On 27 October 2019, President Trump announced that US Special Forces had killed the leader of ISIS. What does this killing – an extraterritorial, extrajudicial assassination – mean for law? This lecture argues that events like this killing effect a translation of liberal legality into necropolitical law.
What does this killing – an extraterritorial, extrajudicial assassination – mean for law? Conventionally, positivist thinking regards law as boundaried and binaried, such that law’s other is “illegal” or “not law.” Against this conventional understanding of law, critical theorists perceive all that we embody, enact, and engender, including cultural texts, as expressing law and legal meaning. What, then, is the law brought into existence by the assassination of al-Baghdadi? Drawing on Achille Mbembe’s highly influential theorising of necropolitics (2003; 2019), and Robert Cover’s important argument about the meaning-making that occurs through the co-constitution of law and narrative (1983), Rothie Rajah argues that contemporary forms of imperialism, alongside narratives of American exceptionalism, have effected a translation from liberal legality to necropolitical law.
Jothie Rajah is Professor at the American Bar Foundation in Chicago. She is currently IFK_Senior Fellow.