Academic journal article Law & Society Review

Race, Inequality, and Colonialism in the New World Order

Academic journal article Law & Society Review

Race, Inequality, and Colonialism in the New World Order

Article excerpt

Race, Inequality, and Colonialism in the New World Order

Sherene H. Razack, Dark Threats and White Knights: The Somalia Affair, Peacekeeping, and the New Imperialism. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2004. 236 pages. $50.00 cloth; $24.95 paper.

Balakrishnan Rajagopal, International Law from Below: Development, Social Movements, and Third World Resistance. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003. 343 pages. $80.00 cloth; $36.20 paper.

In early 2004, as Americans viewed the photographs of beatings, humiliation, and abuse of the Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib with horror, they were repeating the experiences of Canadians 10 years earlier. In 1994, Canadians saw photos and videotapes of cruelty and abuse by their peacekeepers toward the Somalis they had been sent to rescue. In 2004, Americans confronted the fact that U.S. soldiers were capable of the same forms of brutality and cruelty they had come to expect from other regimes. For Canadians, proud of their status as peacekeepers to the world, this experience was also deeply distressing. How did they make sense of their behavior? Reading this event through the lens of race, Sherene Razack in Dark Threats and White Knights argues that this was not an aberrant event, the product of a few "bad apples," or a failure of oversight but an expression of the underlying dynamics of race and imperialism that shaped the peacekeeping project in the first place.

In her trenchant study of what the Canadians call the "Somalia Affair," she explores the events that took place during the Canadian peacekeeping mission in Somalia in 1993 and the legal investigations and inquiry that followed. Razack's book relies on a detailed analysis of these trials and the national inquiry as well as discussions in the popular press about these incidents (p. 7). She uses this case study to illuminate the larger global situation of modern peacekeeping, arguing that it is a new form of imperialism in which the civilized North rescues the tumultuous South from its inability to govern itself. This is a racially coded process: white nations are helping brown and black ones to control their populations. Although the legal investigation and prosecution of this affair reinterpreted the violence as the actions of a few individuals, she argues that the violence and abuse were embedded in widespread narratives of race and danger, the civilizing mission of colonialism, and Kiplingesque notions of "savage wars of peace." These images, along with conceptions of hegemonic masculinity, pervaded the Canadian military and Canadian society itself. Her courageous examination of the systemic role of race and imperialism in peacekeeping missions provides a powerful critique of the image of the civilized global North serving as the rescuer of a chaotic global South. The similarity between this event and the American military action in Iraq with the pervasive patterns of prisoner abuse is striking.

Balakrishnan Rajagopal challenges the idea that international law develops according to its own internal principles and the logic of legal scholarship. He takes issue with this comfortable self-assessment, showing instead how its major institutions have developed in response to protest movements in the Third World. Like Razack, he situates an apparently progressive institution within the dynamics of race and colonialism, providing a provocatively different perspective. He shows how, time and again, the development of international law has been a reaction to the need to contain and manage the Third World rather than a response to international law's own internal agendas and concerns. His major concern is a critique of colonialist dimensions of the development project and the way international law has been shaped by this project. The book includes a history of Third World involvement in international law, dating back to the Mandate period of the 1930s and the nonaligned movement of the 1950s. The book clearly shows that the development of international law has always been linked to an effort to control Third World resistance and promote global capitalist expansion. …

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