MSAS Seminar: TT19: Week 1: Fundamental Rights Lawfare: Religious Freedom and Public Order in Pakistan and Malaysia

Conveners: Faisal Devji, Polly O'Hanlon, Kate Sullivan de Estrada, Nayanika Mathur, Mallica Kumbera Landrus and Ali Jan

Speaker: Matthew Nelson (SOAS)

Building on constructivist theories concerning national-identity formation as well as institutionalist theories regarding the regulatory power of law (here, constitutional and international human-rights laws protecting religious freedom subject to politically shifting claims regarding 'public order'), this paper examines a pattern of majoritarian national identity formation in Muslim-majority Pakistan and Malaysia. Specifically, the paper illuminates a pattern of intra-religious boundary-formation grounded in what I call fundamental-rights lawfare—a pattern in which majoritarian religious actors urge senior judges to operationalize formal religious-freedom provisions in ways that ‘securitize’ certain self-identifying co-religionists as provocative heretics. Seen as doctrinal provocateurs posing a risk to ‘public order’, these heretics are used (in a religious, political, and formal legal sense) to define the outer boundaries of each country’s constitutional community. 

Matthew Nelson (PhD Columbia) is a Reader in Politics at SOAS. His research focuses on the comparative and international politics of South Asia, with an emphasis on non-elite politics, constitutional politics, the politics of Islamic institutions (law, education), and democracy.

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