Convoys and Counterterrorism: Islamic Care in Times of (In)Security
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Convoys and Counterterrorism: Islamic Care in Times of (In)Security


“Convoys and Counterterrorism” is an ethnography of transnational affiliation—of ethical affinities in a time of war and subjugation. Drawing from sixteen months of fieldwork between 2016 and 2019, I follow British Muslim volunteers either involved in or deeply attentive to the Syrian uprising, exploring direct aid convoys and other practices of care as means by which Islamic ethical traditions inhabit and challenge a securitized present. On one hand, the aid work at the center of this dissertation is enabled by the power of British passports and the transnational mobility they facilitate. On the other, Britain’s security apparatus severely constricts the ecosystem of relief between Syria and London. I follow this tension by analyzing the forms of reasoning that divide charity from what the UK Home Office criminalizes as “abuse of charity for terrorist purposes.” By studying what the state admits and excludes from the purview of charity, I trace how it coheres as a concept and practice in our securitized order, marked by the War on Terror. In this vein, my dissertation considers the conflation of Muslim aid worker and Muslim militant beyond discussions of government bias or misrepresentations of a religious minority. Rather, I argue that this ambiguity demonstrates the ambivalent place occupied by Islamic voluntarism within the rubric of charity. Since 2013, media and state characterizations of British Muslim aid efforts in Syria have relied on the linked scripts of security and humanitarianism. These frames fail to capture the ethical stakes that propel many Muslims engaged in transnational projects of care. While volunteers’ investments are indeed shaped by humanitarian reasoning and the War on Terror’s juridical constraints, their sensibilities and felt obligations are irreducible to these logics. Thus, approaching the Syrian war from the oblique gaze of Islamic Britain, I locate Muslim investment in the uprising both transregionally—in the surveilled pathways of aid and jihad between the Levant and an increasingly populist Europe—and also theologically, within the heterogeneous moral universe of the umma (global Muslim community). As such, my scholarship contributes to an anthropology of Muslim worlds that looks beyond the conventional narratives of geopolitics and the methodological impulse of historicism.

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