University Professors in Iraq and Death Anxiety

 

An Iraqi Academic (Prof. Faris K. O. Nadhmi)

Professor of Psychology.

(Baghdad Oct 2006) 

* Read also: Death in life in Iraq (Stephen Soldz, Advisory Committee of the BRussells Tribunal, 30 Oct 2006)

  

Spinoza "1632-1677" wrote in hopeful insight: "A free man scarcely thinks of death, because his wisdom is to contemplate life, not death"

But what if death thinks of the free man non-stop, follows him in the cities streets, lurks in the ally to his home, comes out even in his sleep and deepest apprehensions, while he is keeping to his room , thinking of any meaning of life?! What if a whole nation waits in a queue with an invisible end, but with a guillotine at the beginning, going up and down with the time pendulum?

Is it a universal irony or psycho-historic that the "death anxiety" is connected with "eternity anxiety" for the Iraqis, and with the tragic search for a coherent explanation of the existence-annihilation absurdum? When Gilgamesh found out he is two thirds god and one third human destined to die, like his friend Enkido

He sadly said:

Death frightened me, so I wandered aimlessly about,

If I die, would not my destiny be like Enkido's,

To Otonabishtim, I took the way, and hurried

To ask about the life-death enigma! 

Death Psychology 

Apart from death essence, its religious or philosophical root, whether it is annihilation or a face of another life, modern psychology dealt with death as "total stopping of consciousness or feeling, the brain stops its work as a maestro of all lower sense and movement, and upper mind functions" , studying clinically and on the ground, the responses of those who lost a supporter or a loved one...responses that can be sadness and mourning , or depression and suicide, explaining the movement and feelings phenomenon  which accompany these responses, its effect on psychological , body, and professional health, their  negative attitudes to death, what in general we call "death anxiety" which Dickstein defined as "conscious contemplation in the reality of death,  and the negative estimation of this reality"

Some psychiatrists went further. Milan Klein found that the fear of death is the origin of all anxieties, the root of all human aggressive behaviours. Freud (1856- 1939) wrote on death and war :"we can not really imagine our death, and if we do, we do it as living audience, that is why psychology analysis school confirms that deep inside man has an unconscious feeling and belief in eternity".

Death anxiety has three dimensions: fear of dying, fear of what happens after death, fear of the life stopping. On the other hand, four aspects of death could be distinguished: fear of death of the ego, dying of the ego, others death, others dying. Accordingly, four independent factors were generated: fear of the unknown, suffering, loneliness, and personal vanishing. 

Death Anxiety in Iraq 

 These four aspects and factors of the psychology of death anxiety, became now the most impressing phenomenon in the Iraqi reality, in deed we can say that most daily life details were diverted and deformed in their biological, social, and psychological contents to suit the idea of death inevitability, and its overwhelming dominion. The Iraqi individual, no matter what his class or affiliation is, realizes that the highest or most precious goal of life becomes just "to survive", "not to die", instead of "to live", with full realization that death means assassinations, explosions, and rains of lost bullets.

The educated and the technocrat are among the first who look for "not to die". It is extremely difficult to get precise numbers, but events and studies indicate that medical doctors and academics are especially targeted. In a report for Human Rights Watch in November 2005, some academics explained that it is a way of eliminating the educated elite in Iraq. One of the Iraqi universities vice president said "the victims are among different scientific interests, political directions, and religious sects, the only thing common among them is their distinguished scientific achievement. I think this is a plan to evacuate Iraq of its scientific backbone". 

According to the Iraqi Ministry of Health, between April-2003 to June 2006, 720 medical doctors and health professional were killed. Other unofficial estimations said that 2000 Iraqi doctors emigrated from the country running away from killing and kidnapping.

According to another previous study by the Iraqi Ministry of Health, up to April 2005, 160-300 Iraqi medical doctors were kidnapped by armed groups which killed 25. Until that date, 1000 doctors left the country, an average of 30 monthly.

In a statement of "the Voices of Iraq" news agency, the head of the University Teachers Associations in Iraq, said that up to summer 2006, 172 university teacher were killed, But if we add the numbers of lecturers and the consultatives, it would exceed 300. This number does not include the medical doctors, engineers, religious teachers with higher degrees in religious studies.

Dr. Ismael Al-Jalili, a consultative doctor, indicated in a study presented in the International Conference about the assassination of the Iraq Academics, held in Madrid in April 2006, statistics show that 80% of the assassinations targeted people working in the universities, and that half of them are either professors or professor assistants, that half of the assassinations happened in Baghdad university, third of them were in Basra, then Mosul and Al-Mostansiriya University. The study mentioned that 62% of the assassinations were PhDs.

One third of them are specialized in natural sciences and medicine, 17% are practicing doctors, and three quarters of those who were exposed to attempted assassination were actually killed. This "systematic" killing, confirms Dr. Jalili's belief that these assassinations and kidnapping are similar to the Salvador death squads, which was in fact, series of assassinations supervised by the American CIA in many Latin American countries.

Without going into analyzing the political and security dimensions, these data and statistics present a primary indicator of the destructive psychological impacts that anxiety puts on university professors because of kidnapping and killings. Studies done in relatively stable eastern and western societies, show that death anxiety is in direct proportion with depression, unsociability, over sensitivity, tension, obsessions, phobias; but it is in contrary proportion with  self confidence, social skills, extroversion, endurance, self respect, self accomplishment, positive attitude to ones' self, strong ego, sense of the aim of life.

Other studies show that the more intelligent a person is, the less he is frightened of death, that the middle class are more afraid of dying pains, that the more educated a person is the less he is afraid of death, and that women are more afraid of death than men. There is no agreement on the relation between death anxiety and age or religion.

As a pioneer contribution in investigating the psychological paths that death anxiety would take within the Iraqi educated personality, we put a 15 point scale, to be answered in 5 different answers each, ranging between " totally agree" and "totally disagree", applied to Baghdad and Mustansiriya university professors, who have MA, MSC, and PhD, of different ages and scientific degrees (professor, assistant professor, teacher and assistant teacher), the results were as follows: 

*All professors suffer death anxiety

*Afraid of painful death (91%)

*Thinking of death of loved ones (81%)

*Afraid of body deterioration that accompany slow death (72%)

*Worried about dying very painfully (69%)

* Feeling that death is every where (66%)

*Terrified of seeing a dead body (66%)

*Obsession of getting killed any minute (66%)

*Thinking of my personal death (53%)

* Prefer not to attend a dying friend (53%)

*Would avoid death no matter whatever it takes (50%)

* Think of death directly before going to bed (47%)

*Death is better than a painful life (38%)

*Feel closer to death than to life (31%)

*Extremely afraid to die (31%)

*Terrified by the idea of decomposition after death (28%) 

Conclusions: 

*Death anxiety is spread among this sample of Iraqi university professors, regardless of age and scientific degree which signifies that its effect is widely spread. Women, though, were more worried about dearth than men, a result   consistent with the psychological literature mentioned above which says that women feel less secure; hence her death anxiety is higher. Gender rules, too, demand that men should be "brave" and do not show fear or anxiety in this sense. In addition to that, women's death anxiety is related to themselves personally and to their husbands, too.

*The fear of dying painfully is high among the sample individuals, then loved ones death, signifying psychological agony and tense feeling of threat that a professor has on his way from home to class.

*More than two thirds of the sample have anxiety of painful death and of seeing a dead body, in addition to compulsive thoughts that death is surrounding them and that they are exposed to death any minute. This signifies that obsessive and oppressive elements are pervading the university professors' thinking.

*Quarter-half of the sample's thoughts were centred on avoiding death, thinking of it, fearing it, and how close to itů signifying a relative carelessness about the conventional concept of death  if mentioned with out the idea of pain and threat of killing. 

*      *      *

The essential task of the academic personality is to create life in its highest aims, beginning with lectures, scientific research, whether theoretical or inside laboratories or fields, and to accumulate the eternal truths in the human mind library. Is it possible for such a creator of life to coexist with deep and objective anxiety of assassination and death pain??

The Iraqi situation every day now proves that death anxiety does not prevent the Iraqi universities academics of their deep civilized awareness that desperately defending life culture is the only effective way to pull out death's treacherous fangs, and to rehabilitate the concept of "eternity" as an alternative to all cultures of annihilation and elimination.  


 Death in life in Iraq

By Stephen Soldz (October 30, 2006)

Two new articles remind us how death is overtaking life in Iraq. A new article by a Baghdad academic -- University Professors in Iraq and Death Anxiety -- reports on a survey of university professors in Baghdad and Mustansiriya regarding death anxiety. It found:

*All professors suffer death anxiety
*Afraid of painful death (91%)
*Thinking of death of loved ones (81%)
*Afraid of body deterioration that accompany slow death (72%)
*Worried about dying very painfully (69%)
* Feeling that death is every where (66%)
*Terrified of seeing a dead body (66%)
*Obsession of getting killed any minute (66%)
*Thinking of my personal death (53%)
* Prefer not to attend a dying friend (53%)
*Would avoid death no matter whatever it takes (50%)
* Think of death directly before going to bed (47%)
*Death is better than a painful life (38%)
*Feel closer to death than to life (31%)
*Extremely afraid to die (31%)
*Terrified by the idea of decomposition after death (28%)

Perhaps most disturbing among these findings is that 66% of these professors felt that death was everywhere and that half (47%) think of death before going to bed. Iraq has now become a country of death in life for those whom it is not simply a country of death.

The author tries to maintain a ray of hope by reminding us that the academic vocation, like teaching in general, is oriented toward the future, toward life:

The essential task of the academic personality is to create life in its highest aims, beginning with lectures, scientific research, whether theoretical or inside laboratories or fields, and to accumulate the eternal truths in the human mind library. Is it possible for such a creator of life to coexist with deep and objective anxiety of assassination and death pain??

The Iraqi situation every day now proves that death anxiety does not prevent the Iraqi universities academics of their deep civilized awareness that desperately defending life culture is the only effective way to pull out death's treacherous fangs, and to rehabilitate the concept of "eternity" as an alternative to all cultures of annihilation and elimination.

A New York Times article -- Iraqis See the Little Things Fade Away in War's Gloom -- gives a further sense of what death in life looks and feels like:

Private lives have been dented and squeezed into uncomfortable positions. Houda, a 40-year-old layout designer for a magazine in Baghdad who would not give her last name, said the violence had cast her and her husband in the roles of emergency room doctors, shouting orders and performing urgent tasks. Little time remains for intimacy. The last time she remembers feeling happy together was a year ago.

"Something has changed," she said. "There is a kind of dryness between us now."

One conversation that comes up daily is about leaving Iraq, but there are no answers.

It is a daily struggle not to shout at her two teenage girls, one that she usually loses. She has stopped hugging and kissing them, a strange byproduct of extreme stress, she said. Recently, her 15-year-old called to say she missed her, though they had not been apart.

"I feel surrounded by threats," she said. "When I go to work. When they go to school."

Even the ability to think, to remember, is gradually disappearing:

As the violence tears the fabric of society, breaking communities and long-established social networks, even peoples' thinking is muted. Plans for the future are too painful, too breakable, many Baghdad residents say, and so their thoughts stay fixed on the immediate.

"The events are too big to comprehend, and the mind stops thinking," Ms. Attiya said. The result, she said, is a distracted population with vastly diminished ambitions.

With jobs too difficult or too dangerous to find in many cases, young people in particular have put aside their dreams. In such an environment, the allure of populist leaders and militias offering protection, a sense of purpose and belonging has become compelling.

For the women - secular, middle class, employed and part of an increasingly slender slice of Iraq's population - the effects have been on a more personal scale.

Many reported a new difficulty with memory, particularly of numbers and dates.

For Houda, it happened in front of a television set. She sat down to turn on her favorite Egyptian television show a few days ago, and for several minutes she could not remember the channel.

"It was a blankness," she said. "My brain is loaded. It is not active like before."

One aspect of the Iraqi situation that is different from many other civil war situations is the breakdown of even local community. The fear of going outside means that families have trouble getting together, and that even conversing with neighbors is dangerous:

Life was also hard under Saddam Hussein, the women pointed out. Plans were equally impossible to build. But the basic fabric of life, visiting family, attending weddings and funerals, was for the most part intact. Now Iraqis are letting go even of those parts.

The ministry employee sat at the table looking agitated. She attended the funeral for the mother of a good friend this month. The family was Christian, large and respected in the community, and before the war, such a funeral would draw hundreds. Instead, 10 people came to the church service, and only one, the dead woman's son-in-law, risked following the casket out to the cemetery. Even her daughter stayed home.

In many parts of Iraq, where mixed neighborhoods are being broken apart, the distrust is even greater. There is no sense of all being in it together. Your neighbor may be an enemy, or at least, one of those to be blamed for the horrors. Throughout much of the country, the militias provide one of the few opportunities for community, which is, probably,among their attractions.

People are resilient. Should, somehow, the violence stop, daily life will gradually revive. But wounds will remain. Imagine children growing up knowing only fear, fear should they step outdoors to play. Fear every time they go to school, when they go to school. Fear when father or mother leaves the house.

We have an obligation to put ourselves in the shoes of the Iraqis and try and imagine, however difficult, what life must be like there, in a world of death and of fear at every moment. A world where joy has taken a long vacation. We must not forget. And, when the occupation and the civil war end, we must be there to help in whatever ways we can.

URL: http://www.opednews.com/articles/opedne_stephen__061030_death_in_life_in_ira.htm
Authors Website: http://soldzresearch.com/stephensoldz

Authors Bio: Stephen Soldz is psychoanalyst, psychologist, public health researcher, and faculty member at the Institute for the Study of Violence of the Boston Graduate School of Psychoanalysis. He is a member of Roslindale Neighbors for Peace and Justice. He maintains the Psyche, Science, and Society blog. He is a member of the BRussells Tribunal Advisory Committee.