We must come together to find peace, says one doctor.
PSYCHIATRIC VIEWS ON THE DAILY NEWS
“We can do two things at the same time. We can be morally outraged at brutality. And we can try to understand what leads to it, where it comes from, what explains it, and so on.”
-Ezzedine Fishere, Egyptian novelist, diplomat, activist and academic at Dartmouth
Not long ago, my wife and I were in Albuquerque, intending to go to an Octubafest tuba concert at the University of New Mexico. As we approached the university, our way was blocked by something, and we had to find a place to park far away.
Soon, it was clearer why. There was a rally on campus nearby. Although we could have taken a longer route to avoid it completely, we decided to walk through the side of the small group of college-aged students. Most seemed to be singing and praying in Arabic. I am not exactly sure what we would have done if we were asked to join in.
Later, after the concert, we picked up one of the cards left behind on the ground. It said:
On one side: “Free Palestine”
On the other side: “Our freedoms
Are bound together.
Find your voice.”
There may be many ways to interpret the message, but later it got me thinking. I would like to take it that “Our freedoms” means both Jews and Muslims in this situation, and ultimately, globally, and perhaps naively, most everybody.
Why couldn’t there be a joint rally of some Jews and Muslims together like this one? All those that I have seen have been separate and often confrontational.
The same sort of hostile and threatening confrontations has been happening at many colleges in the United States. There is one exception I have noticed to date: Dartmouth. At Dartmouth, the President of the school supported 2 interfaith Forums by professors representing various faiths, nationalities, aspects, and opinions of the Middle East.1 The 2 Forums to date have reportedly worked well with overflow crowds.
Most unfortunately and harmfully, the blame and discrimination has been going to both groups since the Mideast war began. The Anti-Defamation League recently reported a 5-fold increase in anti-Semitic incidents in the United States between October 7 and 23. Palestinians and their supporters have noted a rise in aggression toward them, including a 6-year-old Muslim boy in Illinois who was fatally stabbed by his landlord. Being common targets of discrimination is why I and some colleagues edited books both about Islamophobia and psychiatry, and anti-Semitism and psychiatry.2,3
This sort of widespread conflict between the mutually vulnerable seems like the results of a divide and conquer strategy by a veiled power-to-be. Empathy and concern for the “other” has been replaced by entrenchment and calls of betrayal. Alternative facts and propaganda are other obstacles. Evan so, can we not find ways to call for peace together and take any risk of doing so together?
I have also noticed much similar conflict and separation among psychiatrists in online groups, as well as breakdowns in multicultural and interfaith psychiatric work groups. I would have rather written something like this with a Muslim colleague, but I could not accomplish that (yet). Whether this has spilled over into patient care and staff interactions, I am not sure.
If we in psychiatry—with our presumed high empathy, compassion, and knowledge of human nature—cannot work together well enough in such serious conflictual times, who can? If Dartmouth can do it, why can’t we?
Certainly, the challenge is great. Such international conflicts go deep and way back in time. I have come to think that the Biblical family story of the forced separation of Isaac and Ishmael is the paradigmatic teaching story of our current Mideast separations and conflicts.
The saying goes: in times of trouble, go to the helpers. Together, let’s be helpers here.
Dr Moffic is an award-winning psychiatrist who specialized in the cultural and ethical aspects of psychiatry, and is now in retirement and refirement as a private pro bono community psychiatrist. A prolific writer and speaker, he has done a weekday column titled “Psychiatric Views on the Daily News” and a weekly video, “Psychiatry & Society,” since the COVID-19 pandemic emerged. He was chosen to receive the 2024 Abraham Halpern Humanitarian Award from the American Association for Social Psychiatry. Previously, he received the Administrative Award in 2016 from the American Psychiatric Association, the one-time designation of being a Hero of Public Psychiatry from the Speaker of the Assembly of the APA in 2002, and the Exemplary Psychiatrist Award from the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill in 1991. He is an advocate and activist for mental health issues related to climate instability, physician burnout, and xenophobia. He is now editing the final book in a 4-volume series on religions and psychiatry for Springer: Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, Christianity, and now The Eastern Religions, and Spirituality. He serves on the Editorial Board of Psychiatric Times.
1. Eshman R. Many universities fumbled reactions to Hamas’ attack. Here’s how Dartmouth got it right. Forward. October 25, 2023. Accessed October 31, 2023. https://forward.com/opinion/566953/many-universities-fumbled-reactions-to-hamas-attack-heres-how-dartmouth-got-it-right/
2. Moffic HS, Peteet J, Hankir AZ, Awaad R, eds. Islamophobia and Psychiatry: Recognition, Prevention, and Treatment. Springer; 2019.
3. Moffic HS, Peteet J, Hankir AZ, Seeman MV, eds. Anti-Semitism and Psychiatry: Recognition, Prevention, and Interventions. Springer; 2020.