The Body and Creation of a National Identity

While invoking the conception of a country, Delany argues the religious expression of the male and female role in reproduction. She argues, “Villagers used to cite the Qur’an in order to legitimate their view. In Sura 2:223 it is stated, [“Women are given to you as fields; Go therein and sow (your seed) as you wish,”)(183). Since the country is predominantly Muslim, it stands to reason that this perception of the female role in reproduction would be widely comprehensible to the general population of Turks. This is corroborated by Delany’s assertion that villagers would use this quote as evidence, which suggests that this belief was common among the general population. Delaney asserts the importance of the beliefs of common people to the formation of a Turkish identity, stating, “[They] encouraged the modernizing, nationalistically inclined intellectuals to turn to the “common people” and to folklore for inspiration. It was in folklore-tales, proverbs, and especially folk poetry, often communicated by traveling minstrels-that the sentiments and values of the Turkish people could be found,”(Delaney 181).   Thus by examining the beliefs and culture of the common people, one could attain a knowledge of the Turkish people as a whole. The cultural practices of the common people would be used as a unifying agent as these beliefs would form the bedrock of a national Turkish identity. Thus, when villagers discuss a Koranic belief system of the female role in reproduction, it is likely a good metric for the Turkish belief. Within this religious context, females play a passive role in the creation of new life. Women simply provide the nutrients necessary for it to flourish, which downplays their agency in reproduction, while creating a literal connection between femininity and land. When invoking the imagery of birth when considering the creation of a new nation, the land obtains feminine characteristics.

The role of ones duty to a body can be examined within the context of Hamdy’s discussion of Ali’s struggle with organ transplantation. Ali argued that, “God alone owns everything, including human bodies and their parts. Who are we, then, to give something away that we do not own?”(148, Hamdy). Here both the body and land are things belonging to God. It is immoral to give something away that belongs to God, so the relinquishment of both land and body cannot be justified through this world view. Furthermore, one has an obligation to uphold God’s property. Ali’s doctor argues, “God had given people their bodies as a trust (amana) and that he was therefore responsible to take care of it,”(151, Hamdy). The body never truly belongs to the host, as it is simply on loan from God. Therefore a person is morally obligated, under this school of thought, to maintain the body to the best of their ability because it is God’s property rather than their own. Extending this logic to the Turks, they would have a similar obligation to act in a way which best maintains the female body which functions as the metaphorical mother of Turkey.

Mustafa Kemal appeals to the feminine imagery following the dismantling of the Ottoman Empire. According to Delaney, “[Kemal] made a whirlwind tour of the country and rallied the people to resist the partition and claim the country as their own. The appeal was made to their sense of honor; they must come to the defense of the Motherland that, he claimed, had been prostituted under the capitulations and was about to be mutilated by the partition,”(186). With the land functioning as a female body, the breaking up of the empire is akin to the mutilation of that body. It is therefore their duty to protect their motherland from European control as it would their duty to defend their mother or spouse from the sexual advances of an unwanted man. Therefore this parallel between femininity and land, originating from Muslim doctrine, functions as a powerful rallying tool for males interested in defending their land and creating a new country of their own. The male role in the conception of a new county within this framework is one of agency. Delaney asserts, “The paternal role has been conceptualized as the generative, creative role; the father is the one who bestows life as well as essential identity via the soul; thus he is the means for the divine entering into human society,”(184). Within this particular perception of reproduction, the father is responsible for the creation of a new being. Thus the creation of a new country within this framework is inherently male. Just as the land plays the role of the maternal, the essential identity of the fetus, or national identity of the country, takes on a paternal one.


8 Replies to “The Body and Creation of a National Identity”

  1. Hi Tom,

    This was an incredibly thought-provoking post. I appreciate your observations concerning Ali’s perspectives and beliefs in Hamdy’s work and the parallel to Delaney’s writings on Turkish culture and history. My struggle in understanding Ali’s perspective on organ transplantation within his religious beliefs lies in the fact that while “God alone owns everything, including human bodies and their parts, […]” (Hamdy 148) as you reference in your response, there are other interpretations of the same dilemma possible among individuals, as we’ve seen through various class readings that not only does everybody experience and act on religion differently, but it is also perceived in an etic manner unique to each observer. I understand your direct link between Ali’s case and Delaney’s explanation of Turkey as a “motherland” as both entities functioning as God’s property, but urge further discussion on what it means to be “morally obligated to maintain a body in the eyes of God” in the context of Islam and likening a country to a “body.” I’d be interested to hear everybody’s thoughts on this concept of maintenance, as it relates to the idea of agency that you later discuss.

    I would also broaden your mention of male agency to Ali’s struggle, as well. Ali demonstrated significant agency in rationalizing his beliefs with organ transplantation. He also portrayed a more traditional, male-oriented agency when he “[…] harbored deep reservations about ‘using’ his wife or siblings as kidney donors – being responsible for their potential illness, suffering, or potential inability to look after their children” (Hamdy 153). Ali recognizes the effect his decisions will have on other people, thereby respecting his agency as a male and a person to consider many aspects of his condition. How should practitioners approach patient agency regarding their religious beliefs’ influence in medical decisions? Is one “influenced” by religion or is religion an inherent aspect of a person’s decisions?

  2. Hi Tom!

    Great post; thanks so much! I think what you say about women’s roles in reproduction says a lot about the paternalistic notions of the creation of a nation, as stated in the Delaney article. It is interesting to note the analogy between a woman’s body and land: how a woman simply provides the nutrients for a baby just as land does for crops. This can even be extended to the ideas of the father as the provider of the seed for the land, another prominent role given to the man in the family setting. While this might be a bit of a stretch to compare to, but the idea of a woman as just the “land” in terms of reproduction is somewhat akin to more recent notions of women being stay-at-home moms. Only recently has there been a big push in the workforce for more women, and only recently have women been challenging the ideas that the woman should be the primary caretaker of the children. These ideas, however, go back so far in history and have followed us in history since then.

    Another interesting and noteworthy assertion is the one you make on one being obligated by God to keep the body in pristine condition as it is God’s property. This makes me question Ali’s original thoughts on not getting the kidney transplant. If God truly wants his disciples to do what they can to stay healthy, why was Ali’s argument against the transplant that “God owns everything?” And if so, why was the idea that God’s priority to keep the body healthy is trumped by ideas of not altering the body? While I understand how cultural context plays a role in the salience of certain ideals, it still puzzles me which arguments take precedence for a devout Muslim.

  3. Hey Tom!
    Great post! I think you brought up a lot of good points while touching on the articles quite nicely.
    I wish you provided a little more on your thoughts on Hamdy’s article. I feel that you provided a bit of summary using quotes from the text, but I’m curious on your stance. Do you stand with Ali or his doctor? How might the approach be different if Ali were a female? Is Ali a hypocrite for changing his viewpoint on organ transplantation? Those were some questions I had when I was reading through your post.
    I think you did a great job tying the readings together, especially to the last reading. I wanted a bit more of your thoughts on them.

  4. Hello Tom,

    I greatly enjoyed your synthesis of the three articles in your last paragraph. What particularly struck me is how incredibly practical the extrapolation of family dynamics onto nationalism is, especially within the religious and political context of the dismantling Ottoman empire. Kemal used the gendered ideas inherent in Islam regarding agency/transmittal of paternity and the base template of maternity to rally his countrymen through an emotionally effective appeal. The underlying family unit espoused in Islam (and if not Islam, other surrounding Abrahamic religions) was a commonality among the peoples he wished to unite; by extrapolating the agency of the male to the agency of a male-run nation and the nurturing common denominator amongst the peoples as the *mother*land (territory of the Ottoman empire), Kemal attached divine relevance and approval to his mission and applicability to the personal lives of the general people.

    As for the mention of Ali, one of the most salient points in the article was correcting the view that patients such as Ali are fatalistic and blinded by religious determinism. However, the pendulum does not completely swing in the opposite direction – it would be folly to assume Ali’s reasoning was not influenced by his religion and was in fact. In fact, I would argue that Ali’s reasoning is extremely rational given the value he places on his social connections. Ali communicates these values through his connection to Islam, and it is the religious component that blinds the Western cultures to recognizing how those social connections (to both other people and his/God’s body) influence his decisions.

  5. Hi Tom, well done! I especially appreciated your incorporation of the Ali anecdote in your evaluation of Delaney’s writing. I noticed an opportunity to perhaps infuse the Geertz notion of microscopic nature of ethnography in your evaluation of Turkish national identity. Is it truly possible to claim a national identity based on the experience of a few individuals? Using slightly different variables, Geertz seems to argue that we must interpolate the stories of individuals to create an understanding of the larger picture, and would thus support this notion. I was also wondering that, despite your clear conveyance of the theme of the connection between body and land, what is at stake for the Delaney reading in terms of the context of this course. How does the Turkish ideology of reproduction affect their use or perception of reproductive technology?

  6. Thanks, Tom for a great blog post! I really appreciated how you connected all of the readings together. In addition to what you had mentioned about Hamdy’s discussion on Ali’s internal struggle with organ donation and the role of one’s duty to a body, it would have been interesting to connect his work to Geertz’s chapter on cultural relativism. Hamdy argues that “people’s understandings of religion and biomedical efficacy are often inextricably enmeshed and together factor into their cost-benefit calculations about medical intervention” (Hamdy, 144). Religion and other cultural beliefs influence greatly how and why a patient will choose a certain treatment method over another. It is important for all medical professionals to understand that such beliefs, although may not be ideal to the patient, are not technically “anti-science” and they should be respected. As Geertz mentioned in his work, “Understanding a people’s culture exposes their normalness without reducing their particularity” (Geertz 14).

  7. Hi Tom!

    I enjoyed your blog about these readings. I appreciated how you tied each together with the topic of femininity and the role of the female in reproduction as well as more widely in culture and religion. I did, however, finish your post feeling curious about your own responses to the readings and how you reacted to the various constructions of kinship, reproduction, ownership, and the tie between conception and land. I struggled with Ali’s manifestation of Muslim beliefs. When the body is created and owned by God and the responsibility for caring for that body belongs to the body’s self, how does one ultimately choose whether they are justified in altering their physical being?

  8. Hey Tom, this was a very interesting post because of all the parallels that you draw within. I was especially intrigued by the argument you made about organ transplantation. In response to Ali’s argument, that God owns everything, I would also say that because God does own everything, and he must maintain everything, it is could also be his duty to help maintain God’s other people, his fellow brothers and sisters. Therefore, I would argue that those who want to and are able to provide organs, would not be in the wrong.

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