Global Lynching And Collective Violence, Volume 1: Asia, Africa, And The Middle East

Author:  Michael J. Pfeifer, editor.
Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 2017. 228p.
Reviewer: Brandon T. Jett | March 2018

Scholarship on lynching and extralegal violence exploded in the last two decades. Historians and social scientists exposed the economic and cultural causes, regional variations and similarities, and, most recently, have begun to place the American proclivity for extralegal forms of punishment into global context. In the edited collection, Global Lynching and Collective Violence, Volume 1: Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, historian Michael J. Pfeifer, who wrote or edited five books on extralegal violence, further cements his place as one of the leading scholars breaking down the traditional understanding of lynching and mob violence as a phenomenon of the American South. The seven essays in this collection firmly demonstrate that the penchant for extralegal punishment knows no boundaries and appears across the globe. Nonetheless, the essays also remind readers that, despite the seeming ubiquitousness of collective violence, local context matters in fully understanding the motivations for, reactions to, and impact of these forms of violence.

This collection presents evidence of collective violence in Indonesia, China, Nepal, India, South Africa, and Israel and Palestine. While the geographic scope of the collective is vast, two main commonalities emerge. First, the human proclivity towards extralegal/collective violence knows no borders. From crowd beatings and attacks in Palestine/Israel, hangings in India, and burnings in South Africa, the ability of humans to engage in gruesome acts of violence against other human beings is on full display. Second, regardless of nation or region, the likelihood of extralegal violence seems to increase when the government is seen as incapable of maintaining order (however members of a given community might define it), or the legitimacy of the government is challenged. Examples include the death of a king in medieval Nepal, the promotion of summary executions during the suppression of the Taiping Rebellion in mid-nineteenth-century China, or views of urban Indians that “the official institutions supposed to maintain law and order have failed in ensuring that the outsider conforms to the social norms prevalent in a given place.” (133) While each essay presents unique arguments (unfortunately it is impossible to adequately review each one of them), it is as a whole that the collection is most powerful.

As a whole, the collection further illustrates the truly global nature of extralegal violence; however, readers may find some of the arguments a bit difficult to follow. Considering the breadth of countries, cultures, and time periods that this book encompasses, fully understanding the larger contexts within which these acts of violence occurred can be beyond many readers. Although each essay places each act of violence in context, it is impossible to provide proper background on, for example, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in a thirty-seven-page article. This is particularly problematic because, as Pfiefer emphasizes, collective violence “invariably reflects the local culture from which it stems.” (4) While the full grasp of local contexts may be lost on some readers who lack the proper background, each essay provides enough information and citations for interested readers to delve into the issues further. This critique notwithstanding, Global Lynching and Collective Violence is an excellent introduction to the emerging scholars and scholarship in the field of extralegal violence. Moreover, the variety of approaches and backgrounds exposes readers to a wide assortment of theories and explanations, which is vital to understanding a phenomenon such as collective violence that cannot be constrained by regional constrictions, simple timelines, or scholarly fields.

Brandon T. Jett, Visiting Assistant Professor of History, Rollins College

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