Skip to main content

Law Research Seminar Series - Confronting Conscription: On the Possibilities of Ottoman Rebellions

Venue: Birkbeck Clore Management Centre

Confronting Conscription: On the Possibilities of Ottoman Rebellions

Speaker: Samera Esmeir (Berkeley, University of California)

A chapter in a book-length manuscript in progress (The Struggle that Remains: Between the World and the International), 'Confronting Conscription'� offers an historical and theoretical account of the 1834 rebellion in Ottoman Palestine against the conscription order issued by the ruling Egyptian Khedive who had occupied Palestine and ruled over it during most of the 1830s. Despite its failure, the rebellion has become a watershed event in the modern history of Palestine. Rather than read the rebellion as an episode in the longer modern history of Palestinian revolutions, or as belonging to the 1820s and 1830s global revolutionary decades, 'Confronting Conscription'� tells the story of a rebellion tethered to (theological) horizons distinct from those of modern revolutions, and articulated through an Ottoman conceptual regime that explicitly conveyed illegality. It is argued that the opposition to compulsory enlistment did not target an unjust ruler as much as it rejected the injustice of the modern state model of governance. In this sense, the rebellion participated in the world historical time of the modern state and the progressive time of the modernizing Empire, not by embracing them, but by anticipating and rejecting them. Compare that moment to our present when refusing to be enlisted is justified from the grounds of freedom of conscience and pacifism: a person refuses to carry arms and to kill others. Meanwhile, the opposition to conscription in the 1830s was anything but pacifist: the rebels destroyed, plundered, and killed. The difference in the positions then and now is telling of the distance the world has travelled: from a world when it was still conceivable (even though no longer possible) to reject the conscriptive model of the state, to a world in which it is only possible to reject conscription from the grounds of the state (namely, from its associated regime of rights, here: freedom of conscience). Examining this difference is key to appreciating the limits and the possibilities of modern struggles, legal and political.

Samera Esmeir is an associate professor in the Department of Rhetoric where she teaches legal and political thought, as well as histories of colonialism and empire. She is the author of Juridical Humanity: A Colonial History (Stanford University Press, 2012, 2014) and is currently working on a book project titled, The Struggle that Remains: Between the World and the International.

To book your place for this event please visit here

Law Research Seminars are held on Wednesdays at lunchtime. The seminars are free and open to the public, and a light lunch is provided. For more information please contact Dr Başak Ertür

Please note that latecomers to the event are not guaranteed entry. Please be advised that photographs may be taken at the event for use on the Birkbeck website and in Birkbeck marketing materials. By attending this event, you consent to Birkbeck photographing and using your image for these purposes. By registering for this event you consent to your email address being added to the School of Law, Birkbeck mailing list. Your email address will not be shared with third-party organisations. If you would like to request your removal from our mailing list please contact

This event is part of the School of Law's 25th Anniversary celebrations. The School of Law, Birkbeck was founded in 1992 as a Department of Law with three members of academic staff. Over the last twenty-five years it has become a School comprising the Departments of Law and Criminology as well as the Institute for Criminal Policy Research, four research Centres, 40 members of staff and an overall student body of over 1,000. The School is proud of being a pioneer in establishing and developing a hub for the field of critical legal studies. While our national and international reputation has been forged through critical legal research, more recently we have gained recognition for critical criminological and activist research, socio-legal scholarship and policy-engaged empirical research. In recognition of this the last Research Excellence Framework exercise ranked us as being in the top 10 law schools in the UK and in the top 3 in London, while our research environment was judged conducive to producing research of the highest quality.

In this our 25th Anniversary year we will be holding a series of events reflecting on our history and successes as well as looking forward to the opportunities and challenges facing critical legal and criminological teaching and scholarship in the 21st century. Find out more about the 25th Anniversary celebrations here.


Contact name: