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Schizophrenia, from the Greek word ‘schizophreneia’, meaning “split mind,” is a psychiatric diagnosis that describes a mental disorder characterized by impairments in the perception or expression of reality and by significant social or occupational dysfunction. A person experiencing schizophrenia is typically characterized as demonstrating disorganized thinking, and as experiencing delusions or hallucinations, in particular auditory hallucinations according to Wikipedia.

One can say that schizophrenia is commonly defined by the dictionaries of psychology as the lack of logical cohesion in thinking and behavior. A person may behave, talk and deal with others normally but on other occasions the same person would behave in another way as a result of the delusions they suffer and other visualizations which cause them to imagine that there is someone talking to them or ordering them to do random things. All such mental disorders cause this person’s relationships with those around him/her to be imbalanced. Nevertheless, the person remains certain that what they see and/or hear is real and continues to refuse outright to recognize he/she is unwell and needs treatment.

Psychologists differ over schizophrenia and whether there is one kind of schizophrenia or a range of schizophrenias or rather various levels of schizophrenia. Schizophrenics do not necessarily have to be of one degree or of the severity portrayed by the film “A Beautiful Mind” that featured the life of Nobel-winning mathematician John Forbes Nash. Rather, the condition may be so much milder that the person would not be recognized as a schizophrenic. On the other hand, schizophrenia should not be confused with Dissociative Identity Disorder, and both conditions should not be confused with “ideological blindness,” when ideological intoxication is at its strongest where the sufferer can only view the world according to his/her ideology, dealing with all those around him in a schizophrenic or split-personality manner. More often than not, matters get so confused that one is not able to distinguish the case.

In fact, schizophrenia and other conditions came to mind as I listened to Colonel Gaddafi’s televised speech on Al Jazeera on the eve of the 19th Arab summit in Riyadh. As I followed up the meeting, the life of Colonel Gaddafi, since entering the political field via the 1969 coup and until his appearance on Al Jazeera that day, flashed through my mind. I realized that before us was a case of schizophrenia that was, in many circumstances, veering close to his belief that he was a prophet. Add to that the personal disorders and vacillation between absolute Arabism and absolute Africanism, coupled with an inferiority complex and ideological blindness that makes him see an entirely different world. Many are willing to call Colonel Gaddafi an actor or someone who seeks excitement and leadership in a region that only applauds these kinds of leaders. However, I do not believe that this is absolutely correct. In fact, when he speaks, the Colonel is honest with himself, and here is where the problem lies. He neither acts nor seeks excitement but truly believes he has all the capabilities that he claims to have, and it is people, not him, who are to blame when they do not have faith in his genius and insight as an historic and an all-time prodigy. The Colonel may be a seeker of leadership, but it is a leadership that is unlike any other Arab leadership insomuch as it is one that entails aspects of prophethood that transcends human capabilities.

Indeed, in this regard, the case of the Colonel is not unique, although it is severe. We can even see that all types of schizophrenia suffered by the Arab personality – whether it is a result of a pathological or an ideological condition – is an almost general phenomenon that is manifest in the behavior of many people. This case of schizophrenia is almost a general cultural phenomenon in our life in such a manner that we live mentally in some place and go about our real life in another, without any sense of contradiction.

When the nationalistic expansion prevailed the Arab arena, I had a friend or rather a theorist and tutor who lived and breathed Arab nationalism and hated America and American imperialism. He even used to smoke Jordanian-made Gold Star cigarettes, boycotting American cigarettes that in his opinion represented transnational companies. On the occasions that we met, our speech did not get beyond the statements made by Aflaq, al Razzaz, al Bitar, al Hurani and Abu Khaldoun Sati al Husari, the party’s theories and the sacrifices that should have been made to “revive” the Arab world. We were dyed-in-the-wool Baathists and Abdul Nasser was diligent towards his nationalism but it was not real nationalism. At that point of time, we hated America and even the entire West, just as the Islamists of today do, for the same reasons though under different slogans. For us, America was the pinnacle of capitalism and the culmination of imperialism; for them today, it is the great Satan and the stronghold of faithlessness. America was the enemy of Arab nationalism and its emergence because such nationalism may have posed a threat to it and the entire Western civilization; it is today the enemy of Islam and its return since Islam threatens it and the entire Western civilization. The West had been a historical enemy of Arab nationalism, and today it is a historical enemy of everything that is Islamic. Ultimately, names and slogans have changed, but the content remained the same. Back to my “friend,” a while later when the enthusiasm and nationalistic passion subsided, I discovered that this friend of mine and his family members communicated only in English at home and that all of his children attended American schools, with some of them even in America itself. He trusted only the BBC English-language service. My friend did not consider this behavior contradictory to nationalistic principles.

I had a Communist friend when Communism was in fashion. He believed that the whole world would become one “Soviet Union” and that this was predestined, just like fate and divine decree. His favorite words that he never tired of repeating were, “The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it”, that Karl Marx said in his ‘Theses on Feuerbach.’ We differed much, particularly with regard to the nationalistic issue. He was a Communist enthusiast and I was a nationalistic enthusiast; however, once our debates came to an end and we simply became “human” again with no such labels as Baathist or Communist, we were once again friends who had no differences – we drank tea in cafés, told jokes, walked in the souks and ate as people did. In spite of my friend’s excessive communism, he was a big fan of American movies. When he bought something at the market, he would go for American and English products in particular. When I questioned him about it, he looked at me surprised and he said: “You are strange. Have you not read Karl Marx?” I replied, “Yes. My eyes have become tired of reading Marx’s Capital, but what is the relation?” “Mature Capitalism is the last stage for the emergence of Socialism, and therefore the best products now are those made by Capitalism. Socialists in the Soviet Union (he was antagonistic to Maoism as a sort of apostasy) are paving the way for inheriting Capitalism,” he explained. Then, laughing happily, he asked: “Have you not read Lenin’s statement that the Capitalists will sell us the rope with which we will hang them? Understood?” I answered: “Understood,” although in fact I did not understand and just pretended to so that I would not be branded as not understanding Lenin and Marx, which was a disgrace at that time.

In an interview with a key Islamist leader – I do not want to say an “Al Qaeda figure” – who has lived in Britain since he fled his country that pays lip service to the superiority, justice and humanity of Islam and demands the application of [the rules of] Islam to all walks of life and who, along with his family, holds British citizenship and lives off social benefits, he called for jihad against Britain and called it a toilet. In another interview with a senior Al Qaeda leader who lives in France, he complained about French racism and discrimination between citizens and how they have become second-class citizens, and how they are confronted by obstacles when trying to build their mosques and how their daughters have faced difficulties because of their hijabs. They are the ones who were disciplined at home with the stick and therefore accept it as a disciplinary tool. They collect donations to build a small room for prayer but even that they’re not allowed. This leader declares that France is ready for Islam and all that is left is for the declaration of jihad on Europe to convert to Taliban-style Islam and for the world to turn to the religion of truth, according to his own interpretation and vision of course.

I had a relative who did not have any connection to politics and culture. He watched TV, smoked and enjoyed his life; meanwhile, he performed his religious duties as a good Muslim would. I sat with this relative frequently and we talked a lot. He had a sense of humor. I never talked about politics or culture with him…we only had pleasant conversations. Now, rather than at that time, what has drawn my attention to our conversations was that my friend loved the movies, theater and all that was related to art though he did not want this to be available in his country. As the years passed and his appearance changed, I asked him for a justification for what he did. “To sin and admit it is a sin may or may not be forgiven by God, but to sin and not to admit sinning is real faithlessness,” he explained. With such logic, he reconciled with himself and regained peace of mind.

I contemplated these situations and many others and could only interpret them as either a type of social schizophrenia so to speak, disorders in individual, collective and cultural personalities alike, ideological intoxication of one type or another of one degree or another or a combination of all these. In fact, I do not have a conclusive answer insofar as I am trying to arrive at an interpretation, probably in vain, for a condition that is no longer hidden from all those who show some interest. It is a question that is just as open-ended as the following question: what led us to this condition and how do we resolve it?

Turki Al-Hamad

Turki Al-Hamad

Turki Al-Hamad is a distinguished Saudi Arabian political analyst, journalist and novelist. Mr. Al-Hamad was educated in Saudi Arabia and the United States, where he obtained his PhD from the University of Southern California, later returning to Riyadh to teach political science. He retired in 1995 to take up writing full time.

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