VIEW: Collective sickness —Gulmina Bilal Ahmad

Courtesy to "Daily Times"

When we see the brutal face of alleged Islamic practices of the Taliban that subjugates, insults, terrorises and finally kills, we shake our heads in disbelief. We are collectively as a nation in denial

I have been debating with myself on whether to write about the resurgent controversy on the Swat flogging video or not. Much has been written about it. There are people and groups who passionately advocate that it was fake. Then there are others who, with equal passion, are declaring that the video was not fabricated. This group is pointing out in its defence that there are a number of other videos easily accessible on YouTube that show the sordid minds and actions of the Taliban. While demands for suo motu actions fly around, one hesitates to jump on the bandwagon of aye- or nay-sayers.

Instead of becoming another voice in the choir, I would like to submit a different argument on the reasons for such accusations, denials and controversies. The Swat flogging video is one event. There are still people who declare that the challenge of terrorism is not of our doing but has been “thrust upon us”. They vehemently argue that no Muslim can ever unleash such terror over fellow Muslims. This argument is put forth in the print and electronic media as well as by people in our socio-political lives. An extreme reflection of this mindset was the recent walkout by a participant at a training workshop that I was conducting. During the session on terrorism and radicalisation when in the way of case studies, the videos depicting Taliban’s brutality were shown, the participant declared that these were fabricated and that I was showing these videos at the behest of the Zionist lobby who would like Muslims to suffer and be defamed.

From a psychological point of view, this is classic denial. According to the science of psychology, “Denial is an unconscious ego defence mechanism. Basically, that means that a person unconsciously puts up a barrier to experiencing what is too painful to consciously bear. Professionals and lay persons alike often misuse the term denial. They fail to consider that not all types of denial are the same. Sometimes, denial is truly an unconscious psychological state. Sometimes, it is a refusal to admit a problem. Sometimes, it is a tactic of manipulation and impression management. Sometimes, of course, it is merely a way of lying.”

This is tragic but true. It goes against everything that we have been taught at our mothers’ lap and in schools. Muslims are part of a whole body and if the hand is in pain, the whole body suffers. Muslims are one community. This belief has been imprinted on our minds. That is why when we see the brutal face of alleged Islamic practices of the Taliban that subjugates, insults, terrorises and finally kills, we shake our heads in disbelief. We are collectively as a nation in denial. Hence the vehement assertions that the killing of 156 children and 522 men and women in the 80 suicide blasts and 497 bomb blasts in 2009-10 cannot be the work of Muslims.

In an article written in The New England Sceptical Society, May 1, 2001, by Steven Novella, MD, he compares prominent subject deniers to that of “moving the goalposts”. This is the strategy of always demanding more evidence than can currently be provided, whatever it is; if that evidence becomes available at a later date, then just change the demand to even more evidence. Thus the analogy of trying to kick a field goal in football with the goalposts moved further and further away from the kicker. “This pattern clearly demonstrates that no amount of evidence will ever satisfy a true denier,” Novella wrote. “The deniers have no difficulty sifting through the copious amounts of published debate on their chosen topic and finding parts of the theory, which have been altered, or discarded, or which continue to be debated. They then deliberately confuse debate over such details as evidence that the entire theory is in jeopardy.” Stanley Cohen in his book, States of Denial: Knowing about Atrocities and Suffering, says people in an information-saturated society have a capacity to deny a level of awareness until it becomes a normal state of affairs. Cohen goes on to state that denial involves a fundamental paradox — that in order to deny something, it is necessary at some level to recognise its existence and its moral implications. “It is,” he says, “a state of simultaneous ‘knowing and not-knowing’. Human psychology lets us understand a subject, but at the same time, refuse to recognise the implications of that knowledge.”

Denial is one phenomenon. However, there are other allegations too. Such as how the war for freedom and peace was “forced upon us” and how “this is not our war but of the US” and how we are the poor innocent victims that are manipulated by the West for their alleged vested interests and how it was the western world that was responsible for creating terrorism. There are people who even justify the actions of the Taliban — the so-called ‘Taliban apologists’ that I had written about a while back in this very space.

This is the manifestation of what is called the blame game. There are two stages of psychological healing: one is denial and the other is the blame game. We are doing both. One group denying that this is the work of Muslims and another group actually justifying the Taliban brutality by saying that the western world have given them reasons to.

Both denial and blame games are detrimental to us because both are defence mechanisms that keep us cocooned in our comfort zones, weaved through selective understanding of information. The sooner we realise this, the better. For this realisation would enable us to try to cure the disease. For a cure, it is important that we first admit that we are sick.

The writer is an Islamabad-based consultant. She can be reached at