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Monday, March 15, 2010

World View

That's Jihad Jane.

Let's talk. You should know we're only talking because my 9:00 forgot about daylight savings time. Do I charge? Would you?

So Saturday I'm walking to shul (rhymes with "pull", Yiddish for synagogue) and it's wet out, the air is wet, wet to the degree that you flip up your hood if you have one, which I don't. And there's no sun, and you wonder: Why am I doing this? Better people than I don't. They stay home and pray if they want to in the privacy of their living room, or not at all. What is this compulsion?

Upon arrival it's no better, but why fight it, you know, because it is what it is. Half-way through the service is the reading from the Torah, the Holy Book, painfully inked in Hebrew by a religious scribe, and I read along in English, even though I could read the Hebrew, am captivated by what other people certainly find very boring, for we read the same readings year to year. This particular parsha (rhymes with Marsha, means chapter) is about the architecture of the traveling synagogue that Jews carried with them in the dessert, having left slavery in Egypt*, and the donations they gave to make sure the tent was magnificent, worthy of a very powerful, beneficent Resident. Reading it reinforces why I'm here, adds meaning to the things I do by rote, reminds me I'm not crazy.

Some of us take comfort in meaning, having a place in the sun, an identity, and religion fills this void very well. If you have one that is really old, that claims authority and irrefutable tradition, then you're really set.

So we can't really blame people for seeking that.

On the cover of the Wall Street Journal is this front page eye-catcher: For the Love of Islam


Ms. Paulin-Ramirez, looking for something to hold onto, has tried Christianity, returned to her books and found them lacking. Islam works for her. She finds a religious community on-line, falls in love with a Muslim man, and before you can say Jihad! is wearing a burka. Her mother and stepfather are beside themselves. Jamie runs off to Ireland with her son, ostensibly planning a murder/suicide attack against a Swedish cartoonist who draws cartoons about Mohamed that don't make everyone laugh.

Enough to make me wonder what drives this behavior, preying on the vulnerable, people like Jamie, just looking for meaning, a self to call her own. Jamie finds a mentor whose translation of Islamic holy books is radical. She's linked in a murder plot, along with Jihad Jane, Colleen R. LaRose from Philadelphia. I remember studying cults years ago, wonder why there isn't more discussion about this in the news. We could call them Religious Predators.

Then today, never mind, they're all free to go.

Jamie Paulin-Ramirez isn't guilty, or has finagled a plea bargain and nobody's telling us. According to WSJ online,
Ms. Paulin-Ramirez's case is the second this month involving American women who converted to Islam, only to wind up attracting attention from law enforcement.

An indictment was unsealed this week against Colleen R. LaRose, 46, a suburban Philadelphia woman who authorities said used the Web alias "JihadJane." Ms. LaRose was accused of plotting to kill the cartoonist and attempting to recruit jihadis via the Internet.
They're free to go, although we are made to understand that they are not sure where to go or why. Perhaps they'll have time to read other translations.

You wonder, at least I do, how anyone could be swayed to murder someone else. There has to be something very pathological going on there. A person with Antisocial Personality Disorder doesn't have to be persuaded. The Jeffrey Daumer's, the John Wayne Gaycy's, people who commit murder after murder-- nobody's twisting their arms. It has to be a very vulnerable person who commits to a belief system that advocates an antisocial behavior. We can change children who have been fed terrorist propaganda in school, but changing a Daumer or a Gacy is much harder.

A story, how some people change: (details are fictionalized, down to the Lady Gaga reference)

A patient in her thirties, who has been slowly analyzing her depression and behavior over a lifetime, her miserable relationships, tells me she's angry at herself for being so narcissistic, narcissistic from the get go. She sees herself more clearly now and no longer wants to be special, no longer cares if people think she's great or talented. She's worried, even, about making other people uncomfortable because she's so smart. She hates that she used to gloat, loved it when they failed.

We go through the many variables that can contribute to narcissism:

(a) being a favorite child
(b) being treated as if you can do no wrong
(c) being told you really are better than other people
(d) being abused (how this loads is the subject of a different post)
(e) having narcissistic family members

She tells me that she hates herself for the years she spent in self-worship. She's terrified she'll lose it, her new-found focus upon others, that she'll slip back to thinking she's superior. She's found the only thing that works, the thing that keeps her straight, is prayer.

Prayer? She doesn't look especially religious. More like Lady Gaga, is the truth.

Right. She's praying more and thinking about the things she's learned now that she's read some really good Christian literature. It has brought her back to the idea that there is a power outside of herself who is in charge, who has a destiny figured out for her, and that destiny isn't tied into her being the center of attention, necessarily, certainly not her thinking that the world should revolve around her, and that if people don't admire her, they're stupid. "I'm just like everybody else," she tells me, "and I'm going to start acting like that, take an interest in others. I'm going to be like everyone else."

But what will you do with your talent, I ask? She is an immensely talented person.

"I can still use it, of course (silly). I just have to remember where I got it, and if someone compliments me I tell that person that if I have a gift, I had nothing to do with it, it's a gift. A person has to say thank you, too, publicly, for a gift."

Pushing the envelope I ask, But isn't it narcissistic to think that you have been singled out, gifted? Wouldn't it make more sense to say that it's an accident? A genetic stroke of luck?

"I've thought of that, but is it possible that humanity can be an accident? We do amazing things; someone is creating something amazing every day! A gorilla could be a fluke of nature, maybe, even a killer whale, but not the brains that put a man on the moon or created prostheses. To think that individuals are in charge, to think we're really special, that there's no higher power? That's narcissism. When you keep that in mind, you begin to see other people, the worth of each one. You're back in the world again."

Whatever works, is the truth. Well, maybe not whatever.

therapydoc

*The festival of Passover is not the "Jewish Easter." It is a celebration of redemption from slavery in Egypt.

21 comments:

TechnoBabe said...

I think you charge half for the person who forgot to set the clocks forward. My opinion.
You walk to shul for the comfort of your belief. You really read the words and participate. It's not just mouthing words that are said over and over. They are real. I like it when you say you take comfort in meaning.

Syd said...

"To think that individuals are in charge, to think we're really special, that there's no higher power? That's narcissism." She may be right.

Lisa said...

I would charge for that one, yes. And narcissism is running rampanat in the news. This, and Lindsey Lohan thinking the ETRADE commercial is about HER! geez

Jacqueline said...

Interesting post...

As for the client who forgot about the time change, I'd say let them off the hook this time. Chances are they're already upset enough with themselves for missing the appointment. I would be.

linrob63 said...

Gee T-doc,

Do you not think everyone has a gift of some kind...and is the fortunate among us who get to know what it is and the rest of us slobs who make our way in the world with a fifty fifty chance of connecting with it?

For those who are lucky enough to find it and know they have found it, or maybe it has found them -- there is that thing about humility. And for them...maybe the challenge is using the gift for the larger good.

Dunno...is just my non-denominational take on it. My closest friend on the planet tells me that such a belief without a creed makes me cult bait.

Hope she is incorrect.

Hope also you are doing ok and things are getting back to something that resembles normal.

Retriever said...

I think whether you charge or not depends on the individual patient. If they are genuinely remorseful/strapped financially/ADD-ish anyway (so it isn't just acting out but part of the territory), charge something like 25%. That gets the message across without being punitive.

If it is part of a pattern, and the person has money, and they are testing you, I would be inclined to charge them the full fee then deal with the anger for many sessions. The richer they are, the madder they will probably be....

Loved this post. It is so sad when one hears of these lost souls taking up with such murderous thugs. Stockhausen Syndrome (spelling?). I sometimes feel that it is our failure as believers that they reach out to the cruellest branch of that faith. Or are there some people who will reject the love and goodness right before them and go for the poison every time? Probably the latter...

My son's best social worker a few years ago was a devout Muslim who had made the pilgrimage to Mecca, a pacifist, an American convert, married to another, who was enraged over 9/11, and who was nothing like these foul terrorists.

I like your description of your patient struggling and finding strength and inspiration for the day to day mastery of her sins and weaknesses in her faith. Faith isn't real unless it can be seen working in our everyday actions. Imperfectly , incompletely, but healing nevertheless.

And as for heading to shul, I could so relate. Hundreds of times I have shuffled reluctantly and crankily to church feeling that I ought to but not with a good attitude. To sit amongst the company of the faithful, united by our love of the One. One always hears or sees or feels something that renews one or at least takes one out of one's self-imposed cage. The comfort of others' prayers when one is mourning or bruised or alienated...

I have been praying for you as you mourn your dad, and especially that you will feel the delight of our Maker in your reaching out to others despite your sorrow. The best memorial to anyone we love.

Anonymous said...

Hmm.. I've thought about this quiet much..... it sure raises a few questions..
frokostordning

Sarah said...

I tend to agree with most of what you say, but I have difficulties with this post. To be sure, there are people who convert to particular religions who are then part of religious extremist groups. However, this is not limited to Islam, nor is it the majority of converts to any particular tradition (including Islam, Judaism, Christianity, etc.) I think you paint a picture of the Muslim faith that limits it to religious extremism - particularly suggesting that young white American women couldn't ever be drawn to the Islamic faith (and all that is positive about it) without falling into illegal, immoral activity. I think a bit more nuance on this would be helpful, otherwise it risks demonizing Islam in Western culture which already happens far too readily.
However, I do like your discussion of narcissism and a higher power. I think this is a great thing to remember (and it keeps us humble).

Anonymous said...

the term "Jihad" means struggle. This most often refers to the internal struggle a Muslim has to maintain his or her beliefs (upholding the five pillars of Islam, etc.) Jihad = war, terrorism, etc. is a misappropriation of this term that can be used pejoratively.

therapydoc said...

Sarah, I didn't try to paint a picture of Islam, but if I gave the wrong impression, apologize to readers. What I wanted to say was that if anyone resorted to terrorism based upon a reading of a text, that a rereading might be in order.

I surely didn't intend to slight any convert of any religion in any way, and if anyone got that out of this reading, then I apologize. Frankly, I thought the post idealizes faith, so converting to one bodes positively, psychologically speaking.

ANON, thanks for that correction. If you live in a country that is always on a terror alert, and you fear getting on a bus because you think that the unclaimed package under the seat might have explosives and you tell the bus driver who stops the bus and everyone gets out and the police are called in and everyone waits until it is hauled off for inspection, then you get a bit of a skewed version of Jihad.

My apologies. I had no idea it wasn't tantamount to violence. I stand corrected.

Jack said...

"To think that individuals are in charge, to think we're really special, that there's no higher power? That's narcissism."

Does narcissism have to be a bad thing.

Isle Dance said...

Indeed.

If it's pounded into your head enough times that you're supposed to do what any other tells you to do - or else it's proof that you're selfish/narcissitic/endlessly sinful - things can become pretty confusing...especially when those others continue to justify harm...and nobody is stopping them...or helping you.

Ella said...

I attended a church-owned college, and one of the religion professors managed to collect a "christian" cult. He told one student member that he no longer needed his glasses, he was healed.
Needless to say, this student's sports skills declined greatly and no one would get in a car that he was driving.

So, maybe you were wondering how does a person get so deeply involved in a religion that they might kill people about it? The Crusades, for example?

When you wrote this "It has to be a very vulnerable person who commits to a belief system that advocates an antisocial behavior", which belief system were you referring to? I guess I read it that you meant Islam, hoping that you didn't....

If killing people is antisocial, then what do we do about the military, teaching people to kill? That one is very hard for me.

therapydoc said...

Jim Jones told people to swallow poison and they did. They were vulnerable. I shoudn't have worded this post in such a way that people would ever think I hold any resentment against Islam, because I truly don't. Again, apologies for this misinterpretation.

Dr. Deb said...

I didn't feel that you were painting a long stroke against Islam. I get the pathological stance you are making.

The truth is, psychopaths find ways to exercise their needs. Some through religious means, others through the power of profession, their role, etc. Malignant narcissism is dangerous. Always has been, always will be.

Isle Dance said...

TD,

I like what you wrote. I didn't read anything negative in it.

I hope my comment didn't sound negative. I now fear it did.

Hopefully others see this as me "getting" what you're saying, as that's what I intended to say.

Life's funny this way, sometimes, huh?

Tzipporah said...

LOL @ your "Jewish Easter" comment. I'm guessing that's a direct response to something someone actually said.

Ella said...

Thanks for the clarifying statement @Islam.

I remember the Jim Jones cult. How telling is that we use the following statement at work "I've drunk the kool-aid" to mean that we are 100% on board with something, perhaps something difficult or unpleasant (re-org, quality initiative, hoteling, etc). I remember EST/The Forum. Vulnerable people.

therapydoc said...

Exactly. Kool-aid, mind-numb.

Anonymous said...
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Jannie Funster said...

Please tell lady gaga, whether fictional or not, to read The Bold Life blog, yes the one by Tess. If gaga dos not melt some way into putting love energy out after reading Tess' blog, she might as well go back to thinking everything really IS and evershall be all about her.

-- Jannie's 2 cents for the day. :)