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ElioJahaj

TheBodyPolitic
September22,2015
CrinaArcher

TheEbolaepidemicastheloomingthreatthatneverwas
Ifyoulivedthroughthelastquarterof2014andwereininteractionwithanytypeof
writtenorspokenmedia,chancesarethatyoureattheveryleastawareoftheEbola
virusoutbreakinWestAfrica.Thedeadlyvirusmadeinternationalheadlinesduetothe
scaleoftheoutbreakandthegruesomenessofthedisease.
Atthisstagetherewas
considerablemobilizationatthelocalandinternationallevel.Organizationssuchasthe
WHO,UNICEFandtheRedCrossrushedtoprovidehumanitarianrelief,assistedbythe
majorglobaleconomicstateactors.Bytheendof2014Ebolarepresentedan
internationalthreatandtomakemattersworst,thecurelessdiseasewasandremains
scientificallyobscure.Thispropelledthesituationtodeteriorate,asmalignrhetoricfinds
homewherethereislittlefactualinformationandwherethereisapoorunderstandingof
thatinformation.
SuchmalignrhetoricwasexercisedincountriessuchastheUnitedStates,where
thepublicdemandedimmediateactionathome,althoughthethreatofEbolawas
virtuallynonexistentfortheaverageAmerican.Tomakethesituationmoreworrisome,
anoutpouringofrightwinggroups,punditsandpoliticalfiguresbeganplacingEbolaina
politicalcontext.ThispaperaimstoinvestigatethecharacteristicsthatmakeEbolaa
plausiblepoliticalmetaphorandwhyEbolaispoliticallyappealingtotheAmerican
public,especiallyrightwingconservatives.Butbeforedelvinganyfurtherintothe

analysis,thereneedstobeacleardistinctionbetweenEbolaasavirusandEbolaasa
disease.Asavirus,Ebolaisanentitythatisneitherdeadnoralive,needsahostand
representsaloomingthreatuponcontact.Whereasthediseaseischaracterizedbythe
aggregationofthesymptomsandasitbecomesclear,muchofthemetaphoricalpremise
ofEbolacomesfromEbolaasavirus.

Theterrorconnection
DuringtheEbolaoutbreak,therewasnoshortageofcomparisonstowar.
UNICEFspokespersonandjournalistSarahCrowewentsofarastocalltheepidemica
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fullblownbiologicalwarinanarticlefortheBBC.
Perhapsmosttellingwere
responsesthatoustedEbolaasaninvisibleterrorizerasdescribedbyLucySherman,a
LiberianstudentattheUniversityofTampa.
"Justimaginelivingsomewherewhere
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you'rebeinginvisiblyterrorized."
InNigeria,parallelsofterrorcontinuedafterthe
outbreakendedin19October2014leavingatrailof19deaths.PreviousPresident
GoodluckJonathanvowedinapublicresponsethataswehaveconqueredEbolaandwe
willsurelycrushBokoHaram.Aclearparallelbetweenanunconsciousvirusanda
violentterroristorganizationwasmade.First,thereisaclaimthatEbolawasconquered,
implyingtheexistenceofawar,similartotherhetoricusedaroundBokoHaram.And
secondthereisthefalsepremisethattheresourcesthatallowedNigeriatoendtheEbola

Crowe,Sarah."EbolaVirus:'BiologicalWar'inLiberiaBBCNews."
BBCNews
.BBC,11Sept.2014.
Web.21Sept.2015.<http://www.bbc.com/news/worldafrica29147797>.
2
"EbolaWorriesfromHomeFollowUTStudent."
WFTS
.N.p.,n.d.Web.21Sept.2015.
<http://www.abcactionnews.com/news/hillsboroughregionalnews/ebolaworriesfromhomefollowutstu
dent>.
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outbreakaresuitedtofaceacomplexterroristnetwork.Inevitably,thereisaneedto
identifythecharacteristicsthatmakeEbolacomparabletoaterroristnetwork.
Asavirus,Ebolarepresentsaninvisibleandloomingthreat.Thisviewwas
perpetuatedbyimperfectknowledgeastohowEbolaisspreadandtospeculationsthatit
canbespreadwithoutdirecttouch,muchlike
terroristcells
,whichoftenoperatein
darknessandareperceivedasaconstantthreat.Furthermore,virusesareorganisms
withoutconscience,hencetheydonotdiscriminateastowhomtheyinfect.Similarly
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terroristattacksareoften
nondiscriminatoryintermsoftheirhumantargets,butthey
aimtodisableimportantinfrastructure.Thus,thesetwonondiscriminatoryqualitiesare
misrepresentedasinterchangeable.Ultimately,avirusisanorganicstructure,whichis
neitherdeadnoraliveasitisdependentonfindingahostinordertobecomeactiveand
replicate.Terroristgroupsarenonstateactorsthatarenotpartofcivilsociety,butare
consideredrougegroupsthatformindependentlyofstateactorsandotherlegitimate
nonstateactors.Duetotheseoutwardpointsofconvergencebetweenthevirusanda
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terrorgroup,theprocessofadjectivisation
attemptstotransferthepropertiesand
sentimentsaroundEbolauntotheoperationofterroristgroups.Muchastheeventson
9/11wereusedtopasslegislationsuchasthePatriotActthatrestrictsindividualfreedom
andprivacyandwasusedasarationaleforfutureinterventions.

TheAmericanconnection

Itisimportanttonotethatthisassertionisgenerallytrueanddoesnotapplytoattacks,whichtarget
specificgroupsorindividuals.
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Sontag,Susan.Diseaseaspoliticalmetaphor.

Thepreviousdescriptionstilldoesnotaccountforthehighlyenergizedresponse
thatEbolareceivedintheUnitedStates.IntheU.S.additionaladjectivisationprocesses
wereatwork,ontopoftheeasilyelicitedterrorparanoia.Oncethisparanoiaiselicited,
amongstthemorenationalistgroupsthereisahigherstateofalert.Nationalistsviewtheir
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statesascommunitiesofhorizontalcomradeship
,unifiedandhomogenousintheir
feelingsofnationalidentity.Thus,anyattempttoinfiltratethisstructureisseenasa
directthreattotheexistenceofthestructure.Itisnocoincidencethatthissame
mechanismofrejectionisreflectedintheemotionofdisgust,whichisrepulsionatthe
ideaoforalincorporationofmalign,externalagents.Ultimately,disgustisamechanism
thatattemptstokeepthebodyfreeofdisease.Seeingasnationalistviewthenationsasa
one,theexpulsionofmigrantsisanattempttokeepthebodypoliticfreeofdisease.
ThismechanismisseenatworkintheconservativereactiontoEbolainthe
UnitedStates,wherealocalpartyexecutivewentsofarastosuggestthat:
Theprotocol
forapositiveEbolatestshouldbeimmediatehumaneexecutionandsanitizationofthe
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wholearea.
Themetaphoricalprocessathandinthiscase,identifiesEbolawith
unwarranted(illegal)migratorymovementsinsidetheUnitedStates,thustheonly
sensiblereactionwouldbethecompleteremovalofthethreat.

Conclusion
WhenanalyzingthemetaphoricalpremiseofEbolainapoliticalcontext,itis
importanttodistinguishbetweenthevirusandthedisease.Althoughthediseasehasgreat

Anderson,Benedict.ImaginedCommunities.
"WhyEbolaTriggersMassiveRightwingHysteria."
SaloncomRSS
.Web.21Sept.2015.

metaphoricalpotential(duetosymptomssuchasinternalandexternalbleeding),itdoes
notfareaswellasthevirusinelicitingreactionstowardsissuesthatareimportant
contemporarily(i.e.terrorismandimmigration).Thenatureofavirusasneitherdeadnor
alive,nondiscriminatoryintermsofwhomitinfectsandunconscioustherefore
unreasonablewithraisesparallelswithterroristorganizationsasrougenonstateactors
thatoftentargetinnocentciviliansandthatrepresentaloomingandhiddenthreatto
society.Furthermore,EbolaasavirusisappealingtorightwingAmericansasitisan
unconsciousconfirmationofwhatareperceivedasthethreatsofimmigration.As
demonstrated,Ebolacanbeapowerfulmetaphorasitcallsforanimmediateresponseto
aperceivedthreat.ThusfarwehaveexperiencedtheuseofEboladuringthetimeofan
outbreak,butthenextdecadewilldemonstrateifEbolawillbecomemorepresentand
normalizedinthemetaphoricaltoolkitofpoliticaldiscourse.