The Power of the Body: Analyzing the Logic of Law and Social Change in the Arab Spring

Jallad, Zeina

Under conditions of extreme social and political injustice—when human rights are most threatened—rational arguments rooted in the language of human rights are often unlikely to spur reform or to ensure government adherence to citizens’ rights. When those entrusted with securing human dignity, rights, and freedoms fail to do so, and when other actors—such as human rights activists, international institutions, and social movements—fail to engage the levers of power to eliminate injustice, then oppressed and even quotidian actors may resort to non-traditional tactics of resistance. One example of these radical modes is the use of the corporeal body as a means of protest. The use of the human body to make political argument may catalyze legal, social, and cultural change where rational arguments fail. This Article examines the power of the human body in spurring political and legal action. It analyzes the 2010 self-immolation of Tarek Mohammad Bouazizi in Tunisia, which sparked an unprecedented wave of protests across Arab countries, leading to what came to be known as the “Arab Spring.” It suggests that when human rights-based arguments are exhausted, space is created for alternative strategies of resistance. Mobilized and deployed as tools of resistance, human bodies become the argument.

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Columbia Journal of Race and Law

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November 2, 2016