Inventing the Martyr: Struggle, Sacrifice & the Signification of Palestinian Identity

DACC22B3-58AD-4E55-AA9F-33D390978BC1.jpgI’ll be presenting my paper “Inventing the Martyr: Struggle, Sacrifice & the Signification of Palestinian National Identity” at the upcoming MPSA annual conference (March 31-April 3, 2010).


Sacrifice and struggle constitute two of the most important themes for contemporary Palestinian national identity. Physical displacement, exile, military occupation, and especially the struggles and sacrifices undertaken in resistance to these forces inform the narrative upon which Palestinian society imagines itself. This paper attempts to problematize Palestinian national identity by exploring the ideals of struggle and sacrifice as manifest in the concept of martyrdom. These ideals have long been embodied by a number of national signifiers, from the pastoral symbolism of the Palestinian peasant to the youthful defiance of the ‘children of the stones’. As national signifiers, such references take on significance far beyond their putative meanings—a significance that tends to emphasize themes of struggle and sacrifice. To the extent that the label of martyr is conferred as a means of romanticizing and normalizing these same national ideals, it has become a mythical act that breeds it own secular ethics; it has become a metonymy for the Palestinian nation, superseding its superficial religious connotations and posthumously asserting the martyr’s national identity in a secular context.

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