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Commentary on Terrorism

Commentary on Terrorism

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Published by: moebius70 on Aug 08, 2010
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COMMENTARY
PSYCHOANALYSIS AND TERRORISM
The Need for a Global “Talking Cure”
Elaine Hoffman Baruch, PhD
City University of New York 
Psychoanalysis has taken a lot of flak in recent years. However, September 11,2001, has injected new life into the “talking cure,” both by serving therapeuticneeds and by illuminating the causes of terrorism. The traumatic separation of the sexes in Islamic societies is a major cause of fundamentalism and the searchfor violent political activity. Suicide bombing is one result of hating one’ssexual impulses. Of all disciplines, psychoanalysis is best able to deal with theirrational components of terrorism. But although psychoanalysis now shapes theway people in the West look at the world, not all of its principles are universal.It should now give more attention to the Islamic world in the hopes of devel-oping a global talking cure.
Psychoanalysis has taken a lot of flak in recent years. Blamed for both the false-memorysyndrome and its opposite, the neglect of real abuse—both unfair charges—the disciplinethat discovered the reasons for scapegoating had itself become a scapegoat. Furthermore,forgetting that humans are speaking creatures, the pharmaceutical companies, to saynothing of the HMOs, were promoting pills as faster and cheaper than talk. But along witheverything else it has done, September 11, 2001, has injected new life into the “talkingcure,” the term given to psychoanalysis by its first patient, “Anna O,” in reality BerthaPappenheim, influential humanitarian and storyteller.Since its inception, psychoanalysis has combined the two impulses of telling storiesand helping humanity. That may be part of its public-relations problem. Many detractorsassociate stories with myth, the nonfactual. As for its humanitarian side, people oftendon’t want help—unless, of course, they are in crisis situations.A major story that psychoanalysis tells is how the boy and, yes, the girl (feminism hashad a marked influence on it in recent years) grow up to become a man and a woman.Psychoanalysis even has its own version of the expulsion from Eden—the separation fromthe mother. When this separation doesn’t go well, the kid is in trouble, and the rest of us
Elaine Hoffman Baruch, PhD, Department of English, City University of New York.Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Elaine Hoffman Baruch, PhD,310 East 46th Street, New York, New York 10017. E-mail: barucheh@aol.com
Psychoanalytic Psychology, 2003, Vol. 20, No. 4, 698–700Copyright 2003 by the Educational Publishing Foundation, 0736-9735/03/$12.00 DOI: 10.1037/0736-9735.20.4.698
698
 
as well. In societies that are antisexual and misogynistic, the separation of boys frommothers, and from women in general when those boys grow up, is often forcible andviolent. Paradoxically, the Muslim veiling of women in an attempt to hide their sexualityhas the opposite result: One can never forget about their sex. At the same time an infantileattachment to mothers remains, as in the case of Mohamed Atta and probably Osama BinLaden.What does sexual repression have to do with terrorism? Plenty, as every dystopia hasrevealed. At a conference held at Mount Sinai Medical Center recently, Dr. MaxineAnderson (2002) suggested that separation from the mother
when it is especially virulentand violent, fosters extreme polarities which comprise what we might term the
funda-mentalist
state of mind.
According to psychologist Richard Koenigsberg (1989), trau-matic separation may later lead to a search for union with a political body, which takes theplace of the mother
s body, and a state of murderous rage when that body is perceived aswounded. Does this explain in part the situation in the occupied territories as well as thoseindependent Muslim lands that feel deprived of former greatness? Pre-oedipal narcissisticinjury combined with adolescent humiliation and envy over the modernity of the UnitedStates
attacked as the great seducer or Satan, especially in the repetitive chanting of themadrassas of Saudi Arabia
have led to what might have been predicted, not the form,perhaps, but the terror.What might psychoanalysis say about the form of that terror? Granted the economicpracticality and effectiveness of using one
s own body as a weapon when one has limitedresources, hatred of one
s sexual impulses is probably involved in suicide bombing aswell. But the repressed will return, one way or another, for what else is the body as bombif not the ultimate phallic symbol? Whether using their own bodies or the bodies of planes,suicide bombers reveal a unique form of death wish. Although they demonstrate the theorythat suicide is murder turned against the self, real murder is involved here as well
of anonymous strangers. And because the
martyrs
all look forward to a reward of 72virgins in paradise (assuming we don
t have a mistranslation here), their death wish alsoinvolves the hope of delayed gratification in a sexually purified heaven. But what do thefemale suicide bombers get out of their sacrifice? No studs in paradise for them. Genderliberation perhaps? If so, it has no life in the Islamic hereafter.Jonathan Lear (2001) has said more than once that people do not want to consider theirrational
one of the reasons for attacks on psychoanalysis, by the way. I suppose wewould rather attribute terrorism to economic deprivation, social repression, political frus-tration, historical displacement, our own unfairness
anything, as long as it seems mo-tivated
rather than to what Lear sees as the impulse to do harm, without reason. I
m notsure that Islamic envy is all causeless. But if so, of all the disciplines, psychoanalysis isthe best able to deal with the irrational.Psychoanalysis isn
t just for the privileged few who have the money and the leisure toengage in it several times a week. It also informs the therapy that has proved absolutelynecessary since September 11 for survivors as well as many of the rest of us. Furthermore,with its discoveries or at least codification of such concepts as the unconscious, regres-sion, denial, and projection, psychoanalysis now shapes the way people in the West (andincreasingly elsewhere) look at the world, even those who refuse to admit it. It is adiscipline not just for analyzing individuals but also for understanding the products of culture: stories, other art forms, and institutions. It should now give more attention to theEast, to the Islamic world. This should not be left to the historians and sociologists alone.There has to be a psychoanalysis of the tribe as well as the family, the communityalong with the individual, a recognition that individuation may not be the sine qua non for
COMMENTARY 699

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