Academic journal article Anthropological Quarterly

The Body of the Nation: Terrorism and the Embodiment of Nationalism in Contemporary Israel

Academic journal article Anthropological Quarterly

The Body of the Nation: Terrorism and the Embodiment of Nationalism in Contemporary Israel

Article excerpt

Israel is a country whose nationalism arguably hinges on a military conflict routine, In this paper I illustrate how national identity is inscribed in the Israeli body, and how "the body of the nation" arises following critical events such as terrorist bombings. Building on a discursive analysis of "bodyTalk" in the media representation of terrorist attacks, the article focuses on the non-discursive management of concrete bodies following such attacks. I focus on practices that can be subsumed under "body identification" and take place in the National Institute of Forensic Medicine. The data is based on interviews and observations conducted in the Institute during 1996-2000, and supplemented by narrative analysis of media texts. "Body Identification" and "bodyTalk" are thus presented as complementary aspects of the discourse of collective, national identity in contemporary Israel. It is argued that Israeli and Jewish identities, although sometimes discursively (politically) separated, are still closely tied in more fundamental, nonverbal practices of body identification [nationalism, terrorism, the body, forensic medicine, Israel].

Despite prophecies of the "end of ideology" and "global consumerist society" obliterating national borders, nationalism is still alive and kicking at the turn of the 21st century. In this study I conceive of nationalism as a form of modern symbolic activity, rather than as a primordial phenomenon (cf. Billig 1993; Miller 1995). Broadly speaking, nationalism is a form of ideological consciousness that presents nations, and the world of nations, as natural and moral. My focus is on the "flagging" of nationalism during terrorist attacks in contemporary Israel. To use Billig's (1993) language, it is not "banal nationalism"-the routine way in which nationalism is "flagged" daily in established nations that I am interested in-but rather in "deep nationalism"-the deep structure of the nation as it transpires in critical moments.

Nationalism in Israel, I argue, represents an embodied discourse. The contours of that discourse are highlighted in terrorist events. The national territory becomes equivalent to the personal body; the body politic and the citizen become one. The media are therefore examined here as agents of nationalism. Israeli nationalism is constructed upon the body, with the body as a literal and metaphoric vehicle for collective fears, hopes and commitments. To describe this process, this study builds on the concept of bodyTalk-how terrorist events are described, explained and given meaning through what is primarily a rhetoric of the body. Rather than being an accepted term with strict definition, "bodyTalk" is used here loosely to convey the widespread use of images of the body in sociopolitical contexts.

Another agent of nationalism that will be examined here, in the second part of the paper, is the National Institute of Forensic Medicine. I use an ethnographic study of the Institute's activities during the same terrorist attacks to show how the institute constructs a dichotomy between soldiers and non-soldiers, Jews and non-Jews, us versus them. This dichotomy, which is at the heart of Israeli national identity, is again constructed through the body.

There are two different parts to this paper-one dealing with the media, the other dealing with the Institute for Forensic Medicine-but they are non-the-less linked through the body, particularly the concepts of "bodyTalk" and "body identification." The first part offers a concise discursive analysis of "bodyTalk" in the media representation of terrorist attacks. The second moves from the front-stage of media representation to the backstage of the Institute's dissection rooms and genetic labs. I focus on practices that can be subsumed under "body identification" and which I treat as non-discursive representations -- in the sense that, in the labs, concrete part stands for concrete part. I describe observations and interviews conducted at the National Institute of Forensic Medicine during mass-casualty events. …

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