Fluid Jurisdictions: Colonial Law and Arabs in Southeast Asia. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2020

This wide-ranging, geographically ambitious book tells the story of the Arab diaspora within the context of British and Dutch colonialism, unpacking the community’s ambiguous embrace of European colonial authority in Southeast Asia. In Fluid Jurisdictions, I look at colonial legal infrastructure – discussing how it impacted, and was impacted by, Islam and ethnicity.  But more importantly, I follow the actors who used this framework to advance their particular interests.

I explain why Arab minorities in the region helped to fuel the entrenchment of European colonial legalities: their itinerant lives made institutional records necessary. Securely stored in centralized repositories, such records could be presented as evidence in legal disputes. In order to ensure accountability down the line, Arab merchants valued notarial attestation land deeds, inheritance papers, and marriage certificates by recognized state officials.  Colonial subjects continually played one jurisdiction against another, sometimes preferring that colonial legal authorities administer Islamic law—even against fellow Muslims.  

Fluid Jurisdictions draws on lively material from multiple international archives to demonstrate the interplay between colonial projections of order and their realities, Arab navigation of legally plural systems in Southeast Asia and beyond, and the fraught and deeply human struggles that played themselves out between family, religious, contract, and commercial legal orders.

Listen to me speak about my book on the New Books Network Podcast and read an interview about my process on Chapati Mystery. The book has been reviewed in Law and Social Inquiry, Bijdragen tot de taal-, land- en volkenkunde, Law and History Review, Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, H-Diplo Roundtable and Journal of Southeast Asian Studies (forthcoming in March 2022)

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