This week we had the pleasure of announcing the appointment of two new lecturers in law, Fatima Ahdash and Dr Plamen Dinev. In this Q & A interview, Fatima talks to us about her research, her teaching, and aspirations as a new academic member of staff in our department.
Goldsmiths Law: Where did you work/study before joining Goldsmiths? Are there particular elements of your experience that you’re seeking to bring to Goldsmiths Law?
Fatima Ahdash: Before joining Goldsmiths, I was researching and teaching at the London School of Economics (LSE). I joined the LSE as an undergraduate student in Autumn 2010 and completed my LLB, LLM (in Human Rights Law) and PhD there. In addition to undertaking my doctoral studies and teaching family law, international human rights law and legal research and writing skills, I was also responsible for coordinating aspects of the pro-bono programme.
Prior to and during the course of my doctoral studies, I also worked in a number of domestic and international human rights organisations, either as a researcher and/or a consultant. Although the nature and scope of my work with these human rights organisations varied, it tended to focus on documenting, analysing and seeking accountability for the human rights violations resulting from various counter-terrorism laws and policies, particularly on the rights of women and children, and/or the human rights situation in MENA countries.
Both my research and my teaching have won awards and I am seeking to bring my creative, critical, interdisciplinary and proactive approach to legal scholarship and teaching with me to Goldsmiths Law. I strongly believe in creating opportunities for our students that can both enhance their careers and help them to give back to the community and people around them. Therefore, I am really enthusiastic about contributing to the existing extra-curricular programmes and to creating new ones that can create synergies between Goldsmiths Law and the human rights sector.
What is your key area of research expertise?
My research expertise lies in the areas of counter-terrorism, family law and human rights and their intersections and interaction with each other in the UK in recent years. It focuses on an emerging and growing body of family case-law, known as the radicalisation cases, dealing with the impact of terrorism, extremism and radicalisation on children and families. Taking the historic absence of family law from the British state’s response to terrorism as its starting point, my research uses a variety of socio-legal research methods and draws on critical legal, feminist and social theory to interrogate the reasons behind and the implications, particularly for the human rights of the parents and children involved, of the interaction between counter-terrorism and family law in recent years.
I am committed to producing socially engaged legal research. I’ve been keen on disseminating my research findings widely through not just academic articles but also blog-posts, media engagements, public events and seminars and workshops. My research has been cited by the UN Special Rapporteur on Counter-Terrorism and Human Rights, the former Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime. I’ve also collaborated with a number of human rights NGOs and lawyers’ organisations, highlighting the negative impact of the recent developments in counter-terrorism law on the human rights of women and children and delivering workshops and training programmes for lawyers and social workers involved in radicalisation cases.
What are the primary intellectual debates in your research area right now?
My specific area of research, which examines the interaction of counter-terrorism and family law in recent years, raises and grapples with a number of important and cutting-edge questions, debates and themes. These include: how and why is this political problem – terrorism – being dealt with by the family courts? Why is the Law intervening in the private realm of the home and family in the name of preventing and countering the very public problem of terrorism? Why is the Law only now interested in tackling the phenomenon of childhood radicalisation? Why is the Law only now interested in the terrorist and/or extremist as a parent? What are the implications, for both counter-terrorism law and policy and family law and policy, of the family justice system’s recent involvement in the counter-terrorist endeavour? How has the legal regulation of the family and the construction of the family home as a new frontier in the state’s ever expanding fight against terrorism impacted the (human rights of) the individuals, families and communities involved?
What is your approach to teaching?
My pedagogical approach emphasises and aims to cultivate active student learning and participation. I have designed courses that are interdisciplinary, practically relevant and global in their perspective. My courses encourage students to place law within its wider political, historical, cultural and socio-economic context and to critically examine and interrogate law’s foundational – and indeed ideological – assumptions.
I am very keen on devising interactive activities that embed experiential learning, develop the creative and collaborative problem-solving skills of students and prepare them for the practicalities of a career in law. My lectures and seminars are often organized around a diverse range of activities including quizzes, debates, moots, simulated ‘problem’ scenarios and collaborative presentations. I have also devised and delivered a rich programme of extra-curricular and career focused activities such as workshops responding to government consultations regarding legal reform, guest lectures, trips to NGOs, relevant plays and film screenings and formal and informal panel discussions and events with barristers and solicitors. I have found that these activitiesenhance student learning and engagement, allowing students to appreciate the wider political, social and cultural relevance of the area of law they are studying and to develop career interests in the subject area.
How can we make a success of virtual teaching, and academic research, in the socially distanced environment in which much of our activity takes place right now?
Before we think about the practicalities of making a success of virtual and/or socially distanced teaching and research, I believe that we have to first think about the importance – and value – of empathy. We must remember that we are in the middle of a global pandemic that has claimed the lives of many people, including the friends and loved ones of our own students and academics. Keeping that in mind will hopefully inspire us to be kind to, and flexible when dealing with, our students, colleagues and, of course, our selves.
Secondly, although these are really challenging times for academic teaching and research, they also present us with many opportunities. And so creativity and adaptability are key to success here. Blending synchronous and a-synchronous teaching, inviting guest speakers from around the globe to give virtual lectures and seminars, making use of digital technologies to organise virtual tours and developing group projects that encourage students to blog, vlog and podcast can perhaps even enhance student participation. The fact that everything is now virtual has also increased the number of opportunities available for attending conferences and disseminating research to a greater and more global audience. We can also tap into the fact that there also now seems to be more of an appetite for virtual cross-jurisdictional research collaborations that might have otherwise been prohibitively costly.
How do we achieve work-life balance in this fluid world where we are confronted with a constant blurring of the borders between a virtual professional environment and home?
Balancing work-life commitments has always been a challenge for those involved in and committed to academia, and the fluidity of our working lives seems to have exacerbated the difficulties. Although it might sound counter-intuitive, personally I try to achieve a balance by being strict with myself. I make sure that I have a set time (and, sometimes if I am lucky, space) for work and time for family, friends and myself. Being proactive and at times strict about balance helps me to actually achieve it. There are of course days when that is not possible but I think as a general rule-of-thumb this tends to help.
What hobbies are you leaning into?
In my spare time I love to read novels, write short stories and go on really long walks. I am also a fan of watching reruns of Friends!
What are you looking forward to the most being at Goldsmiths?
I am honestly most excited about teaching Goldsmiths’ amazing Law students! I hope that they will enjoy my courses and that we will all have a lot of fun understanding and critiquing the areas of law that I will be teaching. I am also looking forward to working closely with my colleagues in the Law Department. They are all experts in their respective fields of law and I cannot wait to hear more about their work and to find ways to hopefully collaborate with them too. I am particularly enthusiastic about helping to coordinate and deliver the Counter-Terrorism and Human Rights Law and Policy Clinic. Introducing our students to, and allowing them to engage with, the main challenges posed by recent developments in counter-terrorism law and policy is really exciting. It will develop the research skills and knowledge of our students and offer them unique opportunities for career development in this dynamic area of law and policy whilst allowing me to incorporate elements of my research expertise and previous NGO experience.
I love that Goldsmiths encourages interdisciplinary and inter-departmental teaching and research collaborations, so I am also greatly looking forward to working with colleagues across the University of Goldsmiths.
We’re very excited that Fatima has joined our department, and are greatly looking forward to her wide-ranging contributions to our LLB Law programme and our LLB pathways, on Criminal Justice and Human Rights and on the relationship between Law with Politics and Human Rights.