The Breaking of the Magic Spell:
by NANCY HARTEVELT KOBRIN, PHD, JOAN JUTTA LACHKAR, PHD
January 31, 2011
In our last article we wrote a compelling review of copycat young men and women setting themselves on fire and overthrowing their government and dictators. In this article we are taking an entirely difference stance as it relates to the past few weeks’ bedlam in Tunisia as having positive results. Here we see our "copycat" thesis working in the opposite direction -- toward a more positive one-- democracy. Muslims and non-Muslims, Arabs and non-Arabs interviewed in Egypt, Algeria and Mauritania, Sudan all over Africa and other parts of the Middle East are suddenly asking themselves why they have been weak and helpless and why haven't they taken a stronger position to rebel or even overthrow their own government.
In reference to copycat behaviors, we now are viewing “imitation” in a more positive light like everything else in life it has its pluses and minuses. Ironically, in the most recent events we witness a case where imitation does not lead to violence. It leads instead to healthier identifications and a desire for a better life. Self-immolation and suicide bombing are negative aspects of imitation, its "minuses". In Tunisia the opposite occurred despite the immolation. Tunisians are recognizing this as an opportunity to move toward democratization. Among the biggest problems in countries such as Tunisia is corruption. People in the Middle East complain all the time but the globalization of the news and its investigative aspect has helped to facilitate an awakening out of the magic spell of dissociation, away from magical thinking to caring for basic needs.
We introduce the psychological concepts of dissociation and magical thinking because dissociation and its magical thinking are the defense mechanisms, which allow a terrorized population to go about their daily lives while constantly living in terror (not fear) of being raped, brutalized or murdered. This is also known as denial. There is the cutesy phrase – “Denial ain’t just a river in Egypt.” It is no coincidence that Egypt is named since it is one of the most corrupt countries in the Middle East. We now see the mass protest movements and self-immolations there as well.
In this instance, the Tunisians were woken out of their slumber of denial to take a proactive stance on account of an act of martyrdom - Mohammed Bouazizi’s self-immolation. In our last article we highlighted why we should not buy into this media narrative. We wonder too, how else the narrative might go?
The Tunisians were living in a stupor and were allegedly awakened by a sudden “Slap in the face” about the self-immolation as reported in aNew York Times articleby Kareem Fahem with Hichem Marouani:
“On the morning of Dec. 17, when other vendors say Ms. Hamdy tried to confiscate Mr. Bouazizi’s fruit, and then slapped him in the face for trying to yank back his apples, he became the hero — now the martyred hero — and she became the villain in a remarkable swirl of events in which Tunisians have risen up to topple a 23-year dictatorship and march on, demanding radical change in their government.”
It is as if this slap has become an urban legend in which a female has to be blamed because allegedly Ms. Hamdy slapped Mr. Bouazizi and hence he felt humiliated. As a “real man” in a society drenched in the very problematic shame-pseudo honor culture, Bouizza was allegedly left no other alternative but to commit suicide. Do not the journalists, Kareem Fahem and Hichem Marouani, and their editors of this story have a moral responsibility to examine how they promote and further advance the blaming of the female through their provocative title? After all this is a culture in which males honor kill their females, not the other way around.
The group members along with the help of the media could recast the self-immolation as Bouazizi regaining his honor. However, they fail to understand the ramifications that this wreaks upon his family, children and as we argued the entire society develops a penchant for violence as the only way to redeem honor. Indeed in the first author’s bookThe Banality of Suicide Terrorism: The Naked Truth about Islamic Suicide Bombing, Potomac, 2010, she pointed out that the only way to redeem honor in such societies is by willfully spilling blood.
These regressed societies will never be able to pull out of their tailspin into self-destruction if they don’t begin to deal with the core issue – the devalued female and pseudo honor because the men feel fundamentally emasculated. We do them a disservice if we fail to put this issue on the table, even though it remains very shameful for them to deal with it. They have to begin at some point and we do not do so, altruistically and naively calling this to their attention but rather for ourselves because if not, the violence spreads into susceptible pockets of shame honor cultures in western societies and families. Besides, it’s the right thing to do. It is self-protection.
One of our colleagues, Dr. Orli Peters, reminded us of some important recent research which discloses the fact that in many of the studies of suicide bombers, no control examined for social approval of suicide, that is the normalization, acceptance and encouragement to kill off one of their own by endorsing, promoting and advancing suicide under the guise of this pseudo honor system. See Adam Lankford, "Suicide Terrorism as a Socially Approved Form of Suicide." (Crisis: The Journal of Crisis Intervention vol. 31, no. 6, 2010). Lankford notes Dr. Ariel Merari’s similar conclusion as well and we wish to also point out that our colleague Dr. Anat Berko has also repeatedly underscored how suicide bombings are socially approved. Again the first author also argued in The Banality of Suicide Terrorism that bad behaviors have become normalized in cultures that adopt suicide bombing as a core ideology. Furthermore, she made the direct link to the honor killing of the devalued female as an explicit example of such normalization that facilitated the adoption of suicide bombings on the slippery slope of cultural self-destruction. She considers suicide bombing to be a hybrid of domestic violence’s murder-suicide, honor killing and serial killing by proxy. In our last essay we stressed that Bouazizi was the proxy of the group’s murderous rage because of pseudo honor.
Women must stop being blamed for setting off the immolation. Men in these corrupt regimes must start taking responsibility for the corruption of their regimes. Even more startling in the story coming out of Tunisia is the president’s wife, Ms. Trebelsi, who is made out to be the wicked witch. For sure she is right up there with Souha Arafat who has lived off the backs of the poor Palestinian people for ages. Granted too, it is hard to know all the details from afar but the track record in the Middle East in particular is that it is easier to blame the female for all its woes.
Leila Trebelsi, wife of Tunisia’s President Zine Al Abidine Ben Ali, who allegedly fled with $50 million in gold.
Isn’t it ironic how Muslim men struggle to recognize their own women, yet they fawn over and idealize their mothers? On the other side of the fence it is also extremely uncomfortable for Israeli male-dominated macho culture, its politicians and policy makers to recognize themselves as “females” in this political game. Indeed the Katsav verdict was a break through moment too for Israeli magical thinking about how a president could do no wrong. On both sides of this Middle Eastern fence there is dissociation. Nevertheless the main difference is that Judaism does not promote suicide bombing nor honor killings. Even under the worst conditions, for example, the history of the Sicaris, those Jews who carried out political assassinations in early Israel knowing that they would be killed, this tradition is not venerated today.
In conclusion, corruption must be tackled. Women are also part of the dissociation. How so? Because the women are needed but they must be destroyed. We in the West must help these women feel more secure and we hope that knowing this peculiar conflict between being need and being destroyed, that they will no longer identify with the destruction. We also hope that the women will come to understand that this is the male’s problem in a dysfunctional society -- not their problem thereby facilitating their being proactive. Journalists and the media should support efforts to overthrow tyrannical leaders and not benchmark people as mass hysteria. We encourage people to support the nonviolent efforts of overthrowing governments, which violate human rights. To the Tunisians we show you our gratitude and admiration for your strength and admire your courage. May you be a role model for your followers.
FamilySecurityMatters.org Contributor Dr. Joanie Jutta Lachkar is a licensed Marriage and Family therapist in private practice in Brentwood and Tarzana, California, who teaches psychoanalysis and is the author of The Narcissistic/Borderline Couple: A Psychoanalytic Perspective on Marital Treatment (1992, The Many Faces of Abuse: Treating the Emotional Abuse of High -Functioning Women (1998), The V-Spot, How to Talk to a Narcissist, How to Talk to a Borderline and a recent paper, “The Psychopathology of Terrorism” presented at the Rand Corporation and the International Psychohistorical Association. She is also an affiliate member for the New Center for Psychoanalysis.