Why did you organise the workshop?
Both of our research broadly focuses on governance by Islamist rebel groups. Matthew’s work focuses on the sub-national governance of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and Eliza has worked for many years on the Taliban in Afghanistan. Over the past few years there has been a large increase in the number of scholars working in the field of rebel governance investigating the characteristics, causes and consequences of governance by non-state armed groups. During this same timeframe, Islamist rebel groups have initiated or expanded governance projects across territories in Asia, Africa and the Middle East, providing a wealth of new empirics. Thus far, however, much of the analysis of Islamist rebel groups has been undertaken by think tanks and NGOs, receiving limited focus in the academic literature on rebel governance. The aim of the workshop was therefore to bridge the divide between these two audiences to explore the nature, institutions, and dynamics specific to Islamist rebel governance.
What topics did the workshop cover?
We had 13 presenters and 11 different discussants joining us over the two days, so we covered a lot of ground! The workshop was a mixture of research, some authors explored the more theoretical approaches to understanding the specificities of Islamist rebel governance and justice, while others presented detailed case studies on individual Islamist rebel groups. The different papers explored civil resistance to Islamic State in Mosul, various types of female members of al-Shabaab in Somalia and the development of Islamist groups in Mozambique. We also heard presentations from practitioners at the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, International Crisis Group and Overseas Development Institute (ODI) who have extensive experience interacting with, and even negotiating with Islamist rebel groups, including Boko Haram in Nigeria, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham in Syria and the Taliban in Afghanistan. It is naturally quite difficult to conduct research on Islamist rebel groups so it was fascinating to hear how researchers overcame both the ethical and practical challenges involved in this type of work, in addition to hearing their research findings.
Was it different holding a workshop online?
By far the best thing about holding the conference online was that it allowed us to have both presenters and attendees join us from across the globe. The presenters came from universities and organisations from South America, North America, Asia, Europe and the Middle East, which allowed presenters to interact who would not necessarily meet in real life.
We were also very happy that so many people could attend the workshop and listen to the presentations. In all, 320 people signed up for the workshop, many of whom work as diplomats, practitioners or academics, and we had a great engagement from the audience through their questions. Many persons joined who would not normally have access to this type of workshop and it resulted in very creative engagement from both sides.
What are your next steps?
We are now planning on organising a special journal issue on the topic with a number of contributions from the presentations. In addition, we are both working on our dissertations and other articles that deal with these topics!
Islamist Rebel Governance Workshop
This interview was organised by Kathryn Gichini, Events & Outreach Coordinator at the Centre on Conflict, Development and Peacebuilding (CCDP).
Banner image: © Jonathan Luke Austin.