Fifty Years on the Police Reform Merry-Go-Round

This guest post is published around the American Society of Criminology conference in Philadelphia, occurring November 15-18. #ASCPhilly

By Robert E. Worden, co-author of Mirage of Police Reform: Procedural Justice and Police Legitimacy

Officer-involved shootings have fallen out of the headlines, displaced by controversies revolving around the White House. But concerns about police conduct and interest in police reform remain palpable. The concerns bear a striking resemblance to those of 50 years ago, when the President’s Commission issued its report. In his book, Working the Street, Michael Brown described them thusly: “allegations of police brutality, race and class discrimination in law enforcement, violation of civil liberties and suppression of rights to protest government actions ….” He could as well have written these words in 2017.

In the last five decades, policing in the U.S. has evolved in many ways. Citizen oversight authorities have proliferated, administrative policies and reporting requirements have been further developed, and early intervention systems for police misconduct have been widely adopted. Federal authority to investigate and intervene into an alleged “pattern or practice” of civil rights violations by state or local police has accelerated the adoption of such reforms not only in more than a score of agencies, through consent decrees and settlement agreements, but also in an untold number of agencies that seek to avoid such intervention.

However, the policing issues of the 1960s remain unresolved in the 2010s. Part of the reason lies in the nature of policing and police organizations. Police work is not susceptible to valid and simple performance metrics. Outcomes – crime levels, disorder, fear of crime, public satisfaction – are affected by many factors other than what police do. Outputs – arrests, tickets – are indicators of activity but not of quality service. A consensus on what constitutes good police work does not exist, so even when officers’ behavior can be observed, conclusive judgments about performance are elusive. How, then, are we to determine whether police are meeting public needs or expectations?

In the absence of truly informative performance indicators, communities and their representatives judge whether their police departments bear the hallmarks of a properly structured and managed police organization. Does the agency have clear lines of hierarchical authority? Does it have – and make transparent – appropriate policies and procedures? Has it adopted (some form of) community policing? Is there a provision for civilian review of complaints against the police? Does the department train its officers in, e.g., cultural awareness, or procedural justice? Are officers outfitted with body-worn cameras?

These structural features may satisfy the expectations of public officials and interested publics, but we typically have no way of knowing whether they have the desired effects on police performance. Even when independent, scientific research is executed, the results are subject to question and debate. Structural reforms may serve to reinforce (or reclaim) police legitimacy, but they tend to be no more than loosely coupled to street-level practice, leaving unresolved the issues that prompted the reform.

Are we doomed to repeating this cycle of reform? Only so long as it takes to remove from street-level police work the ambiguity and uncertainty that has been intrinsic to the situations that we expect the police to handle.

Mirage of Police Reform by Robert E. Worden and Sarah J. McLean is available as a free Luminos Open Access e-book as a free download.


Robert E. Worden is Director of the John F. Finn Institute for Public Safety and Associate Professor of Criminal Justice at the University at Albany, SUNY.


Cosmic Narratives, Ecology, and Religion

This guest post is part of our AARSBL blog series published in conjunction with the meetings of the American Academy of Religion & the Society of Biblical Literature in Boston Nov. 18-21. #AARSBL17

By Lisa H. Sideris, author of Consecrating Science: Wonder, Knowledge, and the Natural World


A lively discussion on Edge.org asks prominent thinkers to address the question, “What scientific term or concept ought to be more widely known?” The answers provide a handy resource for anyone wanting to brush up on epigenetics or confirmation bias or case-based reasoning. The term that caught my eye is the “noosphere.” Its advocate is David Christian, the leading proponent of “Big History,” a science-based approach to history that melds the human and cosmic story into one grand narrative. Big History is exciting, TED-talk-ready stuff, and Christian obligingly narrates the whole shebang—14 billion years ago to the present—in under 20 minutes. It is presented as a modern origin story for all people, a vehicle for restoring meaning in the way that institutional religions did in the past.”

In resuscitating the noosphere, Christian claims it had a brief efflorescence “and then vanished.” It has not vanished, I assure you. You just need to know where to look.

My research on cosmic narratives like Big History and its (overtly) religious counterpart, the Universe Story, has led me down the noosphere rabbit hole. The noosphere designates a planetary sphere of mind, a thinking layer of the planet, that evolves and unfolds much like the biosphere (animate matter) or the geosphere (inanimate matter). It originated with the Russian geochemist Vladimir Vernadsky (1863–1945) and the French Jesuit priest Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955), among others.

A version of the noosphere concept is alive and well in scholarship on religion and ecology today, and in contemporary discourse about the Anthropocene. Some see the noosphere as a precursor concept to the Anthropocene because both signal a geological stage in which humans have become the dominant—and directing—force on Earth systems. In the words of Julian Huxley, “Whether he likes it or not [man] is responsible for the whole future evolution of our planet.”

So, how do we like it? I, for one, am uneasy. Others, not so much. Christian sees scientists’ recent announcement that the Anthropocene began in the mid-twentieth century as vindication of Vernadsky’s ideas. Why that date? Many researchers mark the detonation of the first atomic bomb in 1945 as the official start of the Anthropocene epoch. Of course, this is hardly an auspicious beginning to our career as planetary managers! Nevertheless, this was the moment, Christian argues, when “the sphere of mind joined the pantheon of planet-shaping spheres [namely] cosmos, earth and life.”

Pantheon. Mind you, we are talking about a geological epoch that began with world-destroying weapons and is proceeding apace with catastrophic climate change.

I worry that cosmic perspectives on human planetary dominance may frame it as a natural, even inevitable, evolutionary stage. My concerns were not allayed when researchers proposed recently that the Anthropocene seems a “predictable planetary transition” from the standpoint of astrobiology. Elsewhere that study’s lead author opines that our environmental crises are “simply another thing the Earth has done in its long history.” Better yet: the Anthropocene marks our “coming of age as a true planetary species.”

Such observations are both unscientific and irresponsible. If asked what scientific concept ought to be relegated to the dustbin of history, I would vote for the noosphere.


Lisa H. Sideris is Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Indiana University, where her research focuses on religion, science, and environmentalism. She is the author of Environmental Ethics, Ecological Theology, and Natural Selection.


Spirituality, Morality, and Eco-Activism

By Sarah M. Pike, author of For the Wild: Ritual and Commitment in Radical Eco-Activism

This guest post is part of our AARSBL blog series published in conjunction with the meetings of the American Academy of Religion & the Society of Biblical Literature in Boston Nov. 18-21. #AARSBL17


For the Wild came about because I wanted to understand the lives and motivations behind “ecoterrorist” stereotypes that were current in the news media during the 1990s. During interviews I discovered that memories and emotions may play an important role in shaping activists’ commitments. Love for other-than-human species, compassion for their suffering, anger about the impact of contemporary human lifestyles on the lives of nonhumans, grief over the degradation of ecosystems and the suffering of other animals: these emotions are expressed through and emerge out of what I describe in the book as protest rites.

My book is also concerned with fundamental questions about human identity construction in relation to others, human and nonhuman, expressed through and at the same time created by ritualized actions. I argue that these activists are the radical wing of a broader cultural shift in understanding humans’ place in a multispecies world and a planet in peril. Their actions express trends in contemporary American spiritual expression and moral duties to the nonhuman at the turn of the millennium. Their beliefs and practices reflect a way of being in the world that decenters the human and calls for rethinking our appropriate place in the world. Their stories further our understanding of how younger Americans, in particular, situate the needs of human beings within a world of other species that they see themselves as closely related to and responsible for. The following excerpt is from the introduction:

In July 2000, federal agents raided an environmental action camp in Mt. Hood National Forest that was established to protect old-growth forests and their inhabitants, including endangered species, from logging. High above the forest floor, activists had constructed a platform made of rope and plywood where several of them swung from hammocks. Seventeen-year-old Emma Murphy-Ellis held off law enforcement teams for almost eight hours by placing a noose around her neck and threatening to hang herself if they came too close. Murphy-Ellis, going by her forest name Usnea, explained her motivation in the following way: “I state without fear—but with the hope of rallying our collective courage—that I support radical actions. I support tools like industrial sabotage, monkey-wrenching machinery and strategic arson. The Earth’s situation is dire. If other methods are not enough, we must not allow concerns about property rights to stop us from protecting the land, sea and air.” Murphy-Ellis speaks for most radical activists who are ready to put their bodies on the line to defend trees or animals, other lives that they value as much as their own.

For the Wild is a study of radical environmental and animal rights activism in late twentieth- and early twenty-first-century America. I set out to explore how teenagers like Murphy-Ellis become committed to forests and animals as worthy of protection and personal sacrifice. I wanted to find out how nature becomes sacred to them, how animals, trees, and mountains come to be what is important and worth sacrificing for. This work is about the paths young activists find themselves following, in tree-sits and road blockades to protect old-growth forests and endangered bird species, or breaking into fur farms at night to release hundreds of mink from cages. These young people join loosely organized, leaderless groups like Earth First! and the Animal Liberation Front (ALF), coming to protests from contexts as different as significant childhood experiences in nature and the hardcore punk rock music scene. Various other experiences also spark their commitments, such as viewing a documentary about baby seal hunts or witnessing a grove of woods they loved being turned into a parking lot. What their paths to activism have in common is the growing recognition of a world shared with other, equally valuable beings, and a determined certainty that they have a duty to these others.


Sarah M. Pike is Professor of Comparative Religion at California State University, Chico, and, in addition to For the Wild: Ritual and Commitment in Radical Eco-Activism, is the author of Earthly Bodies, Magical Selves: Contemporary Pagans and the Search for Community and New Age and Neopagan Religions in America.


Destroying Yemen: Brothers and Friends Alike, Where Art Thou?

This guest post is part of our MESA blog series published in conjunction with the meeting of the Middle East Studies Association in Washington, D.C., Nov. 18-21. #MESA2017DC


By Isa Blumi, author of Destroying Yemen: What Chaos in Arabia Tells Us about the World, forthcoming January 2018

I wrote Destroying Yemen with the fumes of anger, frustration, and resignation still potent; friends, family, and enemies alike got whiff and knew to stay away. I cannot help, with now almost 1000 days of incessant violence directed at 18 million Yemenis, to feel my initial, and interim inspiration to write, has any hope of changing a thing. Indeed, it was my conclusion, somewhat reconfirmed in light of the recent events in the region, that ultimately my frustration, fear, and outrage cannot offer much support to the real corrective force of Yemeni resistance. As this book begins its journey as part of a public discussion over what has happened in South Arabia, I hope, therefore, to initiate not only an exchange of reactions, denunciations, and snide competitiveness, but an acceptance to ask broader questions about just what we are doing when writing about Yemen, the larger region, and indeed world.

In much of this effort to account for why Destroying Yemen constitutes the concluding strategic calculation of hitherto obscured global interests, I have tried to identify historic roots, as much as future consequences, to chaos in South Arabia. I believe it is not a regional issue, confined to an arena secured by think-tankers or regional experts. Rather, the destruction of Yemen, as a project, an agenda, a frustrated last-ditch strategic shift, implicates a much broader array of interested parties. This is a war with deep roots, reflective of ideologies that expected, demanded, and justified violence to impose an entirely self-serving process of wealth sequestration. Yemen for decades, in other words, has been at the forefront of globalist projects that objectified Yemen’s millions as collateral to a more potent concern with the natural resources that lay under their feet.

Like most scholars working on the region, I fell in love with Yemen. I had the good fortune to experience Yemen as it just became a unified potential reality in the early 1990s. Traveling the breadth of this stunning land, my wish to keep it entirely romantic could not resist, in the end, the intellectual potential of my growing interests. In Yemen, I recognized counter-narratives that begged for deeper analysis. As evident in Destroying Yemen, I refuse, for example, to surrender the relevance of the Ottoman story in Yemen’s modern story; and in this book, I feel I have made my most emphatic case yet for just how crucial it is to bring historic depth to what are clearly not uniquely (post)modern phenomena. Indeed, Yemen’s destruction is so systematic, so deep a crime, largely because of Yemeni resistance to Empire (be it Ottoman and British, or non-governmental agencies empowered by a mission enshrined in neo-liberal discourse). In this respect, I wrote a book that is contemporary as much as historically revisionist.

And yet, I write while millions are going hungry, dying of cholera, and terrorized (but not defeated) by bombs made in the United States, France, Britain, and Sweden. In this light, I end this blog post as I end my book:

… there has been little to admire from the world’s entanglements with beautiful Yemen. In the end, we must conclude that the imprint of would be global hegemons’ ambitions on Yemen takes its most enduring form in graves, bombed medieval cities, and a whimper from starving children no one wants to hear. And with this stark reality, I have nothing left to do. This in the end is just a book.


Isa Blumi is Associate Professor in the Department of Asian, Middle Eastern, and Turkish Studies at Stockholm University. In addition to Destroying Yemen What Chaos in Arabia Tells Us about the World he is the author of Ottoman Refugees, 1878–1939, Foundations of Modernity, and Reinstating the Ottomans.


We Live in a Culture of Commentary

This guest post is published in conjunction with the annual meetings of the Middle Eastern Studies Association in Washington, DC and the American Academy of Religion in Boston, MA, both taking place November 18-21. #MESA2017DC &  #AARSBL17


By Joel Blecher, author of Said the Prophet of God: Hadith Commentary across a Millennium

In many ways, we live in the age of commentary. It seems like every cough, sneeze, and throat clearing is swiftly rendered into text, algorithmically circulated across social media, and subject to endless comments from every perspective. A pundit on every phone, a guru in every garage, and an interpreter on every internet browser.

And yet, our commentarial culture, when viewed historically, is remarkably constrained. Terse, even. We even have a phrase for it: “hot takes,” instant reactions that would seem to tap into humanity’s stream of consciousness in a hundred and forty characters or less. Two-hundred and eighty if you’re lucky.

I have spent the last seven years studying a very different culture of commentary—commentary on Muhammad’s sayings or practices, called hadith. While similar to our contemporary commentarial culture in many respects—a key hub of social and intellectual life—hadith commentaries were multi-volume works of art, monuments to knowledge that required deep learning and decades of training and continuous revision. Commentators dedicated their lives to commenting on a collection of hadith—often passing away before they could complete their work—and meticulously crafted their texts to speak not only to their present, but across long periods of time. These commentaries were built for a kind of time travel—their authors bundled up into quires of paper and ink all of the knowledge they could find in the hopes that readers on the other side of the globe and centuries into the distant future might find some benefit in them. While many perished, the greatest ones actually succeeded, and are still read assiduously today.

I first discovered my interest in hadith commentary when I was invited to attend a live commentary session in Damascus, Syria in 2009. The commentator had spent seven years explaining a single hadith collection, and was only a third of the way through explaining the entire work. Attended by hundreds of students from across the globe, the commentator drew on a rich tradition of commentaries from classical Andalusia, medieval Egypt, and modern India to illuminate the meaning of the hadith for his present audiences. Emulating the practices of his predecessors, he read each hadith aloud, and used each word or phrase to digress on almost every aspect of the human experience. But when I returned to Princeton later that year to begin my doctoral research, I found that virtually nothing had been published on this complex and multi-layered tradition. I could not even find an entry dedicated to the subject in the Encyclopedia of Islam.

After a little digging into the sources, it became clear just how important and exciting this understudied field was. A quick search yielded hundreds of hadith commentaries produced over a thousand years, and each one told a unique story. A hadith commentary sparked public furors in 11th-century Andalusia. In Egypt in the 14th and 15th centuries, live hadith commentary sessions were the stage for spectacular and sometimes destructive rivalries among Muslim chief justices, while the sultans and emirs in attendance doled out gifts, jobs, and even tax breaks. The tradition found new life in British India in the age of print and mass literacy, and Urdu and English commentators emerged to address the political challenges of colonialism but also to solve intellectual problems that, they claimed, their pre-modern predecessors had missed.

Said the Prophet of God tells the story of this living tradition across a millennium, and I hope it will be clear why it deserves more than a “hot take.” As a central hub of Islamic social and intellectual life, the story of how Muslims interpreted and reinterpreted hadith has been a missing piece in the academy’s patchwork understanding of Islam and Islamic history. But this tradition is too vast for a single book or a single scholar to undertake. My hope is that this book spurs on future students and scholars to begin to mine this vast literature. In that spirit, Said the Prophet of God does not pretend to offer the last word on the subject, but rather an introduction to further debate, questions, and commentary.


Joel Blecher is Assistant Professor of History at George Washington University. His writings have appeared in the Journal of Near Eastern Studies, Oriens, and the Atlantic

Said the Prophet of God explores the rich social and intellectual life of hadith commentary and offers new avenues for the study of religion, history, anthropology, and law.

 

 


The (Chronic) Crisis of Legitimacy in Policing

This guest post is published during the American Society of Criminology conference in Philadelphia, occurring November 15-18, and in relation to this year’s ASC theme of Crime, Legitimacy and Reform: Fifty years since the President’s Commission #ASCPhilly

By Nikki Jones, author of The Chosen Ones: Black Men and the Politics of Redemption (forthcoming June 2018)

Fifty years ago, in the wake of urban uprisings across the country, the vast majority of which were sparked by a negative police encounter, President Lyndon Johnson charged The National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders to answer three seemingly simple questions: What happened? Why did it happen? What can be done?

The five problem areas identified then are familiar now: 1) police operations and misconduct in ghetto neighborhoods, 2) police practices that failed to protect Black residents, 3) the lack of effective and transparent grievance processes to report officer misconduct, 4) the lack of clear policy guidelines to direct officer behavior, especially use of force, and 5) the lack of community support for law enforcement.

In answering the President’s charge, the report did not shy away from the topic of race and racism. Instead, the report linked the problem of policing to histories of racist violence (from which millions of Black Americans fled during the Great Migration) and racist housing policies in American cities that turned ghetto neighborhoods into tinderboxes for the urban uprisings the Commission was called on to explain and, ultimately, prevent in the future.

In addition to highlighting the role that systemic racism played in the problems between the police and Black Americans at the time, the report also drew attention to a culture of racism among police departments.

All in all, the report (along with similar state and local reports of the time) had a dramatic impact on policing. Today, America’s largest cities are home to the most well-funded, well-trained, and professionalized law enforcement departments in our nation’s history. State and local law enforcement agencies receive historically unmatched support from the federal government and a vast network of researchers and academics that supports the development and implementation of policing innovations in cities across the country.

While today’s law enforcement agencies are stronger than they have ever been, they are also, if we are to believe some leaders in law enforcement, the most fragile when it comes to responding to charges of racism. This supposed fragility is evidenced in Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ assertion that the increased scrutiny of law enforcement (or, it seems, any scrutiny at all) is bad for officer morale as well as other calls to quiet (or quash) serious discussion of the ways that race and racism influence policing today.

Fifty years ago, incisive critiques of law enforcement led to monumental changes in policing. Fifty years later, it is clear that much work remains, including the need to acknowledge the historical role that policing has played in enforcing the racial order and reproducing racial inequality in the U.S. – not just in the South and not just decades ago.

Today, the potential for such discussions is limited by the fragility framework and color-blind criminological sound bites (e.g., the common refrain that there are more police contacts in Black neighborhoods because that is where the crime is) that demonstrate a resistance to discussing anything but implicit racism in policing.

Where will that leave us fifty years from now?


Nikki Jones is Associate Professor of African American Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. She is the author of Between Good and Ghetto: African American Girls and Inner-City Violence. 


Not Beyond Racism: Teens Talk about Violence and the “Jacked Up” U.S. System

This guest post is published during the American Society of Criminology conference in Philadelphia, occurring November 15-18. #ASCPhilly

By Katherine Irwin, co-author of Jacked Up and Unjust: Pacific Islander Teens Confront Violent Legacies 

Like many of us, I remember the Obama years fondly. At the beginning of his first term in office, phrases like “the post-racist” society and “America’s color-blindness” were bandied about in the media with a sense that some significant change in U.S. race relations was underway. I can even remember some of my colleagues who were writing about racism in the criminal justice system being somewhat perturbed that their work had instantly become passé after Obama was elected. Then came Trump, neo-racism, and neo-nationalism. Race and racism are squarely back on the table of discussion. It seems that we are not a post-racist society after all.

Given the quickly changing discourses about race and racism, my co-author Karen Umemoto and I thought it was time to illuminate important nuances of America’s racist history as they are felt and experienced by groups of teens who are often overlooked. In our book, Jacked Up and Unjust: Pacific Islander Teens Confront Violent Legacies, we allow girls and boys to tell us about racism, harsh criminal justice punishments, and the use of violence to enact vengeance. Teens in this study spoke of the U.S. as an inherently racist country – a place where the police, teachers, and school administrators were out to punish them and where they had few chances to thrive. The fact that most of the teens who acted violently in this study had at least one family member who had been incarcerated reinforced the idea that the “U.S. system” was much more likely to target than to help the teens in our study.

The story that the teens shared during the nine years that I spent researching violence in public high schools in Hawaii taught me some lessons about using retributive measures to solve deep seated problems in the U.S. As we know, America’s reliance on harsh criminal justice sanctions over the past few decades has made us the most incarcerating industrialized nation in the world. What I learned during this study with Pacific Islander teens is that the punitive turn in the U.S. has also left lasting legacy in the psyche of many young people. Not only did these teens feel the sting of poverty, racism, and political neglect, but they also came to avoid adults and adult institutions in fear of punishment.

There is also good news revealed in Jacked Up and Unjust. High school staff and community leaders provided extensive support services to youth during this study. Kids who started out their school careers as tough fighters, willing to “throw-down” at the slightest provocation, eventually became less violent and more engaged in school because of support services. The takeaway lesson from Jacked Up and Unjust is that young people who behave violently are not headed for a lifetime of pathology, hate, and brutality. Marshaling services and providing spaces for youth to feel connected, cared for, and listened to can change lives. This book instructs us all about how to provide such support for teens.

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Attend Katy’s author meets critic session on Friday, November 17, 2:00 to 3:20pm, Marriott, Room 502, 5th Floor as well as her other sessions too. And learn more about Katy and Karen’s work with teens in Hawaii.


Katherine Irwin is Professor of Sociology at the University of Hawai‘i, Manoa. She is the co-author of Jacked Up and Unjust with Karen Umemoto and co-autho of Beyond Bad Girls: Gender, Violence, and Hype with Meda Chesney-Lind.


Women’s Rights in Afghanistan: Strategic Dilemmas

This guest post is part of our MESA blog series published in conjunction with the meeting of the Middle East Studies Association in Washington, D.C., Nov. 18-21. #MESA2017DC


By Torunn Wimpelmann, author of The Pitfalls of Protection: Gender, Violence, and Power in Afghanistan

A few days ago, on the 11th of November 2017, Afghan Second Vice President Sarwar Danesh proudly presented his country’s new penal code. To most legal scholars, justice officials and aid workers it was a moment of satisfaction. Afghanistan’s last penal code was issued in 1976 and outdated. Moreover, since 2001, when the country became awash with expatriate advisors, a large number of standalone codes with criminal provisions had been promulgated, mostly by presidential decree. Regulating issues such as anti-narcotics, money laundering and terrorism, these new codes had been produced in isolation from the overall legal framework, but all (un)conveniently contained a clause stating that it abrogated any other law in contradiction to it, ( and on many occasions there were indeed contradictions, sometimes multiple). Judges was required to refer to ever-increasing number of laws containing criminal provisions, (some fifty according to one estimation) and so the idea of creating a new comprehensive penal code appeared a sensible one.

But one law has not been incorporated into the new code. The Law on Elimination of Violence Against Women ( EVAW Law) will continue to exist as a stand alone piece of legislation, due to some considerations, as the Vice President said. He did not elaborate further but in my book The Pitfalls of Protection, Gender Violence and Power in Afghanistan, the EVAW law features centrally, as it has done in the gender politics of Afghanistan over the last decade and a half. To follow the trajectory of the law, how it was conceived, promoted, contested, and (partly) implemented is to travel alongside some of the major political, religious, sexual and ideological faultlines of the order erected upon the US-led invasion in 2001.

The law, criminalizing 22 acts as violence against women was conceived in 2005. After a series of strategic and substantial battles within the country’s women’s movement, it was enacted as a presidential decree four years later. The EVAW law failed however to be ratified in parliament where conservative MPs denounced it as an anti-Islamic, foreign product and objected in particular to the law’s criminalization of underage and forced marriage, as well as certain forms of wife beating and polygamy. As such, the law had an unclear legal standing, but was nonetheless celebrated as an historical achievement by many in Afghanistan, both Afghan women’s activists and their allies in Western embassies who had been important in securing the law’s enactment. For years now, despite its ambiguous status as a decree, the law has been the focus of a massive implementation apparatus underwritten by development aid.

But not without some controversy. The conservative parliament aside, legal scholars argued that the law had technical flaws and unclear terminology, and that women’s protection would be better served by merging its provisions into the upcoming comprehensive penal code, which would anyway be the main reference point for judges henceforth. Yet, supporters of the law refused, arguing that to dispossess Afghan women of the law especially dedicated to them would be a reactionary move and a setback for women’s protection. The position reflected the particularities under which women’s rights advocates had been working in post-2001 Afghanistan. Both enabled and disabled by the international presence, which had offered them unprecedented political leverage yet also strengthened both Islamist actors and resentment to foreign influence more generally, many women activists seized on opportunities to get (sometimes discretely) progressive frameworks and institutions in place with the help of external allies and untainted by compromises with more conservative national actors. Whether this strategy will stand the test of time remains to be seen. One indicator will be whether the EVAW law will be applied alongside the new penal code, or fade into irrelevance as a mainly symbolic item and a product of a particular era.


Torunn Wimpelmann is a researcher at Chr. Michelsen Institute.

The Pitfalls of Protection is published in University of California Press’s Luminos open access book program. Click here to download a free digital copy.

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Sacrifices, Flesh, and Blood

This guest post is part of our AARSBL blog series published in conjunction with the meetings of the American Academy of Religion & the Society of Biblical Literature in Boston Nov. 18-21. #AARSBL17


By Mira Balberg, author of Blood for Thought: The Reinvention of Sacrifice in Early Rabbinic Literature

Evenings are still rather chilly in Jerusalem during the month of April. The priests, standing on a raised platform, were all shivering in their thin white linen clothes, especially after they had to remove their shoes and socks and purify their feet in water. Several hundreds of people were watching as the priests struggled to light a fire on the altar and to get a wooden spit to pierce through the sacrificial lamb. This somewhat clunky ritual event, titled “Practice Passover Sacrifice,” took place on April 18, 2017.

Several different organizations that strive to build a Jewish Temple in Jerusalem and to establish a sacrificial cult therein have been working together to produce and promote “Practice Passover Sacrifice” events for over ten years. These events have become increasingly mainstream in Israeli religious-Zionist circles in the last couple of years, and are now endorsed by leading rabbinic figures as well as by political and municipal authorities. The events are framed as “practice sacrifice” since Jews are not allowed to perform actual sacrifices anywhere except for the Temple Mount, a space so contested and explosive that it is currently off limits for any form of Jewish worship. The organizers, however, encourage Jews descended from priestly families to learn and master the procedure, so that once government permission is given a sacrificial cult can be restored on a moment’s notice.

The Temple lobbyists are usually viewed through a political lens, as extreme right-wingers whose main goal is to secure Jewish/Israeli control over all of Jerusalem. What is often overlooked, however, is the centrality of animal sacrifice in their religious vision, almost 2000 years after Jewish sacrifice ceased to be practiced. This emphasis on animal sacrifice is not esoteric or arcane: it is a manifestation of what supporters of these organizations view as the only authentic, original, and scripturally-committed way of being Jewish.

Indeed, like members of most other ancient Mediterranean religions, ancient Jews equated piety, worship of God, and communal identity with rituals involving the slaughter and burning of sheep, bulls, and rams accompanied by libations of oil and wine. The common story, however, is that once the Jerusalem temple was burned in 70 C.E., Jews had to figure out a new way of being Jewish, which could no longer be connected to the Temple and to the sacrificial cult. The rabbis of late antiquity are the heroes of that story: they are often thought to have positioned the study of texts as the most important dimension of Jewish life, and to have instituted prayer and charity as viable and even superior substitutes for the sacrifice.

Judaism today, whose texts and practices rely heavily on the rabbinic corpora of late antiquity, is accordingly understood as stemming from the efforts of the rabbis of the first centuries C.E. to turn Judaism from a sacrificial religion into a book religion. These efforts were ostensibly so successful that today, most Jews in the world never associate Jewish life or faith with animal sacrifice, and they are often surprised (if not mortified) that there are still Jews out there who think that sacrifice is something to value and hope for. But the truth is that throughout centuries of Jewish thought and practice, sacrifice never truly went away: it remained a ghost of the past, a “repressed” that keeps returning, and a possibility that is always on the horizon, even if only to be dismissed and abhorred. In my book Blood for Thought I argue that sacrifice was never substituted by the rabbis, but rather reinvented. A process of sacrificial reinvention, both fascinating and troubling, is happening again in our own times.


Mira Balberg is Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Northwestern University. Her first book, Purity, Body, and Self in Early Rabbinic Literature, examines how ancient Near Eastern ideas and practices of bodily purity were reconfigured by Palestinian rabbis of the 2nd and 3rd centuries through the influence of Greek and Roman medical and philosophical doctrines. Her new book, Blood for Thought: The Reinvention of Sacrifice in Early Rabbinic Literature engages with the process known as “the end of sacrifice,” the rapid decline and ultimately demise of sacrificial modes of worship in the Mediterranean region in the first half of the first Millennium C.E.


Young and At Risk: Canada’s First Nation Women and California’s Latinas

This guest post is published during the American Society of Criminology conference in Philadelphia, occurring November 15-18. #ASCPhilly

By Jerry Flores, author of Caught Up: Girls, Surveillance, and Wraparound Incarceration

Tamara Lynn Chipman, missing since 2005.

Across Canada there has been tens of thousands of missing first nations women like Tamara Lynn Chipman. A similar pattern has occurred near American reservations as well as places like Juarez, Mexico where scores of women as young as 14 years old have been kidnapped, raped, murdered and never returned to their families. Most of these women have received little media coverage, scant support from criminal justice institutions and are seldom found alive, if at all.

As an incoming faculty member in the sociology department at the University of Toronto, a new resident to Canada, and a Chicano feminist I was stunned by these stories. During the last ten years, there have been an increase in documentaries on this issue, scores of independent efforts to find these people, but there has been little government support to successfully find these women or to curtail these disappearances. As I began to read about this issue I was baffled by how similar the stories of these youth compare to the experiences of justice involved Latinas that I interviewed in Caught Up: Girls, Surveillance and Wraparound Incarceration. In this book, I address the multiple home factors that contribute to Latinas in Southern California ending up behind bars and the challenges they face when attempting to return to a “normal life.” I interviewed over 30 young women and included twenty more via group interviews or ethnographic fieldwork.

Identical Challenges

Despite the roughly 4,048 kilometers between my field site in Southern California and the greater Toronto Area, young at risk Latinas and First Nations women experience almost identical challenges when attempting to survive to adulthood. They must negotiate abuse in the home, a lack of social services (even in Canada), the ever-present threat of sexual violence, and the looming possibility of ending up behind bars. Additionally, schools, community centers and even well intentioned adults cannot seem to provide them the tools they need to avoid victimization and to be successful. This—and what seems to be a lack of interest or just plain oversight from various institutions—pushes young women to run away, hitchhike large distances, and participate in other high-risk behavior. As a result, thousands of young native women like Tamara eventually disappear or end up murdered on the side of rural roads across North America.

As an academic, feminist and victim of childhood sexual assault, I hope that we as a society can find a way to stop the continued attack on women and more broadly on all marginalized and oppressed groups. Additionally, I hope we can find these First Nations women and help prevent their disappearance in the first place. It is high time that we make marginalized young women the focal point of our efforts.

Moving forward there are a few simply things caring individuals and policy makers can do to help these young women:

  • First, introduce safe space where youth can report victimization without the fear of retribution.
  • Second, encourage schools and community centers to provide mental health services to anyone in need and free of charge.
  • And finally, make sure that all marginalized people including First Nations women and Latinas have access to quality K-12 education, three meals a day, clean water and a safe place to sleep.

Taken together, this will help address the main issues that encourage young women to leave their homes in the first place.

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Attend Jerry’s author meets critics session on Friday, November 17, 8:00 to 9:20am, Marriott, Room 406, 4th Floor as well as his other sessions. And learn more about the book from Jerry.  


Jerry Flores is Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Toronto.