farid farid on the beach as site of somatic violence and anxiety


Farid Farid, ‘Terror at the beach: Arab bodies and the somatic violence of white cartographic anxiety in Australia and Palestine/Israel’, Social Semiotics 19:1 (2009) 59 — 78.


Nearly six months after the horrific episodes of racist violence at Cronulla beach in Australia, Israeli artillery fire killed seven Palestinians on a northern Gaza beach. This article examines how, in both sites, the beach is constructed as the legitimate preserve of an aggressive majority that maintains its fragile sense of cartographic hegemony through an excessively violent mapping of the racialised Arab Other’s body. The trans-national mapping of the somatic violence of whiteness will be analysed through a reading of Arab embodiment in the Australian and Israeli contexts of racial oppression and territorial aggression.

Keywords: white cartographic anxiety; colonial settler cartography; Arab bodies; Cronulla beach, Australia; Beit Lahiya beach, Gaza; Palestine/Israel


The present article discusses the current contexts of Australian and Israeli acts of colonial-settler territorial aggression on the beach. It traces how Arab bodies on beaches in Cronulla and Gaza have been occupied somatically and mentally by white centres of discursive, military and political hegemony. These centres comprise not only governments and their militaries but also their media and citizens who appropriate volatile yet sacrosanct imaginaries of self-definition through an anxious cartography of being. I argue that Australian and Israeli self-constitution as ‘‘sovereign’’ nation-states of a Eurocentric history have been made in a spatial geometry of oppression. The physical annexation of foundational violence against indigenous populations still informs the cultural behaviour of these states in dealing with threatening minoritised bodies evoking spectres of national guilt and of drowning otherness. Maps graphically lineate the borders that mark their porosity and solidity with bodies that inhabit, populate, roam and (un)settle the designated area. It is, however, often left unclear what the social construction of territory really implies and what it explains. As several meanings can be attached to territory, the key question is not whether territory is socially constructed but how it is constructed within a series of racialising and disciplining circumstances where such violent instantiations of power affect the bodies of those entangled in such cartographic distributions. This article tries then to sharpen facile constructivist claims regarding territory when faced with physical human loss and anguish. I proceed to do this by tracing the encompassing reach of colonial-settler oppression that treads over any racialised territory, even on the beach as a space of unmitigated enjoyment. Engendered in this textual corpus are the spectral corpses and wounds that haunt the generative violence of such a deconstructive project. I contextualise this project with the ability of suffering Arab bodies to disrupt and repudiate their reduction merely into aesthetic victims by explaining the political relationality and inextricability of these events from operations of sovereign power.

One Response to “farid farid on the beach as site of somatic violence and anxiety”

  1. 1 Jonathan

    What a load of guff!
    A classic example of the what Robert Fisk calls ” the poisonous language of academia.” Does anyone actually understand what the author is saying?

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