The following chapter appears in: The Psychology of Terrorism, ed. by Chris Stout. Praeger Publishing. 2002.
UNDERSTANDING SUICIDAL TERROR THROUGH HUMANISTIC AND EXISTENTIAL PSYCHOLOGY
Dr Nira Kfir
This chapter is written in memory of a patient of mine—Hanna—who was killed in a recent bomb attack on a bus in Tel Aviv. She was in her thirties, a mother of three. She had searched for identity and meaning all her life. Nothing seemed clear to her. That's how she lived; it was how she died.
No one claimed her. Her body could not be identified. The newspapers described her as an unknown person, perhaps a tourist. Due to a misunderstanding, her family thought she was away at a workshop. It was only after three days that they started to worry, and finally found her.
With her death, she obtained a definite identity. She was a terror victim.
Like you Hanna, we all search.
This chapter will discuss one psychological outlook on Islamic suicidal terror. There are three basic assumptions:
1. Suicidal terror is seen, from the viewpoints of such humanistic psychologists as Ernest Becker and Abraham Maslow, as heroism that mega-overcompensates for inferiority and as a search for fulfilling peak experiences. Psychopathology is dismissed as a possible easy explanation for the behavior.
2. This heroism and sacrifice are aimed at a domestic audience. We suggest that although the recent attacks have targeted Western countries, the real goal is the terrorists’ own homeland, where groups of like-minded citizens are oppressed and bypassed. We will discuss the opinions of two Islamic thinkers: Fouad Ajami of Princeton and Abdel Hamid El Ansari of the university of Qatar.
3. The present wave of terror and destruction threatens to create chaos everywhere. We'll look at chaos through the eyes of Ilya Prigonine, the Nobel Prize laureate for physics in 1977. He looks at the rotation of order and chaos as an inevitable part of the universe. There have been chaotic upheavals in the past, but a new order has always prevailed before the chaos has ended in catastrophe.
In discussing the use of suicidal terrorism, we range from the individual living in an oppressive regime, struggling to achieve personal gratification, to a world that is indifferent to these struggles and prone by its very nature to cycles of order and chaos.
Humanistic Psychology and the Elevated Individual
In his Pulitzer Prize-winning book The Denial of Death, Ernest Becker (1973) —one of the leading humanists—presents his ideas about the eternal despair of man. He believes that men are driven by two important forces: the prime motivator and the great anxiety.
Man has a God-like ambition, in an animal body, and man's potential for growth is endless. We know that we can invent and create, and refine our observations beyond imagination, but simultaneously we know that our fate is to die. We are aware of the great potential for change within us; nevertheless growth, in the end, is pointless. Great achievements and human enlightenment end and leave emptiness. To Becker these two sensations-greatness and annihilation - compose the major struggle in life.
The sense of potential inspires a drive to excel, to actualize what we are, while the anxiety of death, ever present although denied, inspires the illusion of eternalizing oneself. History has always encouraged heroism as a promise for eternal meaning.
Humanists express themselves in a grandiose manner, but also touch on sensations particular to individuals.
"Cosmic special ness" is an example of these grandiose terms. Becker relates the unique potential we each possess as our individual contribution. Failing to fulfill this potential prevents us from contributing, or even really belonging. Dissatisfaction and failure to actualize oneself is often a lack of the sense of fulfillment and cosmic special ness.
The gift of cosmic special ness is not part of average, normal development. One cannot rely on time to unveil this ability.. It must be encouraged by others, or by life itself, even by pressure, crisis, or threat.
Whatever is special in us cannot be compared or measured, since it is unique. This holds true for individuals, and generally for cultures as well. Some cultures work to develop their potentials, others avoid even trying. Western civilization is rapidly changing its conventional systems of education in order to enable all children to learn and express themselves as individuals. From gifted children to those in special education, from music to physical education, all specialties are rated equally. Sport is as important as mathematics. Each is a potential gift.
The best example of this new focus is the attitude toward ADD and ADHD children. These hyperactive children, who cause endless turmoil in the classroom, are now recognized for their special abilities rather than their disability. Edward Hallowell and John Ratey (1994) open Answers to Distraction with a list of the great abilities that these children possess. Hallowell and Ratey teach us to discover better ways of restricting unruly behavior so that we can bring out these children’s authentic ability.
Education presents a quiet revolution in the conventional hierarchy of underachieving and excellence. We now try to bring out a degree of excellence in every child.
At this time, however, these ideas are embraced only in parts of the world. When we discuss the Islamic countries later, we will touch on the inferiority of a great culture that cannot present any "cosmic specialness," because the individual has not yet been granted the right to his own happiness or self-actualization.
Becker claims that the other possible excellence is to express oneself through Heroism, for lack of any other choice, became the mode of excellence in today's Islam.
The Goal of Heroism
The sacrifice of oneself for a cause - any cause - is a type of paradox. On one hand we overcome the anxiety of death by controlling it; on the other hand, by dying in this way, we eternalize ourselves, thus "living" forever.
Heroism may be noble and altruistic but, as long as it carries within it the promise of an everlasting personal affirmation of our existence it can also be cruel and destructive. Every one of these themes can be seen in the recent Islamic suicidal attacks. It is almost as if, thirty years ago, Becker foresaw the current wave of terror.
Becker spoke about heroism as a value that represents man’s capacity for devotion, for community, and for the impact that can only be achieved through the sacrifice of life. Real heroism is executing the deed and not having the satisfaction of seeing the goal achieved. The soldier who wins the battle will not survive to see the victory, as he dies in the process, believing in the promise.
Heroism can have various goals. The soldier is a hero who goes to war. But there are also everyday heroes. The instant hero, such as the fireman who saves a baby from a fire, is a problem-solving hero, who gets an immediate reward. In this category, we have the firemen and civilians who became heroes on September 11, 2001or the one person out of fifty spectators who jumps into the water to save someone who is drowning. Even the man working on the assembly line and making a living for his family is a hero. Heroism stems from a need for survival, but when it becomes a way of life and a way of self-elevation, it starts to threaten the survival of others.
The Heroism of Suicidal Terror and Destruction
Consider the sense of inferiority prevalent in the Islamic world today. Followers of Islam are both rich and poor, and make up one of the largest populations in the world. Culturally, Islam’s accepted social code is hierarchic. Inferiority and superiority are clearly defined, but not by personal achievement. As long as such societies are closed, there is no danger to their social order. The social network enables satisfaction of personal significance, by religious devotion, obedience, and tribal values.
In the last decades of the twentieth century, however, the walls of their world fell. Millions of Muslims emigrated to the West and, although they still live within their own communities, the influence of a different way of life has become a real danger. Women and young people have lost their sense of purposeful obedience, and the result for them is simply oppression.
Inferiority, in its most cruel sense hovers over the most important Islamic countries. Their way of life has not enabled them to contribute anything to the extraordinary progress of the last century. As the West has become more advanced - in ideas of democracy, freedom, civil rights, equality, communication, free information, and technology - Islamic countries’ sense of danger and inferiority has grown.
In the midst of all this amazing thrust forward in the West, Islam introduced the world to a brand of fundamentalism. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, this step backward makes a mockery of all the great achievements of the present day.
Back to the burqa, the veil and mesh covering the eyes of women in a world of increasing gender equality. Back to an emphasis on prayer at a time of increasing self-reliance. Back to mullahs and ayatollahs in a time of free education and self-made men. The old way of life carries the promise of a new gospel - a superior way of life, of safety and a reward in heaven.
Fundamentalism is the only cosmic specialness that Islam can offer. Extreme religion in this time is special in its spartanism, its demands on the devotees, and its parading of a new future. When it was at the point of losing significance in the world, Islam found a new significance in extremism. It gained meaning, in the sense that it cannot be overlooked any longer.
The modern world - the global village with television, Internet, easy travel, and international organizations - has made inroads in almost every country and group. Islam was bypassed. Brave Bedouin on horseback with scimitars in their hands remain the stuff of its movie screens. While Islam remained unchanged, the West developed democracy, civil rights, nationalized medicine, and the many other basic freedoms and privileges to which the young people of today are born. All this has one basic message – no one shall be inferior.
To be inferior as a group in this day and age must be devastating. The gap between the "winning" society and the "other" is growing in an irreversible way. This is where Islamic heroism emerges and teaches the world a lesson. It is not about destroying the West. It is not about converting the whole world to Islam. It is about impossible inferiority. It is about trading the most common and most precious commodity there is – life itself.
These people cannot trade knowledge, technology, social ideas, or quality of life. In these, they are far behind. But we are all equal in the manner of birth and death. Western superiority cannot be overtaken, so death is the great equalizer.
The heroism of these suicides is the equalizer: We cannot compete with you but we can kill you. As the existential philosopher, Martin Buber, said, one can easily die with the promise of everlasting impact. The young, intelligent, educated men who flew into the twin towers of the World Trade Center made exactly that - a quantum leap to equality.
In this way, destructive suicide is a dramatic heroism that reminds us how equal we all are. Destructive heroism, as opposed to defensive heroism touches on the fundamental need to live. Heroism is not a necessity in life it is a choice. Defensive heroism stems from the need to survive, while destructive heroism elevates one from an inferior to a superior position.
Thirty years ago, Becker anticipated that the biggest change in contemporary life would be the decline of heroism. He observed that our modern life, with the individual’s claim to "the right for the pursuit of happiness," is the beginning of life without heroism. The anti-hero becomes the hero.
But in the other half of the world, self-actualization is not the aim of life. Heroism is culturally ingrained as the way out of inferiority. This may be the conflict of our time, the conflict between one culture that reaches for the highest human potential and another that is left only with heroics.
The Humanists and the Understanding of the Heroic
After decades of theories of instincts, conditional behavior, and Skinnerian philosophy, the leaders of humanistic psychology used, in contrast, a rather poetic and prophetic terminology. At a time when empirical science and valid research findings were the only accepted "facts", they reminded us of possibilities and achievements that cannot be rated or empirically measured.
In the wake of the existentialists of the time (Jean-Paul Sartre, Martin Buber, Albert Camus, R.D. Laing, and Viktor Frankl) humanistic psychology related mainly to the higher and yet deeper cravings of men. These writers were brave enough to present general terms of experiencing that the layperson could understand.
While Becker's heroism is presented as a perpetual craving for meaning, Abraham Maslow (1964) presented its goal as other emotional rewards. A great humanist of the 1960s and 1970s, also known for his theories of self-actualization, Maslow introduced us to our "higher needs" by presenting his hierarchy of needs.
In Religions, Values and Peak Experiences, Maslow presented a new jargon. He wrote about enlightenment, in nonreligious, nonmystical terms. In this little book, he states that mental health draws from the ability to experience peaks. He reminds us that the word “enthusiasm” derives from the Greek, and means "the God in you". Thus, every peak experience is "religious" by definition. It may occur as a religious experience, but also as an experience in nature, or love, sex, creativity, or simply in observing. A peak experience can occur in therapy, or in a single contact with a group or a person. Life is inspired by these rare - but necessary - peak experiences.
Is Suicide Terror a Peak Experience?
The old world and the great religions understood the need for peak experiences and suggested rituals that provided these, such as prayer, meditation, devotion, fasts, pilgrimages and so forth. One may question the relevance of these ideas to suicidal terror today. Nevertheless, we cannot avoid observing the heroic devotion of sacrificing one's life for a cause, the heroic recognition of a leader, and a peak experience that elevates an individual to the promise of heaven.
Islamic terror is inspired by religion. As Maslow says, religion may actually support evil. This occurs when heaven is too far away and progress in this life is too slow. Then the zealot may renounce this world and the lack of hope in it - and choose “heaven.”
The existential philosophy of our time puts experience above understanding or legalism. A religious peak experience can become a model of illumination and instant conversion. The history of all religions is crowded with such stories. Being drawn to illumination, to experiencing a peak, to having a cause to die for - this often occurs when present life is too limited and meaningless. The process of preparation for the suicidal attack - the peak - is in itself a withdrawal from life and its legal structures.
Maslow believes that “religionizing” a cause in life involves secularizing all the rest. For the holy experience, new rules are valid: the isolating rules of religion as presented by the leader, guru, or ayatollah. The isolation of the individual from the rest of life results in prevention of all other natural peak experiences –(such as love, nature, art, and so forth.). The only peak is religious.
A Palestinian terrorist captured on his way to blow himself up in the Natanya market, was later interviewed on television. He appeared devastated that he was still alive. He was asked about his children and, with a frozen expression on his face he said that he only regretted missing out on the "grand conversion" of life.
Suicidal terror reminds the world that heroism—even destructive heroism--is an equalizer. The basic drive of these people is overcoming the inferiority they feel at being bypassed by the ruling culture.
Islamic Suicidal Terror Strikes Globally But Aims Locally
To begin understanding Arab countries as systems that produce suicide, consider a few theses pertaining to suicide and its provocation. Existential philosophies of the last century (as represented by Kierkegaard, Jaspers, Camus, Sartre, and Heidegger) saw the topic of suicide as the central problem of philosophy.
Suicide can be understood through theories of psychology, sociology, constitution, demography, global politics, and the supernatural.
In the earlier section we presented altruistic suicide. To quote Emile Durkheim (1897), altruistic suicides are literally required by society. The rules and needs of the group demand suicide. This sort of demand can become a rule only in small societies or sub-societies. What Durkheim calls fatalistic suicide derives from excessive regulation. Both altruistic and fatalistic acts are expected from the very best of these small groups that create a social order and hierarchy of their own.
A Durkheim critic, Jack Douglas (1967), pointed out that the social meanings of suicide vary greatly. The more socially integrated a group is, the more it succeeds in disguising its demand for sacrifice. In small and persecuted sub-societies, the denial is open, direct, and not disguised.
Robert Litman (Peck, Farberour & Litman, 1985) sheds light on the dynamics of small groups that demand sacrifices, by describing their feelings of abandonment, helplessness, and hopelessness.
The most important kind of suicide for everyone to comprehend is global suicide. It is not a new concern. In 1938, noted Harvard University psychologist Henry Murray stood at the dawning of the atomic age and termed it also the start of a "death haunted" time. Any danger that threatens people or groups--danger that will break their psychological connection, their sense of continuity and generativity - provokes fantasized immortality. Those fanatic, fantasized immortality suicides, serve as a paradigm of global destruction.
Islamic Regimes as Closed Systems
How are all the above theories validated in Islamic regimes.
I will first address the differences between open and closed systems.
I assume that terror on the part of individuals or small groups is directed psychologically to impress their own compatriot, in state and religion. It is activated outside their countries, but it seeks recognition from their own governments. Small terror units, one may say, think locally and act globally.
Most of the Arab countries are trying to remain closed systems. Terror, as we'll see, rebels against its own system, but it gets out of the paradigm, to influence from the outside.
Consider the relevance of systems theory, founded by Bertalanffy (1973) in 1968. Any state is a system in itself, with interacting units that relate to each other. Any such system, therefore, has structure and function. A closed system has tight boundaries, and neither matter nor new energy nor new information can penetrate. Open systems allow a system within a system, multi-level systems and access through which new information can penetrate. The arrival of new energy in a system encourages the process of change, which influences the structure and, with time, the function too.
Almost a century before Bertalanffy propounded this theory, Kierkegaard (Lowrie, 1962) proposed another possibility concerning systems. His thesis was that truth cannot be found in a system but rather in the human subject. He saw individuals as being superior to systems and argued that the freedom of the individual within the system was central. Kierkegaard’s views posed a serious challenge to the view that rationalism was the only way to understand behavior.
How much freedom is allowed in a closed state? Islamic states are closed systems and terrorist groups create further closed systems within the Islamic states. These groups borrow from the state structure and function, but their goal is to dominate the mighty system, which is not allowed. Such a pattern has always been true of revolutionary groups, no matter in what ideological disguise, be it religion, communism, equality, or freedom.
The Arab Predicament
The belief that Muslim terror in the world is mainly aimed at its homeland can be clarified with a few points from Fouad Ajami's The Arab Predicament. Professor Ajami asks blatantly: What does this Islamic renaissance really represent? To what extent is this revival of fundamentalism an honest craving? And to what extent is it an ideological cover for a sense of inferiority toward the West, on which they find themselves totally dependent?
The Islamic world, in its present state, expresses its anxiety about inferiority by every psychological trick, pointing to its special nature and historic achievements. The more inferior and bypassed an Islamic state feels, the more it will demonstrate chauvinism and false pride. Much is made of the people’s integrity and they revel in their stand against foreign temptations and influence.
Ajami identifies with the concept of freedom, which he describes as being foreign to Arab culture. The formal policy of traditional Arab states is to grant their citizens an observing role, while leaving the actual running of life in the hands of the leaders. Ajami claims that it does not matter to the disciples that their hero was a liar, an opportunist, a gambler, a brutal dictator, or a terrorist. The Arab soul will devote itself to turning the hero into a saint, immune to his crimes. This soul craves for the heroic, to reverse political frustration, inferiority, and the inability to change. Ajami explains the urge to belong to a small fundamentalist active group as being the only way for young individuals to participate and practice freedom.
Far away from Ajami, who is based at Princeton university, another Muslim intellectual and dean of the Faculty of Shariah Law and Islamic Studies at the University of Qatar, Abdel Hamid El-Ansari, said in a December 2001 speech at a symposium on America - Arab relations that the magic of heroes and heroism is built into the Arab soul. He cites as examples the charisma of Salah-A-Din, Gamal Abdel Nasser, and Saddam Hussein.
El-Ansari, like Ajami, understands the acting-out behavior of fundamentalist extremists not as a way to overtake political power, but rather as a means to shatter the system. These two thinkers see psychological deprivation of meaning as the prime motivation for violence.
The Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, led by Naif Hawatma, attributes the Palestinian defeat to the absence of a revolutionary theory. His argument is that before violence, anger, and fighting can win, one must be sure what one wants to achieve. Even self-sacrifice must have a superior motive. Thinkers in the Arab world had begun to question the goal long before September 11, 2001.
Such discussion must include an aside on the great French anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss. His analysis of Islam was that it is a great religion based not on any new truth, but rather on the inability to relate to the external world. Levi-Strauss argues that, unlike the friendly Buddhists, or Christians with their need for dialogue, Muslims cannot even tolerate the “other.” Islam can only feel secure within its closed system by negation of others. Islam is the only religion, he claims, that preaches the destruction of other religions. This means that relations with non-Muslims create pressure. The provincial Islamic lifestyle can survive only as a closed system that defends itself from other influences.
Thus, understanding the need to find an external enemy (Israel, America, globalization) may help us to focus closely not only on the extremist but specifically on the suicidal terrorist.
A Runner Without a Goal
Rebels have always fought for freedom, while Islamic extremists fight against freedom. Freedom at home, which is based on the penetration of Western ideals as well as western commodities, is alarming to the Islamic way of life. The extremists cannot fight their regime that makes alliances with international organizations that do not abide by Islamic law. There is a rare case of a movement against a better quality of life.
Terrorists aim to tighten the gates of influence on women, on youth, and on the poor and illiterate. In this battle, the enemy is at home. Small jihad groups must create global chaos in order to gain power for their own closed Islamic system and way of life.
Prisons and torture have failed over the years to stop the jihad movement over the years, as was proved in Egypt. These groups present themselves as the defenders of Islam, against regimes that may dare to open the doors to foreign powers.
In this, Islamic terror is different from the French Revolution or the Russian Revolution. Those revolutions had an agenda for a new order, and they indeed went on to build a new order. Islam’s revolution uses religion as a basis.
Order and Chaos in Human History
We can look at present-day disorder and the anxiety of millions of people on streets, in buses and airports, and even in the safety of their own homes, and translate this into an era of chaos slowly penetrating order. In normal times our modern life functions like a machine with large systems serving individuals anonymously. These systems rely on order, in much the same way as road safety relies on drivers respecting the rules. In today’s world, a small group or even a single individual can shatter a system and evoke chaos, by failing to respect these rules.
Since ideas are never totally new, but rather renewed or put together in another package, we may look for these two themes in earlier paradigms. Polarity is basic to all cultures. It is light and darkness, good and evil, Apollo and Dionysius, the sanguine and the phlegmatic, Freud's pleasure principle and death wish, Jung's anima and animo, war and peace. These two poles may rotate or even coexist in the world and in each of us.
Order Out of Chaos
The current danger of suicidal terror might be quantified through physics-based theories of order and chaos. Modern physics has revised old conceptions of these two forces, coexisting or rotating throughout human history.
Existential philosophy sees human beings as ultimately responsible for their own fate. We take responsibility for the choice between goodness and destruction. Maslow, describing the characteristics of a peak experience, tells us that at this high moment we recognize evil as part of life and accept it.
Must we therefore accept evil in humans - chaos, mass murder, and possibly even the destruction of the planet itself - just because it exists? How, we ask, do we recognize the wave of chaos for what it is? How do we minimize its impact, or even eliminate it, and move on to possible change?
In September 2001, the world was shattered by the awareness that a few people could heavily wound the West. But in other parts of the globe - the Middle and Far East - people have long experienced a similar anxiety.
Are we now at the beginning of the wave of chaos that cannot be stopped till it is exhausted?
Consider the theory of Ilya Prigogine, as described in a book he wrote with Isabelle Stengers, Order Out of Chaos (1984). He sees social systems acting in ways similar to modern physics. He describes the eruption of chaos in social systems by stating that, in nature and in human nature, certain aspects are in a state of continual change. If we divide societies into open systems (like the Western world of today) and closed systems (like the majority of Islamic states), we can assume that the open societies are tolerant of the ongoing flow of change described by Prigogine as an integral part of the system. But closed societies are alarmed by change, even if it is integral.
A closed society can be bound in by communism, religion, or dictators who use regime and religion as tools against change. In the Islamic world, the search for a newly found fatwa in the Koran, based on a sentence long forgotten, has suddenly been highlighted as a revelation inspiring millions of people. Old writings are disguised as change.
Islamic states such as Iran, Iraq, and Syria are closed systems that keep a tight grip on those small groups that oppose the regime. They imprison and execute instigators of change, whether that change looks to the future or to the past. The revolutions of the last two centuries - bringing equality, freedom, and fraternity, as well as the new ”information revolution” - have been blocked by those closed societies. The age of information that is upon us now poses a great threat to a closed hierarchical system. In the fight against change, the worst enemy is new knowledge.
How Do Small Groups Create Chaos?
As a physicist, Prigogine claims that there are nonlinear relationships in which small units can trigger massive consequences. Chaos occurs in a society when disorder, instability, and disequilibrium enter.
Small units are the agents of chaos. They have the potential to destroy, especially those states and societies that have been open enough to accept them. They include individuals who have chosen or been forced to leave their homelands, and have ended up in the caves of Afghanistan or the training camps of Lebanon.
Order and Chaos in Personality
The danger to the Western world from Islamic terrorism has parallels with psychological personality approaches addressing order and chaos. Freud named the inner chaos "id.". This represents the instincts, passions, and animal needs. It uses Eros, and has a sort of drive that cannot be fought on its own ground by another passion. So the ego, which is cognitive, has a long-range goal and responsibilities and puts limits on the id. The super-ego contributes to the restraint of id forces by judgmental processes. Defense mechanisms and controls are recruited to keep the original id in its box. Freud recognized both this inner chaos and the inner need for order as fundamental to the personality. From Freud onward, personality theories and the understanding of behavior have always included these two dynamic forces -- chaos and order.
Jean-Paul Sartre built his interpretation of human history around the concept of personal responsibility. “Response-ability“ means that the person can potentially and actually produce a response to any new development. It implies that we are able to respond even to our own chaotic forces, forces with which we might not necessarily agree. Recognition of natural, inbuilt chaotic forces calls for restraint.
What can psychological personality theories teach us about the present global terror? Can psychology offer another possibility for dealing with these destructive id - forces?
Defense and Containment
The most likely reaction to a dramatic, dangerous invasion is using defense mechanisms:
1. Denial (this is not a real danger)
2. Repression (it is not directed at us)
3. Rational solution (a few insane people cannot destroy us)
By definition, defense is a reaction that focuses on the attack and creates an response. Sophisticated societies build defenses against future attacks, as they can be anticipated or envisaged. The majority of people in a country that is in a defensive state do not need to take an active part in defending. Leaders try to contain, absorb, and draw strength from past victories, past resistance, and endurance.
Learning to contain and endure frustration is one of the basic characteristics of growing up. We teach parents to contain the anger of the child, so that with time the child will learn to contain himself or herself. Containing is a crucial element of interaction. This refers particularly to containing anger, impulsiveness, and demands. In the face of suicidal terror and prophecies of destruction, civilized society is behaving as a responsible parent should.
Western society contains the outburst of terror, with endurance, hoping that the chaos will burn itself out. At the same time, it holds on to order through civil institutions.
The U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, is the new order, with the courage to name countries like Iran and Iraq as part of a “Triad of Evil.” This is unexpected. It is a paradoxical reaction. It is not another appeal to the United Nations.
Yet , is the invasion of Afghanistan an "ultra solution?" According to Watzlawick (Watzlawick, Weakland & Fisch, 1974), the ultra solution not only solves the problem but also destroys everything around it. He says there are no ultra solutions.
So, paradoxical reaction is another possibility. The essence of paradoxical behavior is freedom, not being attached to former strategies, expectations, or anxiety. It takes courage and creativity. Paradoxical intervention may stop chaos, by creating more chaos, under control. The moral danger is that by taking steps such as invading Afghanistan we overrule our own rule.
Consideration can also be given to my model of crisis intervention as it appears in Crisis Intervention Verbatim (Kfir, 1989). The Israeli Ministry of Defense accepted this model at the time of the Yom Kippur War in 1973. It was originally designed as a theoretical model for bereavement intervention at a time of national crisis. The basic rules, however, apply to any crisis situation including terrorism and attempts to heal after terrorism.
First, let me define crisis. Attack or even destruction is not crisis. Crisis is defined as the actual or perceived collapse of a system. The system can be the self, the family, or the state. In crisis, it becomes nonfunctional. Even the possibility of collapse can create crisis.
Once one defines this process as critical, intervention may begin. Crisis reveals itself in courage or panic. Courage is the disintegration of conventional defense mechanisms and the realization of reality. Panic is the declaration of crisis and thus its creation.
The three phases of intervention are information, support, and new options.
The ethos of our times does not affect all people in the same way. Knowing more morbid details can provokes paralyzing anxiety and yet calls for action. Many claim that a flood of information can spread indifference. This may be correct, but if we are to act we cannot spare ourselves from recognizing reality. Information must instigate action. This is a first step out of crisis.
Support in crisis is important, although it is not necessarily appreciated. Every person who has experienced crisis in knows that one of the worst feelings is a sense of loneliness. It is always frustrating to family and friends when the person claims "I am alone in this." We even feel insulted. How can they say that when we are supporting them and living their crisis with them?
Loneliness and the sense of isolation accompany any situation of crisis. Members of the free world must support each other. The coalition spirit, the inclusiveness that brings together the most unlikely allies, is in itself an intervention. Like information, support is not a total answer, but it creates a new freedom to act - freedom by consensus.
New options are the creative parts of the intervention. "New" is not necessarily a panacea, a universal remedy that is suddenly discovered. When a person in crisis is guided toward a solution, this may not be a new idea as such, but it is a new option for the present moment. While waiting for an ultra-solution, the immediate options can be overlooked. Unlike therapy or even short-term therapy, crisis intervention is authoritative by nature. One intervenes when one feels another to be in crisis. Permission is not asked. What makes intervention possible is the temporary nature of the crisis. You intervene to help, and you retreat when the other can cope alone. Invading Afghanistan is an option for now but not the beginning of the West taking over the world.
This chapter has examined the theories of humanistic and existential psychology in an attempt to achieve a better understanding of suicidal terror.
Heroism, as a basic compensation for inferiority and as an old and disappearing ethos in the West is active and rising in Islamic countries.
Terror can be a peak experience, elevating the individual from meaninglessness to total involvement. I argue that what appears to be an attempt to destroy the West is, in reality, directed to, and intended to overtake the terrorist’s homeland.
Order and chaos coexist in a perpetual cycle. Now, we are experiencing a wave of chaos on the rise.
Psychology can help us to understand, and even to anticipate possible reactions. I have mentioned several modes of understanding and responding to this wave, but the paradoxical approach seems to be the most creative.
We are free to act, not just to react, because the free world is responsible, its systems are solid, and it does have a goal for the day after: more freedom, more responsibility, and more knowledge.
A Talmudic story relates to the polarity of justice versus compassion as God’s dilemma when creating the world. Finally God decided to mix them, a kind of rotation. Looking at his creation, he blessed it with the words "Halevai Sheyeamod," - (Talmud, Midrash Raba), which means “Let it survive.” I cannot offer a better wish.
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