Nurfadzila Yahaya, History

Ambiguous Subjects: The Place Of Arabs In Netherlands Indies During The Early Twentieth Century

Wed, 11/09/2011
Noon, Kerstetter Room, Marx Hall
Event Category: 
Graduate Students

Our next LEGS seminar will be on Wednesday 9 November, where Nurfadzilah Yahaya from the history department will present part of her nearly-completed dissertation, a paper called "Ambiguous Subjects – The Place of Arabs in Netherlands Indies during the Early Twentieth Century."

Those of you who have followed Fadzilah's work know that she has a fascinating and subtle "take" on colonialism and legal pluralism in an understudied part of the world.   I know that most of you are not expert in the Dutch Indies, but many of you have interests in colonialism and legal pluralism, as well as in issues of legal discrimination and the uses of legal categories to increase the capacity of the state.

Abstract:  "This paper situates Arabs within the complicated plural society of the Netherlands Indies. Inconsistently classified as 'Vreemde Oosterlingen' or 'Foreign Orientals' by Dutch bureaucrats, they were subjected to European laws in some matters, their own customary laws in others and native laws in yet some other cases. In contrast to Chinese and Japanese residents whose laws were elaborated upon in great detail, and grounded in statute, the status of the Arab remained deeply ambiguous and problematic in the Netherlands Indies till the end of the colonial period, as they moved seamlessly across jurisdictions. Since they shared the same faith as the majority of the population, they were sometimes classified as natives for the sake of convenience. However, since a significant portion of the Arab population participated in commercial activities, and dealt with European traders extensively, in commercial disputes, they were constantly subjected to European civil law so that European litigants would not be subjected to local laws in legal cases involving them. Defined in relation to other communities (Foreign Orientals, natives and Europeans), without ever having their status ascertained, these Arabs occupied the liminal spaces between 'local' and 'foreign.' How did they present themselves in Dutch colonial courts? How did Dutch legal categories affect Arab identities? By closely reading law reports and colonial journal articles during the early twentieth century, I aim to investigate the place of Arabs in the Netherlands Indies."