Speaker Spotlight: Dr Muhammad Asadullah – Decolonising Restorative Justice

One of a number of academics presenting at the RJ World 2020 conference is Dr Muhammad Asadullah who is currently Assistant Professor at University of Regina’s Department of Justice Studies where he teaches on such topics as Restorative and Community Justice, Mediation and Dispute Resolution, Criminology, and Criminal Justice. He holds both PhD and MA in Criminology from Simon Fraser University and an MA in Conflict Transformation from Eastern Mennonite University. Some of the many awards and scholarships he has received include Neekaneewak Indigenous Leadership Awards, Contemplative Social Justice Scholar Award, ACJS Doctoral Fellowship Award, C.D. Nelson Memorial Award, Liz Elliott Memorial Graduate Scholarship, and a Law Foundation Scholarship in Restorative Justice. He is a board member of the Salish Sea Empathy Society and is on the Advisory Committee of Simon Fraser University’s Centre for Restorative Justice. He has also served on the board of the Vancouver Association for Restorative Justice and the Communities Embracing Restorative Action. His research interests span such fascinating areas as decolonisation, restorative justice, conflict resolution, village courts, peacemaking criminology, indigenous justice and contemplative justice. Dr Asadullah is furthermore certified in Nonviolent Communication training and provides workshops on compassionate communication, self-empathy, and contemplative practice in community, prison, and academic spaces.

Decolonising Restorative Justice

The concept of “decolonisation” is not a new one and many professions, practices, and academic disciplines have had to reflect on their own practices and to what extent they press an ethnocentric approach onto diverse and differing cultures. The idea that indigenous cultures must be central in any successful practice is a view long held by anthropologists and “decolonisation” as a concept has been cause for reflexivity across the social sciences and in education, psychology, governance, justice, research methods, and indeed restorative justice. Monchalin (2016) describes decolonisation as triggering a fundamental shift in colonial structures, ideologies and discourses. “Decolonisation” in the most simple of senses describes the process of a coloniser withdrawing from a colony and leaving it independent and ideally mending harm caused by colonisation but decolonisation can be more complicated as every institution the coloniser leaves behind is shaped around a colonial ideal and reshaping it to suit the indigenous culture may be a challenging process.

Decolonisation in the postcolonial context has additional meaning where it refers to new or international ideas as they are introduced to different cultures. For example, a certain model of restorative justice may be infinitely successfully in Europe but that does not make it necessarily appropriate to introduce the exact same model somewhere else. The way or the context that an idea is introduced and how it is employed is also important. Are indigenous people embracing restorative justice for themselves and using it in their own way or is a large and distant agency or government imposing restorative justice upon them – maybe with the best of intentions – without allowing participants to shape the tool around their own needs? There is also the question of whether restorative practices can be employed in mending damage done by colonisation and aid in the complex postcolonial process.

An important paper

Dr Muhammad Asadullah kindly presents a most interesting paper which argues against “copying and pasting” Eurocentric models of Restorative Justice practices into differing cultural settings. He presents a study, grounded in the findings of RJ visionaries and practitioners in Bangladesh, which proposes a decolonising framework for RJ practices. The research paper Dr Asadullah presents recognises that in the context of restorative justice decolonisation entails “a) addressing historical harms of colonization; b) recognizing grievances of indigenous and marginalized communities about the justice system as genuine; and c) acknowledging that state- or INGO-funded RJ practices may do more harm than good.” Again, the idea that international or cross-cultural interventions which aim to improve people’s lives can inevitably do more harm than good is not a new idea and has been a contentious issue for international development scholars for many years as seen in James Ferguson’s (1994) The Anti-Politics Machine and in other scholarly works which seek to address this quandary. Dr Asadullah’s paper begins with a brief overview of decolonisation discourses from micro and macro perspectives to then locate decolonisation in justice settings. The decolonising framework which this paper offers restorative justice practices may prove of great importance as restorative practices and associated ideas are spreading among academic, justice, and other circles at an accelerated rate. There is no doubt that restorative justice is by now internationally pervasive and so it is crucially important that practitioners recognise that the Eurocentric model familiar to many of us is not suitable in all cultural settings without some reflection or indeed without decolonising that approach. It is also interesting to reflect on ways restorative practices may be employed in a positive way for decolonising purposes.

Ruairí Weiner has recently completed a BA in Anthropology and Criminology from Maynooth University. He is currently a Research Assistant at Maynooth University Department of Law and is pursuing an MSc in Applied Social Research at Trinity College Dublin. He is interested in organisational culture in criminal justice settings and how restorative practices can be applied to a variety of settings for community building and other purposes.