I am a haunted house

For those of us with war-related ptsd, this time of year in North America can be particularly triggering, due to parades including uniformed soldiers, artillery salutes, fireworks and other similar things.

Is it possible to deconstruct sacred texts and stories that were used as weapons against us and others, so that their power to wound is taken away? (Artist: Ala Ebtekar http://www.torandj.com/works1.html)

How do we relate to sacred texts and stories that were used to justify war and torture and a long list of horrors, and to manipulate us into assenting to things that our consciences rejected? Are we forever at their mercy, trapped by the guilt that they were used to instill in us? Is it possible to read them instead of being always read by them?
(Artist: Ala Ebtekar http://www.torandj.com/works1.html)

There’s nothing quite like calmly walking down the street on a holiday afternoon, enjoying the sunshine… until you hear artillery, and even though you rationally know that no real shells are being used and nobody is dying you start to shake, and every ounce of your strength becomes focused on keeping yourself together and getting away from that sound as fast as is humanly possible.

Or like standing in a crowd of happy people ooh-ing and ah-ing over a spectacular display of fireworks, aware that you alone are unwillingly cringing at every boom and being reminded of aerial bombardments and you desperately want to be anywhere but here.

Trying to “ground oneself,” to remember that “that was then, this is now” and that this is just a patriotic holiday celebration and nobody is getting hurt. Trying, and not really succeeding. And feeling very, very alone in that sea of evidently happy people. They can enter into the holiday spirit. But although I can usually seem outwardly composed, inwardly, I am a haunted house.  I never know when the ghosts will reappear. Sometimes I’m almost sort of ok with fireworks and I think that I’m well on my way to overcoming this problem… and then I find that I’m not.

Back in the day, we were taught to recite certain verses from the Qur’an or masnun du’as when we were afraid or otherwise troubled, and it worked. But now, it usually makes things worse. So much of the violence that now haunts me was justified by men (and sometimes women) who quoted from those sacred texts and claimed authority due to their knowledge of them.

What I tend to find more helpful than the invocation of these texts is art that deconstructs their use as weapons in the hands of the powerful.

This particular series by Ala Ebtekar really helped when nothing else did. Not only was it wonderful to see a particular instance of religious wartime propaganda from the ’80’s represented and in the process  unmasked for what it was, but it provides a glimpse of the possibility of a future in which these ghosts might be neutralized. Shorn of their ability to terrorize, and put to work in the service of artistic creativity instead.


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  1. #1 by PositiveSoberSecondLook on July 5, 2014 - 7:27 am

    YOU SAID :……….wartime propaganda from the ’80′s represented and in the process……

    Me:………………….forget about past..many things changed without you and me being trying to do or help to do so ….be in present…because many things changed by itself…but in Egypt,history is repeating…You need not to worry anymore…many things in Islam has changed or Muslims have started thinking Islamic teaching to adjust to modern way of life….you can adjust yourself like other new converts who has more freedom to do so than in 1980’s due to TV and internet…you must be wise enough to adopt that….your cruel husband left you already.

    say to yourself the following 100 times a day

    1) “PAST IS PAST”
    3) “NO MORE NEGATIVE FEELINGS”- or- negative posts.

    May god bless and help you to be happy.

    • #2 by xcwn on July 5, 2014 - 2:38 pm

      If only ptsd could be overcome simply by an act of will. But unfortunately, It doesn’t work that way.

      I don’t see this post as negative, ultimately. If there are any other converts out there who had a similar experience last time they went to see the fireworks (or avoided going because they feared that it would be too triggering), they now know that (1) they are not alone, and (2) there is some awesome art out there that might help them to process their experiences.

      And if there are any converts out there who are romanticizing the idea of “going for jihad” and thinking that this is some sort of noble undertaking, maybe they will think a bit about the long term consequences. War is war. It isn’t pretty, it isn’t holy and it maims and eviscerates people—especially the innocent—in an untold number of ways. Those religious leaders here who used to defend the idea of “jihad” as a sacred duty, even in the abstract, have blood on their hands. Not that they will likely ever take responsibility for what they have done, but in the very least we now know not to listen to anything they say on any subject.

      Back in the day, I had never heard of ptsd. I didn’t know that there is such a thing, and it was never acknowledged by the Muslim communities I was involved in either, even though looking back, I can see that a number of people likely had it or something similar. But then, mental illness in general wasn’t acknowledged. We were taught that Muslims didn’t have problems like that, or that if they did then it was because they didn’t have enough tawakkul.

      It is encouraging to see that some people—such as Melody Moezzi—are beginning to write about mental illness as a issue that actually does affect Muslims. And I don’t see the issue of war-related ptsd going away any time soon, given what so many Muslim refugees who come to North America are fleeing from. I would hope that Muslim communities will begin to talk more about it rather than less.

  2. #3 by Laury Silvers on July 10, 2014 - 1:35 pm

    Agreed, I didn’t see this as negative either. PTSD takes a long time to wind through. I have a friend who was a political radical in the 60’s and came up against the police in a famous and tragic instance (I won’t share his story without permission). He talked to me about the process of healing from PTSD once saying that it does heal, it does get easier, but it takes time, sometimes a lot of time. This whole blog, to me, seems to be a part of that process.

    • #4 by xcwn on July 11, 2014 - 1:41 am

      Thanks for commenting. Yes, this is sure taking a long time. But part of the problem is that it is cumulative—it isn’t just things that happened in the ’80’s.It’s also often aggravated by the way my life is now.

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