In the aftermath of Iraq

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The true winners are those who continue to live their convictions.

The unexpectedly sudden, rapid and heart-wrenching collapse of Baghdad and the theft of her history, beauty and virginity at the hands of the occupier is a human tragedy and another Arab national catastrophe.

While the actual military action is over in the battlefield of Iraq, the psychological war is still ensuing and leaving an impact on the surrounding countries in the Middle East. Everywhere, war is an awful business that warrants pain and unpleasant emotion, but in Palestine the shock is still affecting all aspects of our social situation, while reopening old wounds and inflicting fresh ones, along with problematic psychological and emotional responses.

The buzz in TV, newspapers and magazines over coffee, at lunchtime conversations and at evening gatherings with family or friends is about what we are feeling: more anxious, depressed, unfocused, sleepless and even physically ill. Suddenly, we find ourselves overcome with sadness, experiencing fear of new situations, feeling frustrated and enraged by people and things that pose no real or immediate threat to us-like the internationals working here in occupied Palestine.

In a way, the war in Iraq was meant to teach a lesson to any nation in the region that is aspiring towards self-mastery and self-determination-the Palestinians are on the top of this list. The American and British Zionists are trying to make use of the downtime of Arab nations and hold the defeat of Iraqis as an example for the Palestinians to bribe or blackmail their decision makers into accepting unacceptable deals like the infamous Road Map, not to mention the Palestinians’ agony over the actual and symbolic significance of repeating the images of Israeli criminal and oppressive measures taking place in the Iraqi streets.

The mere fact that the ‘might makes right’ logic is an error repeatedly manifesting itself in every aspect of our lives is putting us all at risk, uncertain about what to do next. It clouds our perception of universal human values like fairness, honesty, integrity, dignity, quality, potential and growth, and makes our fears vague, abstract and open to different interpretations.

The collapse of Baghdad shocked us to the core of our being and created mass confusion and raised difficult questions that need to be answered and a sense of detachment and numbness to the acute pain. This is another situation that serves as a reminder of our national trauma and its intense emotional reactions, e.g., anger, crying, guilt, exhibiting a distrustful attitude towards others, anxiousness about the future.

Trauma impacts almost every one of us, but people respond to tragedy in various ways. Some people assume undue Arab responsibility for the outcomes of war or assign blame to Iraqis, some change expectations of themselves and others and alter their commitments and activities due to their acute disruption in worldview about fairness and justice. There is a general gloom and uncertainty about how to relate to other’s unexplained confusion or sensitivity, irrational distrust, fear or profound grief.

My father started complaining of fatigue or headaches for no apparent reason. Mother is losing hope and heart in our ability to resist injustice. And I cannot bear the threat and humiliation; the war has thrown me into silence and isolation so that I could not work, write or interact with people as usual for days. It was not the “intimations of mortality” silence, or the “choking with anger” silence that muted me, but my inability to deal with the evil reality. America wins a war sponsored by the democracy of missiles and value-free policy of bribes, betrayal and collaboration while Iraqis, Palestinians and the international anti-war camp lose their battle for self-determination, prosperity and peace.

America delivers a war in our hearts, forcing us to want to fight a war that lacks justice and will not lead to victory. Anger is the natural response to the mistreatment of others in the name of one’s own salvation, to preemptive strike, duplicity, greed and self-service. It is not natural to be indifferent when people do heinous things without an inkling of kindness or humanity. My anger is strong and deep.

We are, indeed, subjected to a psychological war that is conducted by British and American experts at home and abroad to bully other nations and to discredit their enemies-a psychological war that is criminalizing our ideologies, belittling our beliefs and ridiculing our spirituality.

It seems like the more things change, the more they stay the same. Power structures are stumbling blocks even in our social, personal and very private relations. The essence of livelihood and well-being is missing from our lives. Our national turmoil is taking the best of us and grinding our energy into an emotional roller coaster.

In the midst of all this enveloping general gloom, we ought to develop our personal survival and fitness strategy as an antidote for this war. There is a great thirst for anesthesia in the face of the current emotional devastation and loss. We shall not lose our reason in the face of the triumph or error. Reason and free inquiry are the effectual agents against and the natural enemies of error and error only. We can mourn, but not allow ourselves to sink in the mud of self-pity. We need to go about our lives and the work we love with a joyous heart. That is the only counteraction there is.

The true winners of the world are those who do their duty in the worst possible conditions. I don’t mean their job, but their duty as human beings to try to resurrect values from moral death and live their conviction in spite of the pending threat. Among the beautiful pictures of struggle in Iraq was that of the old heroic farmer Ali Obeid-Mingash who fiercely resisted the occupation and shot down the American Apache with his rifle. Another remarkable example is the al-Jazeera journalist Tareq Ayyoub, the martyr of duty who was killed when his workplace, the al-Jazeera office, was targeted to cover up criminal trade the Iraqi people are subjected to at the hands of the United States and its local collaborators. Not to forget the noble sacrifice of the international activists and the Arab fighters who went to Iraq to support its people against a common enemy. Those are noble examples of simple people who lived or are still living their convictions; some of them gave a great meaning to their life through their mortality.

There is no formula for healing from the wounds of trauma. Becoming aware of and coping with our reactions is important to rebuilding our self-confidence and hope and restoring our psychological balance. While there is not a cure for human suffering, trauma can be an opportunity to evolve into new, often better, more resilient people. We need to recognize the trauma and understand that it impacts a wide range of human experience, our physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual well being, and then to gain perspective on the current predicament and promote a sense of hardiness through healthy spiritual and intellectual means, through improving our survival skills, our adult capabilities and our drives to success.

We need to get away from the experience for a while to build new defenses, to get perspective, become less vulnerable. To de-condition the responses programmed into our systems-fear, shame, low self-esteem-and reprogram stronger beliefs in our just cause and humanity, we need laughter, humour, affectionate ties, generosity, family time to strike a balance against the horrors of our lives and against the constant presence of death and deep feelings of insecurity. This will lead to the spontaneous emergence of a fortitude that might seem impossible now.

For those who believed that war was a mistake, what remains to be done after it was wrongly won? We continue steadfastly to oppose the war and the resulting occupation of Iraq. The loss of war is not the end of the fight for peace, but can be a catalyst to augment and renew our commitment to international popular cooperation and a global civilian community capable of acting together to stand against military action and totalitarian power structures. We shall not lose our connection with the millions of people all around the world who have come together around Palestinian and Iraqi flags to declare their stand against war and to affirm that globalization must come from the grass roots. Just, humane causes like those of the Palestinians and Iraqis can also show us that we truly are one world and that we must and can create new forms to express that.

The repressive, regressive laws are legislated and dispensed by influence of special interest lobbies to oppress other nations will not only harm the nations that are meant to be harmed, but will result in a Western culture of increasing emptiness and creating an ethical vacuum. The American and British citizens who supported, by action or inaction, the act of war are unconsciously promoting values that are hazardous to the spiritual and ethical survival of their children. What character do you shape in your nations when you ask of others to succumb to the brutality of power? Military triumph is a momentary glory, but character is the most visible in long-term relationships.

Like the Palestinians, Iraqis should be prepared for long year of struggle with the occupation. The mission of liberating Iraq becomes an additional mission for the responsible people in our world-another just cause that will constantly give a meaning to the life of many. This very same resistance will permeate into the empty lives of many of those who occupied but continued to live in a distance of safety and apathy. Our fight for freedom will steadily leach meaning and value out of your civilized communities until you eventually inherit the shame of the past and realize that those who die for justice are the ones who live forever.

Samah Jabr is a Palestinian physician and a writer living in East Jerusalem.

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