nature. I wrote this book as the ideas were coming to me and wanted the process to be natural. I also wanted to test my own questions as I wrote. Was this philosophy of disobedience that I had been thinking about a real thing, does faith actually have scope for conceiving it? I hope by the end this is something that I have answered, but I wanted to retain the introduction as being a natural introduction to the development of my thinking.
Chapter 2 – Time and Trauma
The first chapter of the book concentrates on the two themes of time and trauma and the intersection between the two. I think about how conceptually time is something that we don’t think of enough, and the way in which its significance interacts with the real world. I write of those detained in Guantanamo Bay or in pre-charge detention in the UK and the significance on their ‘periods’ of detention. I link these moments to intergenerational trauma and how cycles of violence emerge across time – relying on the French philosopher Gregoire Chamayou’s philosophy of drone warfare.
From this base I reflect on faith, in order to understand how to place these traumas. What does God say of time and trauma and their linking? I think of the traditions of the Abrahamic prophets that are presented and how they are used as exemplars. Here I find and use Timothy Snyder’s twenty lessons from his ‘On Tyranny’, to make a case for history as a site of instruction.
If, as the previous chapter suggests, history is cyclical, then how can we understand what the markers of oppression are? This chapter seeks to find the modalities of oppression, in order to understand what oppression looks like in different sources and periods throughout history. Working from the Abrahamic creation story, through the experience of the Children of Israel and tyranny they suffered at the hands of Pharaoh, to contemporary atrocities such as the Holocaust.
The second part of the chapter changes direction slightly, and interrogates the consequences of oppression and repression – to see what results it produces in different circumstances – tying back to the intergenerational trauma written about in the previous chapter. Retuning to the Spanish Inquisition, the chapter highlights how violence emerged from the repression of the state, but then how this theme re-emerges in the context of the post-French Revolution period moving into the modern world. Here, through professor Marc Sageman, I introduce some data around the threat of contemporary political violence, and its connection to the actual, rather than perceived threat.
Chapter 4 – A Community of Witnesses
The act of witnessing injustice and oppression is the overarching theme of this chapter. Living with all of the privileges of living in the West, there are many complicated questions that need to be asked, with perhaps uncomfortable answers. There is an extended discussion on the way faiths perceives the act of witnessing, and connected to it the idea of martyrdom.
The discussion leads to one of identity, and how we can understand our identity in the complex world they live in, considering the increasing number of competing claims. The work of Reni Eddo-Lodge in her ‘Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race’ helps to inform the entry point into this section. I pick apart some of the complexities of identity within my own family before coming to what I reflect on to be a centre piece, the place of the umma or Muslim community.
Chapter 5 – A matter of ‘representation’
Debates within the Black Civil Rights Movement serve as the backdrop to this chapter in understanding what it means to be represented and have representation for minority or oppressed communities. The arguments between W.E.B du Bois and Booker T. Washington as well as Jackie Robinson and Paul Robeson provide a useful entry into this discussion. However, to understand how they engaged with the system, it is important to understand how the system constructs itself.
Reni Eddo-Lodge who provides eloquent descriptions of ‘the system’ and the way that structural racism works interpedently to discriminate against suspect communities. As I wrote this chapter, I witnessed the burning into flames of the Grenfell and it provided the most tragic backdrop to the very issues I was writing on. A few days later, I found more current material when the US police officer Jeronimo Yanez was acquitted of unlawfully murdering Philando Castile. Within days of seeing the Castile story…my social media erupted with posts about the killing of Nabra Hassanen, the black Muslim American woman who we would later was raped and beaten to death with baseball bats. These stories prompted me to reflect further on why black lives matter so little, and what happens with racism and bigotry of black people intersects with being Muslim and a woman.
I present the view that the discrimination Muslims face is linked to the logics of the structural racism against black people, and how specifically counter-terrorism reinforces those assumptions. I end with reproducing the majority of the black actor Jessie Williams’ speech at the BET awards – a speech that captured succinctly the discrimination that black Americans face.
The BET speech sets up the next major section that I present as part of my argument, what it means to be a collaborator with authoritarianism and repression. I use two fringe characters in the story of Moses and Pharaoh to make my case that blood ties or tribal links make little difference to being represented, that even those from within an oppressed community can reinforce the system of oppression by seeking status. The point is reinforced by looking at the experience of those in the Warsaw Ghetto.
Chapter 6 – A Virtue of Disobedience
The penultimate chapter of this book proposes three main sites of resistance to authoritarianism through which we can locate a virtue of disobedience – these are in language, knowledge and community.
As I began this last chapter, it was in the wake of Muslim men having been killed by a far-right activist Darren Osborne when coming out of prayers in Finsbury Park. The scene is set through the media in discussing how it is that this act of violence is understood when compared to those carried out by Muslims. I write of what commentators are saying, and my own calls for calm amid the clamours to have equal treatment – but equal treatment of what? Repression? I readily point out the double standards, but also am aware of not permitting securitised narratives to take hold.
I present language as the first site of resistance specifically due to Timothy Snyder’s call for language to be watched closely particularly when it is deployed to increase the powers of the state through a projected fear. In particular he highlights the uses of the words ‘terrorism’ (which is vague) and the even more vague word ‘extremism’. I choose to resist by rejecting such terminology and all the structural racism the language brings. It is through both Martin Luther King Jr and Malcolm X though that I am able to make my case – they understood what this language does, and how to subvert it.
Knowledge, as the second site of resistance, is considered so due to impact that faux-epistemology has on communities. Starting with the fourteenth century Islamic scholar ibn al-Qayyim al-Jawziyya, I speak of power as being able to be subverted through knowledge, and its bottom up effect. Timothy Snyder provides more useful insights from his twenty lessons that we can take to formulate our notion of knowledge based resistance – establishing a base to present my argument.
The final section of this long chapter is looking at the role of community as a site of resistance. I start by revisiting the notion of trauma I spoke about in the first chapter, except this time to focus on the impact of trauma on entire communities. How do communities respond to the seemingly never ending police executions of young black men and women? I think of Malcolm X’s response to be civil, but to send to grave those who unlawfully touch you. I consider James Baldwin who considered the problem to be far greater than Malcolm X was able to conceive and both of these men return me to the faith, where I ask questions about our role in relation to the oppressed.
Chapter 7 – Patience on Truth
The concluding chapter of the book begins by referencing the story of the first battle in the history of the Prophet Muhammad, and his response to the use of torture during what Islam faced as an existential crisis. My entire working life I have advocated patience on collective value systems in the face of increasing calls for securitisation, and for me the Prophet’s example exemplifies this point in this moment. Truth-speaking is not just an ideal, it is something that should be practised and in the Muslim virtue of disobedience, has to be the one constant that we hold on to.
Leadership, like that of Angela Davis, becomes a target when truth-speaking is directed at authority. Referencing Davis, Assata Shakur and drones, I present the view that the state holds the keys to terrifying populations, and that at all times we are interacted with as subjects to their control. The powers in the UK to be able to stop tens of thousands of people entering or exiting the UK is just one example of the government’s severe overreach. I present the case of Muhammad Rabbani, who is one of the directors of CAGE, and how he has willingly chosen to be imprisoned over the principle that no one should be obliged to hand over their passwords to the police without there being a a prior investigation by the police. I think of Rabbani’s case through Martin Luther King Jr’s ‘Letter from a Birmingham Jail’ but also through Henry David Thoereau’s ‘On the Duty of Civil Disobedience’.
“We cannot do this without meeting the funding target. Your support of this project goes directly towards the production costs of this significant publication. Please take the time to choose a reward option which suits your budget and preferred format, and be part of something truly special.”
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Asim Qureshi and Byline Books.