The Other 'Other': Moors, International Law and the Origin of the Colonial Matrix
Forthcoming, 2017, I. de la Rasilla del Moral & A. Shahid, New Approaches to the History of International Law and Islam (Leiden: Martinus Nijhoff/Brill, 2017).
23 Pages Posted: 21 Mar 2017
Date Written: 2017
Historiographies of international law highlight as the beginning of this “inter-national” set of binding rules the Reformation and the way it tore at the very fabric of Christian unity by exposing seemingly incommensurable (while hermeneutically similar) world views. Others go further and point to the Renaissance and the early modern periods as at least containing the seeds of an international legal order in the making. In particular the beginning of international law is located in the writings of the Spanish post-scholastics of the Salamanca school, essentially Dominicans and Jesuits reflecting on Aquinas’ rendition of natural law. The “Other” of International Law, therefore, is conceived as being the Indian of the Americas, one whose encounter powerfully contributed to the shaping of an international system becoming aware of his radical difference.
Still, international law’s debt to its encounter with its Muslim Other, despite its evident linkages to early modernity, remains curiously absent from the discipline’s historiography. At no point are the “Re-”Conquista and medieval Europe’s continued dealings with Muslims in its midst and on its frontiers mentioned, as if the “discovery” alone marked a fundamental break in the normative interactions between people. Why is this initial and even foundational hinging moment neglected? What does it say about the writing of the history of international law? That it is conspicuously not a history of the relation of Europe with its Islamic other, perhaps even a tentative erasure of that relation?
This essay seeks to challenge the accepted historiography of the discipline, with specific regard to Europe’s relations with the people of Islam, and those they perceived as the people of Islam. The general guiding thread of the argument is that international law, at its inception, was a discourse that enforced a structure of power for the justification of conquest and control of Europe’s normatively divergent “Other.” Conceptually, we propose to use Peruvian Philosopher Anibal Quijano’s theorization of the “matrix of coloniality” as a reifying structure of power, and thus of the inherent relationship between the project of modernity and the domination of the Other. We claim that the structure of the “matrix of coloniality” arguably emerged long before the “Re-”Conquista, while that event significantly helped shape its unfolding and arguably paved the way for the other conquista, that of the Americas.
Keywords: International law, historiography, Islam, Modernity, al-Andalus, Colonial matrix
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