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Islam, international humanitarian law workshop to be held April 17 at SU

March 24, 2009

Rob Enslin
(315) 443-3403

Rob Enslin

Some of the world's foremost scholars and practitioners of Islamic and humanitarian law will converge at Syracuse University for a daylong workshop to address modern, comprehensive strategies for dealing with armed conflict. The workshop, which is by invitation only, is Friday, April 17, in Room 304 of SU's Tolley Building. The event is part of the Islam and International Humanitarian Law initiative of the Institute for National Security and Counterterrorism (INSCT) in SU's College of Law. The workshop is sponsored by the Religions and Cultures cluster of The Andrew W. Mellon Central New York Humanities Corridor, an interdisciplinary partnership involving SU, Cornell University and the University of Rochester.

For more information, call Corri Zoli at (315) 443-5078 or visit

The goal of the workshop, says organizer William Banks, is to identify the most pressing issues at the intersection of Islamic jurisprudence and humanitarian law, and to consider how their shared concerns might prompt creativity in addressing gaps in Islam and international humanitarian law.

"The workshop is an important step toward a larger effort in understanding the challenges facing humanitarian law today," Banks says, citing key issues as asymmetric warfare tactics, the deliberate targeting of civilians, transnational conflicts beyond state lines, and shielding soldiers among civilian populations. In addition to directing INSCT, Banks serves as the Board of Advisors Distinguished Professor of Law in SU's College of Law and as a professor of public administration in SU's Maxwell School.

To sufficiently discuss these issues, Banks has assembled a veritable Who's Who of experts in Islamic law, Muslim politics and culture, comparative religion and history, international conflict and security, and international law and human rights. They include Robert Barnidge Jr., University of Reading (United Kingdom); Jonathan A.C. Brown, University of Washington; James Cockayne, International Peace Institute; Mohammad Fadel, University of Toronto; Bernard Freamon, Seton Hall University; Thomas Gibson, University of Rochester; Sohail Hashmi, Mount Holyoke College; Naz Modirzadeh, Harvard University; Niaz Shah, The University of Hull (U.K.); James Johnson, Rutgers University; Scott Worden, U.S. Institute of Peace; Mark Welton, U.S. Military Academy at West Point; and Tucker Culbertson, SU. The moderators are SU professors Miriam Elman, Renée de Nevers and Mehzrad Boroujerdi.

Banks says the impetus behind forming such a diverse group is the inherently complex subject matter. "The bodies of law we're discussing are 'living traditions,'" he says referring to the Islamic practice of adapting approved legal concepts to contemporary circumstances. "We want to rebut the tendency to reduce Western and Islamic legal traditions to static, or monolithic, constructs. An interdisciplinary approach to advancing knowledge on this pressing topic is necessary."

The Islam-International Humanitarian Law initiative directs global attention to bridging the gap between Islamic and humanitarian law in pursuit of a contemporary set of international laws of armed conflict. The initiative arose from the INSCT research project "New Battlefields, Old Laws: From The Hague Conventions to Asymmetric Warfare," which examined whether traditional laws and norms of armed conflict are adequate guides for present international conflicts. Banks says that INSCT is exploring different aspects of this topic through strategic partnerships with the U.S. Institute for Peace's Rule of Law Center of Innovation and Harvard University's International Humanitarian Law Research Initiative. "We're committed to building an international network of scholars, legal analysts, policy makers and humanitarian practitioners to enhance a global dialogue," he says.

INSCT is the brainchild of Banks, who established it in 2003 with support from Hannah Arterian, dean of SU's College of Law. A year later, the Maxwell School, led by Dean Mitchel Wallerstein, signed on as a co-sponsor. INSCT is indicative of each unit's systematic, interdisciplinary approach to important questions of law and policy related to national and international security and counterterrorism. More information is available at

This workshop is supported by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation through a four-year, $1 million award designed to raise public engagement with and visibility of the humanities throughout Central New York and to enhance the productivity and connectivity of its key scholars, students and community members. The Mellon CNY Humanities Corridor is administered for The College of Arts and Sciences by the SU Humanities Center and is part of a larger effort to support engaged research and a public dialogue about the possibilities of humanistic inquiry, coupled with innovative thinking concerning real human problems. Gregg Lambert, Dean's Professor of the Humanities, is founding director of the SU Humanities Center and is principal investigator of the Mellon CNY Humanities Corridor.

More information is available at

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