Faculty Scholarship Digest

Amna Akbar



Amna A. Akbar, Law’s Exposure: The Movement and the Legal Academy, 65 J. Legal Edu. 352 (2015).

This article, part of a symposium on Ferguson and its impact on legal education, issues a call for opening up the law school classroom (including in doctrinal classes) to “ambitious reinvestigation of law.” This includes expressly addressing “law’s relationship to race, gender, sex, and capitalism,” identifying law's role in enforcing hierarchies and widespread inequality, and expressly addressing how “change happens when people demand something different and when they insist by whatever means at their disposal that their demands will be heard.”

Amna’s piece begins by describing her experience and awakening in working with young people involved in the Movement for Black Lives and her resulting thought process regarding the role of law in social change and, in turn, about how we teach law. The article discusses the Movement and its implicit claim that law in practice works to devalue black life and that organizing, disrupting, and contesting are a crucial part of bringing change, rather than relying on law alone to bring such change. This rich discussion then turns to implications in the classroom, covering a number of points and approaches. For example, Amna points to the traditional “purposes of punishment” that most Criminal Law classes study at the start of the semester. Why, she asks, simply teach the utilitarian and retributive theories of Bentham and Kant and their successors? The criminal justice system does a lot more than “deter crime . . . and punish wrongdoers.” A substantial literature of punishment-in-practice demonstrates that the social function of punishment encompasses much more, and that whom we punish and why are tied to “race, gender, class, the politics of fear, and the decline of the social welfare state.” Bringing such discussions into the classroom is not comfortable, Amna concedes, both because the conversations themselves can be uncomfortable and because of the challenge to the legitimacy of the view of law as a neutral and beneficial mechanism. Yet, she argues, we must get uncomfortable at times in order to show these forces that are “so central to law’s operation,” and the article offers a number of concrete suggestions for how to do so.

Amna Akbar, Policing “Radicalization”, 3 UC Irvine L. Rev. 809 (2013).

In this article, Amna provides a critical mapping of government practices and the resulting impacts of the process she labels “policing radicalization.” I use the word “critical” in both its meaning of “extremely important” and in its meaning of “analyzing merits/faults,” and, ultimately, in its meaning of expressing adverse judgment. The article’s careful and scholarly description of radicalization policing amounts to a powerful indictment of these policies.

The article begins by identifying the skimpy and conclusory origins of the “radicalization” thesis, in which government identifies what it considers “an observable, and to some extent, predictable process by which Muslims become terrorists, willing and able to commit violence against the United States,” that “is an outcome of certain religious and political cultures within Muslim communities.” The article identifies the extraordinary influence in the construction of the “radicalization” concept exerted by a 2007 report by the New York Police Department, and examines the underpinnings (or lack thereof) of that watershed document. The article then details the startling nature and extent of the “counter-radicalization” activities the government engages in to monitor and counter this “radicalization” process that it has constructed. The radicalization narrative and the government’s “counter-radicalization” practices, under which “Muslims are reduced to either potential terrorists or informants or ‘counter-radicalizers,’” stigmatizes Muslim religious practices and communities in specific ways (familiar in many aspects from other forms of subordination) that the article details as part of its project. Amna explains that “[d]eploying the language of radicalization implicitly counters charges of biased policing. . . . [L]aw enforcement is not monitoring Muslims for being Muslim but instead for radicalization to terrorism.” Arguing that the government has not made its case—that radicalization theory lacks both legitimacy and foundation, the article describes the result as “a dangerous self-perpetuating cycle” of government behavior.

Book Chapters

Amna Akbar & Rupal Oza, “Muslim Fundamentalism” and Human Rights in an Age of Terror and Empire, in Gender, National Security and Counter-Terrorism 152-182 (Margaret L. Satterthwaite & Jayne C. Huckerby eds., 2013).

In her first publication after joining Moritz, Amna Akbar (with co-author Rupal Oza—Associate Professor and Director of the Women and Gender Studies program at Hunter College, CUNY) contributes a chapter on the human rights discourses to this new edited volume. In it, Akbar challenges two liberal positions that have emerged and are intertwined: a “good Muslim/bad Muslim” discourse and a “secular feminist” position. In the process, she exposes the one dimensional and marginalizing savages-victims-saviors framework used to justify the War on Terror. This discourse casts Muslim men as savages, Muslim women as helpless victims, and the U.S. as savior. She argues that Guantanamo and drone assassinations strain this metaphor; what is needed is a project committed to the intersectional realities that individuals may be subject to abuses and inequalities while perpetrating their own. Akbar weighs in deep to the various discourses exposing those claiming legitimacy based on being a “good Muslim” and secularism. She draws three compelling observations from this critical analysis. First, secular feminist discourse embraces the “good Muslim/bad Muslim” dichotomy and in the process endorses the us/them view of the War on Terror. Second, secular feminists’ concerns that the Muslim fundamentalist codes sanction violence on women is myopic and ignores the role of Western violence. Third, secularism viewed as a bulwark against Muslim fundamentalism ignores the multiplicity of forces that shape lived reality. Akbar calls for a human rights project that takes into account geography, responsibility, and difference to “account for the full complexity of Muslim realities.”