Tag Archive | "Terrorism"



SNF0706FX1-682_525312aFrom Nora Fakim…

During these past ten years, there has been a growing media campaign aimed at inciting prejudice against Muslims. Since 9/11, and especially since the London Tube bombing in July 2005, many Asians and Muslims have been harassed and racially attacked because of the negative image Islam has.  

 But the question is does Islamophobia actually exist? The trouble with the idea is that it confuses hatred of, and discrimination against, Muslims on the one hand with criticism of Islam on the other. The connotation of “Islamophobia” is all too often used not to highlight racism but to silence critics of Islam, or even Muslims fighting for reform of their communities.

With Channel 4 being the first station public-service television broadcaster in the United Kingdom to win favourable support from the British ethnic minorities, does this also mean that it is more Islam friendly compared to other media stations?

According to the  School of Journalism in Cardiff, the fact remains that the reason as to why the  media coverage on British Muslims has significantly increased, is due to 36% of stories on British Muslims is in relation to terrorism. Furthermore, in many newspapers like the Sun, they are known to use negative language when referring to Islam.

But what is extraordinary about Channel 4, is that it seems to show Islam in a different light. One in which it aims to reach out to everybody no matter what ethnicity or religion and tries to make people aware that British Muslims are suffering too. With the negative image of Islam in the U.K, many Muslims live in fear of practicing their own religion and find that the negative stigma around their religion creates a barrier between them and the rest of the British community.

According to the 2003 Communication Act, ‘Channel 4 is a broad range of high quality and diverse programming which, in particular appeals to the tastes and interests of a culturally diverse society.’ This is the reason as to why the channel was efficient at tackling the problems of Islamophobia by being aware that it was and still is a serious matter and so they made every effort to help decrease tensions between the Muslim and non-Muslim communities.

In 2008’s most watch interviews, Jon Snow challenges Salman Rushide about the Western and Easter conflicts. Although Salman Rushdie is talking about his new book which describes similarities between Eastern and Western cultures, Jon Snow questions him further about the modern day issues of Western and Eastern cultural conflicts.

He states to Rushdie that the ‘West needs to also be involved in building a bridge with the East.’ Mr Rushdie is unable to even answer some of Snows questions because many are questions which the British media refuses to acknowledge and which the public would never dare to bring up as they are questions which give the Western World a negative image such as; ‘Many people think of the East that we think nothing of their culture… the West has no culture… the East has culture’ (Snow). Although Salam Rushdie is trying to refer each time to his book which is set in the past, Jon Snow is trying to put this cultural conflict at forefront in our present day society, which is highly important in making people understand the Western and Eastern cultural conflicts whether it being in Britain and the rest of the world.                                                 

Channel 4’s dispatches showed the documentary which was presented by Peter Oborne; ‘It should not even happen to a Muslim’. This documentary aimed to make people aware of the difficulties many British Muslims face; whilst living and growing up in Great Britain. 

The documentary found that 61 % of hostility increased towards the Muslim community since the 2005 London bombings. Mr Oborne even managed to interview the Muslim MP Shahid Malik; about his life as a British Muslim. Malik quoted that he often receives ‘hate mail’ about being Muslim and anger towards the Muslim community.

He also said in the interview that the media play a role in misinterpreting issues dealing with people of his religion. Another programme on channel 4 which was targeted in educating the non-Muslim community about Islam was the weekly programme; ‘Make me a Muslim’. The idea was to give non-Muslims an idea of what it was like to live as a Muslim in Britain. After the series, all the contestants had a more positive image about the Islamic faith then when they first arrived at the beginning of the show. This show was another effective way of trying to build an understanding between both cultures.

 Channel 4’s website publicises several Muslim organistations such as, ‘The Muslim Association of Britain’ and ‘F.A.I.R.’ Whilst interviewing Karima Sbitri, who is a member of F.A.I.R she confessed that Channel 4 was the ‘best un-biased channel’ when it came to talking about Islam. I interviewed several Muslims from City University and I asked them what their favourite British channel was and eight out of ten replied Channel 4.

From this article we can see that there have been many showings on Channel 4 to tackle the problem of Islamophobia in Britain and this is a reason as to why it is favoured by many Muslims and ethnic minorities living here in the U.K. Its recent multicultural diversity statement was that, ‘Multicultural programmes remain at the heart of Channel 4’.

Let us hope that it carries on helping to resolve the problems of Islamophobia and other cultural issues here in Great Britain!


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The Impact of Terror


impactActs of terror reach deep inside the hearts of people and nations. Terrorism seeks to divide and isolate, to inspire fear and hatred, creating the illusion of knowledge which is always far more dangerous than ignorance. The third in a three part series of articles, RELATIVITY OnLine’s resident social psychologist Dr. Ron Villejo takes us inside the mechanism of terrorism itself.  For Villejo, the emotions felt and the thoughts inspired by such acts, no matter how irrational they may be, must be understood . Whether it be what drives the terrorist or the reaction of the victims themselves, understanding will always be the key to making our world, despite our many differences,  a universal experience.

In the 2008 M. Night Shyamalan film “The Happening,” rustling trees release some lethal chemical into the air, when they sense a threat in their surroundings.  This chemical short-circuits the very will to live in people, and the film becomes a grisly series of suicides.  In the meantime, terror spreads quickly among thousands and thousands and frantic efforts to escape dominate their lives.

Terrorism anywhere in the world has become so much a part of our real lives, that we may wish it were only just a film.  In this article, I advance the notion that solely on basis of the terror it is able to create among people, terrorism works!

From March 2002 through June 2006, I consulted for clients in the Middle East (Gulf Region) – mostly notably Saudi Aramco, the world’s major oil producer.  There, in the aftermath of September 11th, I traveled to the region frequently, usually for three- or four-week trips, visiting two-to-six countries in a stretch.  I came to have a heightened awareness of terrorist attacks, many of them coinciding with either being in the Middle East or literally just having arrived back in Chicago.  Here is a shortlist of terrorist attacks and violent events, which reverberated in my mind.

  • Bali nightclub bombings (12th October 2002, Indonesia)[i].  202 killed, 240 injured.
  • Invasion of Iraq, a US-led coalition (20th March 2003)[ii].   Countless killed and injured.
  • Madrid train bombings (11th March 2004, Spain)[iii].  191 killed, 1800 wounded.
  • Al Khobar massacres (29th May 2004, Saudi Arabia)[iv].  22 killed, 25 injured.
  • Riyadh beheading of an American (~18th June 2004, Saudi Arabia)[v].
  • Beslan school massacres (1stSeptember 2004, North Ossetia-Alania [Russian Federation])[vi].  334 killed, including 186 children.
  • Foiled attack on the Aramco installation in Abqaiq (24th February 2006, Saudi Arabia)[vii]

There is enough profiling to say that terrorists, in general, are not crazed, out-of-control killers.  Yes, their sense of right-and-wrong is highly rigid, maybe idiosyncratic in eyes of many, but they are often very calculating, even patient in achieving their goals.  One psychologist found many terrorists with an arrested moral development at “retributive justice or vendetta.”[viii] They are guided by a powerful motive – borne from some moral injustice – to correct a wrong.

Each of us has a will to live.  The survival of the human race literally hinges on this.  We go to great lengths to protect ourselves and safeguard the very sanctity of life.  As part of our complex human tapestry, we react with a host of emotions when this is threatened (e.g., fear, dread, anger) – and engage in concomitant actions (fight or flight).  I argue that this will to live is the very thing that, like those rustling trees in “The Happening,” terrorists attack in us.

Psychological impact #1.  Geographical distance, paradoxically, narrows everything.

From wherever you’re sitting right now, look at a map of the Middle East – all its major locales look strikingly close by.  Baghdad, Riyadh, Dubai etc., all perhaps within inches of one another on that map.  Of course, too, because the media reach so many corners of the world, they can literally make an event seem like it’s occurring in your living room or by your computer desk.  It is this perception of ‘narrowing’ distance, I argue, that terrorists exploit.

In May 2004, I was the project manager for a consulting team in Bahrain, working with Aramco.  News of the grisly Al Khobar massacres easily found their way to us.  We managed to finish our work that day, keeping ourselves focused on a highly structured schedule and process.  But by evening time, the emotional floodgates opened.

I got as much information as I could, then gathered my guys quickly.  In some news reports, Bahrain, Al Khobar and Dhahran (Aramco’s headquarters near Al Khobar) were mentioned in the same breath.  My guys were all OK, as we were a fairly senior team.  But my concern wasn’t us per se, but our colleagues, friends and family back home, who were hearing the same news and possibly seeing the massacres dangerously close to us.  The senior management team in the US was already very nervous about us being in the Middle East.  I asked my guys to contact their loved ones as soon as possible to let them know we’re OK and to reassure them that Al Khobar was separated by a body of water from where we were in Bahrain.  I was surfing the internet and e-mailing several people late into the night, including the president of the firm.  Such turbulence of fear and worry pervading cyberspace, so as to contrast the eerie quiet of my hotel room.

Psychological impact #2.  Terrorism can make even bright, well-meaning people seem downright ignorant and prejudiced.

To say that I wasn’t afraid would be a lie.  But, unlike many of my colleagues at the firm, I loved working and being in the Middle East.  My own fear was minimal, at worst, and certainly never reached the irrational levels for some of my colleagues.

Colleagues back in the US would ask me, “Why do you like working there so much [in the Middle East]?”  “Is it safe there?”  “Be careful, there are a lot of ‘kooks’ [crazy people] there.”

Oh, on occasion, I’d get aggravated at such ignorance and get catty.  Something along the lines:  ‘Look, many more people get killed in any major American city than in the whole of Saudi Arabia.  Now, you tell me, which place is safer?  Should we ban our guys from traveling to New York City, if Dhahran is off-limits for us?’

And:  ‘Millions and millions of people live, work and thrive in the Middle East.  Safely, as a matter of fact.’  Without direct knowledge or experience, some people could not discern the ordinary-ness of life in Bahrain – traffic congestion, humid desert heat, multi-national pedestrians etc.

Finally, the point about ‘kooks’ is largely contradicted by the facts about the terrorist profile.  But this is it, isn’t it, one psychological impact of terrorism.  Terrorism can unhinge our better judgment… alter our perceptions… tap into that very will to live, deep within the recesses of our psychology and biology, and stir up such danger.  It really doesn’t matter how smart we are or how far an attack is, the terrorist has a superb ability to reach us where we’re most vulnerable!

Psychological impact #3.  Rational or irrational, the emotions we feel are real.

In the aftermath of the Al Khobar massacres, one of my guys and I were to travel to Dhahran for additional consulting work.  He and I were kindred spirits in our love for the Middle East.  So, brave souls that we were, we had no qualms about being Dhahran.  In fact, we took a side trip to Dubai for a bit of leisure and adventure.

Trauma was an undercurrent in Dhahran.  It was plastered there on some of the expats’ faces, and it was the discordance in their voices.  So a fair number of them left for home.  No wonder.  The horrifying stories I heard ‘on the ground’ were corroborated by the various news reports.  Terrorists attacked a residential compound with cold, calculating action.  They killed a couple of restaurant staff, and had the calm and presence to eat breakfast there, too.  They knocked on doors, asking “Are you Muslim,” and proceeded to kill Christians and Hindus.  At another setting, they tied a British executive to the back of their SUV and drove off with its grisly tow.  His face was not recognizable, when his body and the SUV were found dumped under a causeway.  Imagine that!

The work we were doing in Dhahran was leadership coaching.  But in the midst of such horrifying massacres, humanity and empathy took precedence over business and program.  One Saudi gentleman, for example, was in a good deal of distress.  Shaking his head, alternately quiet and talkative, he accused the terrorists, “They’re not Saudis.  They’re not Muslims!”  For such violence to occur in a country so steeped in the very conservative peacefulness of Islam is striking indeed.  This gentleman added that one of his Filipino employees was so traumatized, crying and sleepless, that he took him under this wing and had him sleep at his home.

I asked another Saudi gentleman how he would deal with terrorism.  “Well,” he began, “First of all, it’s too late.”  “What do you mean?” I asked.  He explained that terrorism was being bred into the minds and souls of many young people.  They were being schooled to have certain, anti-Western beliefs.  So he said that we’d have to wait at least another generation, before we can gain a measure of relief from terrorism.  I could’ve argued with his views, but I got his point very well – literally speaking, terrorism wasn’t going away anytime soon.  His views were actually so spot-on, I thought, that I shuddered.  Emotionally speaking, terrorism could ripple inside us far into the future.

I will not forget, too, in the Beslan school massacres, images of half-naked children running for their lives.  I remember telling a friend, “For God’s sake, someone give those children a shirt!”  Cover them up, give them some dignity, hold them and keep them secure!

Psychological impact #4.  Terrorists aim to make us feel what they feel.

There is a very complex defense mechanism called ‘projective identification,’ which psychoanalysts found in more severely disturbed patients.  First, there is the projection of some emotion onto another person.  It can be one of being shamed, frightened, maligned, oppressed etc.  This emotion is of such disturbing sort and degree that it must somehow be gotten rid of.  Repression was a classic Freudian defense mechanism, which means ‘putting’ a very bad experience out of consciousness or awareness.  But compared to the patients whom subsequent psychoanalysts worked with, the Victorian era patients of Freud were relatively healthy – the so-called worried-well or neurotics.  For the more disturbed patient, getting rid of a very bad emotion means ‘putting’ it on another person, usually someone close to him or her.  If you’re that other person, you will feel such a projection.  As a psychotherapist, I was educated and trained to not only watch out for this, but also allow it and contain it.  It gave me crucial clues as what my patient was experiencing, and thus gave me the insight to treat him or her more effectively.

The identification part is about control.  The patient has to stay close to the other person in an effort to keep the projected emotion contained in that other person.  Think of someone who gets ‘under your skin,’ someone who seems to be in your head a lot and thus know how to push your sensitive, private ‘emotional buttons.’  Spouses and lovers, when they fight, can do this viciously, because they’re so close and familiar to each other.  So, for the sake of control and containment, the patient may unrelentingly insult you, if he or she some feels deeply insulted.  The patient may unrelentingly frighten you, if he or she has had to face unspeakable fears.  This is communication and expression in a fundamentally unvarnished way!

If this is still hard to understand, watch the film “Fatal Attraction.”  The kind of patient that engages in projective identification is often someone who has a Borderline Personality Disorder.  The actress, Glenn Close, who played the disturbed jilted lover in “Fatal Attraction” researched borderlines in preparation for the role.  If you’ve read Shakespeare’s “Othello,” you will see how Iago uses projective identification to work his own brand of terror and violence on Othello.

Back to our subject here:  A handful of weeks after the Al Khobar massacres, American Paul Johnson was beheaded in Riyadh.  After a week in Chicago, I was back in Dhahran that June 2004 for another consulting project. Ironically, this didn’t create the kind of stir among us guys, as the previous incidents did – perhaps because it affected only one person – even though this was just as grisly as before.  Apparently, Johnson’s severed head was posted on the internet for anyone to see!

This is from a FOX News report:  “In answer to what we promised … to kill the hostage Paul Marshall (Johnson) after the period is over … the infidel got his fair treatment,” the Al Qaeda statement said. “Let him taste something of what Muslims have long tasted from Apache helicopter fire and missiles.”[ix]

This is the essence of projective identification.

Interestingly, in the foiled attack on the Aramco facility in Abqaiq (Saudi Arabia) in February 2006, one of my guys on the team was using what seemed to be projective identification.  Out of the threat and fear that he clearly felt, he made me feel threatened and afraid – not by the terrorists, but by him! For sure, he got under my skin.  He got irrational and angry with his accusations about what our firm was doing and not doing to protect us, about the lack of communication, about the lack of care.  And he was tacitly making me responsible for the firm’s mistreatment of him.  I tactfully confronted all of this, when I said “That’s unfair and untrue!”  If he had been in psychotherapy with me, I would’ve explored his issues more personally and deeply.  But as his project manager, I simply needed to be firm and direct with him.  This strong stance actually calmed him down, as I reassured him about the communications and care from our firm.  I offered him to be flown back home, but he actually stayed and finished the rest of the project in reasonably good spirits.

So here is a brief lesson on how to handle projective identification – put the emotion back on the ‘patient,’ firmly and unapologetically, while providing loads of reassurance.

I could go on.  For terrorism goes on.

In a way, the terror that terrorists effectively generate among us, much as it can ripple for years within us, doesn’t have to paralyze us, either, in our day-to-day lives.  There are Peace Day initiatives going on (e.g. UAE).  There is outrage and a call for government action (Philippines).  There is healing a year after some horrible bombings (India).

Ron Villejo, PhD


+971 50 715 9026


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The Psychology of Trauma



ron1Dr. Ron Villejo is set to take RELATIVITY OnLine readers on an odyssey of experience and faith. September 11, 2001 changed so many things for so many people and this article is one’s man’s trek into the heart of trauma, fear and understanding. “The Psychology of Trauma” is the first in series of three articles from Villejo– the second of which will tackle his journeys to the Middle East, beginning six months after September 11th, for consulting assignments.  Fatedly, he was selected to be part of a big leadership project for a major Saudi Arabian client.  The third article will focus on a psychology of terrorism, as terrorist attacks occurred in major cities in the ensuing years and created new kind of psyche within many as a result.

Early on the morning of September 11th 2001, I was meeting with a client at our Chicago office.  I was working for an international consulting firm, based in the US.  I walked my client out, when we finished, catching a glimpse of my officemates watching TV in a small breakout room.  Hey, weren’t they supposed to be working!  Hmm, watching ‘Oprah,’ I bet.  Maybe ‘Good Morning, America.’ 

It was not a good morning for America.  And, work, well, it quickly became unimportant.  

What happened that morning stunned one of the most powerful nations in the world, and knocked it to the ground.  Literally.  

The facts of September 11th are familiar to many of us already:  Nineteen hijackers commandeered four planes that morning, and on suicide missions crashed them – two against each of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City; one on the Pentagon just outside Washington, DC; and one into the fields in the state of Pennsylvania.  More information is easily accessible on the internet.

Let me walk you through that horrible day and the following days:  (a) with firsthand account from the eyes, ears – and mind – of a Filipino-American who happens to be a clinical psychologist as well; and (b) with facts, experiences, and insights on a psychology of trauma, which I hope will illuminate something meaningful for you, dear readers.

Immediately, after walking my client out, I went to that TV room.  It was surreal, even odd, to see a long-distance, holistic view of the Twin Towers from the confines of a small TV screen, then to see on live TV one of the towers crumble… well, unimaginable, unspeakable horror.

I didn’t watch for too long.  I ran to my office, and got on the telephone.  The lines were, expectedly, disrupted.  I couldn’t get a hold of my family, and vice versa.  There must have been millions and millions of calls happening all at once, turning fiber optic lines into veritable bottlenecks of communication.

One of my clients was a high-end commercial property management company (TzH), based in Chicago, and I thought that the World Trade Center was their property.  I called my client contact, frantically, but couldn’t get a hold of her on any of her numbers.  I thought, my God, what if she was actually in one of the towers!?!  It was a couple of days later, before I could actually reach her, and feel a sense of relief.  TzH had other major properties in New York City, but, no, the Twin Towers were not in their portfolio.  

Trauma is a human phenomenon, more severe forms of which psychologists came to diagnose as PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).  

Soldiers of war, victims of heinous crimes, and other people in suddenly or persistently horrible circumstances are prone to suffer from trauma.  They may be speechless at first, disoriented for a while, even lost in their behavior.  It’s like being knocked hard upside the head, or even kicked in the gut so hard that you ‘lose your wind.’  Your sense of self may feel dissolved, or cracked, or simply and unexplainably out of whack.  You may be physically injured, but trauma can occur entirely psychologically.  

One hallmark symptom of PTSD is re-living the trauma.  It’s as if the trauma were a videotape with an endless loop, so that it repeats itself automatically without your prompting it or expecting it.  You have no choice but to watch it over and over, because it seems to be right in front of you, clear as day, even if you were to close your eyes.  Swaths of images of those airplanes crashing into each of the Twin Towers were stitched into the psychic and neural fabric of Americans.  

There’s a general state of arousal (i.e., wakefulness, alertness etc.) which makes sleeping difficult.  Fear, anxiety, dread, horror, and worry are often part of the complex emotional tapestry of trauma.  Some war veterans reluctantly admit, though, that part of such tapestry is a sense of euphoria, power, or enjoyment in the midst of horrible circumstances.  We human beings are a peculiar lot, it seems at times, for we may feel genuine pleasure even in the midst of pain.  

That’s formal PTSD – severe, pronounced, so incapacitating that the victim may not be able to work, go to school, or otherwise take care of family and relate to friends.    

We were housed in a 40+ story office building, and our office manager said that there was no evacuation of our building just yet.  This order didn’t occur until mid-day.  In the meantime, after trying the telephone several times, I kept working that morning.  Ah, work is one of the best coping mechanisms I know.  It forces me to focus and set aside, mentally, the incident and its accompanying distress.  Besides, I had a second meeting scheduled with that same client (from early that morning) later that day, so I diligently prepared for it.  

There was another client in the office, and apparently he couldn’t concentrate on the task at hand.  I encouraged another manager, obviously shaken up like the rest of us, to speak with this client – to see how he was doing and offer him to stop and leave if he so felt.  

Anyway I peppered my work that morning with periodic checks on TV, with my officemates, and on the telephone.  I think the office manager and I were the last ones to leave, once we got the evacuation order.  

Trauma can be experienced vicariously, and through various forms of communications.  

The Sears Tower – another super tower like the Twin Towers – was just half a mile away from our office building.  I don’t think anyone was certain that the horrible attacks had actually ended.  For all we knew, another hijacked plane could’ve slid by the marshaled air security and crashed into the Sears Tower.  Thankfully, this was not the case.  But while none of us were directly affected by the attacks, there was no denying that we felt some measure of trauma.  Chicago is about a thousand miles away from all those crashes, but still we were traumatized.   

I believe that media, for better or for worse, facilitates the experience of trauma.  TV and the internet are the ‘worst culprits’ at spreading it through the country, and, I’m sure, across other countries as well.  Think about where you were when those planes crashed.  Think about how you felt, watching it that day and in the ensuing days.  It’s possible you experienced some degree of trauma, in ways that many of us Americans experienced.  

Trauma isn’t just the classifiable disorder that warrants the help of psychologists.  Rather, it is also the minute but persistent things that happen to us, like invisible tears or breaks within us.   

Downtown Chicago was a ‘ghost town.’  It was surreal to drive through this business district looking so ghostly empty, as this was usually highly trafficked and scrawling with hundreds of pedestrians.  In my mind, it was as if everyone was somehow annihilated, pulverized somehow, disappeared into thin air.  I was traumatized.  

My client and I decided to meet at his hotel a few miles away.  I got there early anyway to eat lunch at a restaurant, but more importantly to get my bearing.  Thankfully, there was a smattering of people, in the streets and inside, going about their day.  I needed to be around people.  

After lunch, I sat in front of a big-screen TV in the hotel lobby.  I was stunned, amongst a scattering of guests, similarly stunned.  I needed to be not just around any people, but people in particular who were doing the same thing I was and feeling the same thing I was.  There was comfort in watching TV together.  Which made my initial thoughts earlier that day, when I glimpsed my officemates watching TV, seem like a cruel joke.       

I was supposed to fly to Dallas that evening for other client meetings the next day.  I spoke to my colleague, before I left the office, and said that I couldn’t.  Remember, the US grounded all commercial flights.  Apparently, they were going to press forward with those meetings.  

I was also supposed to fly to Washington, DC, early the next week, for more client meetings.  These, too, were expected to occur as scheduled.  Flights were still grounded, as that horrible week wore on at a snail’s pace.  As we were ‘diehard, true-blue consultants,’ my colleague and I strategized on how else I could travel there, from Chicago.  Taking the train was an option, which I tactfully declined, as it would have meant leaving home the weekend after September 11th and thereby missing my daughter’s 3rd birthday that weekend.  She pressed me to leave anyway, gently, and I, thankfully, kept to my decision to stay.

Trauma is not a one-time event that has a discrete beginning or ending.  Instead it can happen unexpectedly and reverberate continuously for days on end or much, much longer.

The event of September 11th, itself, had a discrete beginning and ending.  But well into the ensuing days, we Americans were still traumatized by its impact.  

Downtown Chicago is populated with tall buildings.  For weeks, as I walked the mile from the train station to my office building, I would look up at the sky – and at those buildings – and imagine an invisible plane crashing into them.  I would see shards and shards of glass cascading down in slow-motion like a thunderstorm of destruction on the people below.

The funny thing, I didn’t really feel what should been emotions of horror, fear and dread.  I just saw such images time and time again on that walk.  I’m not an unfeeling sort of guy, but friends and colleagues know me as more of an intellectual, academic type.  The route to my heart is often through my head, first.  In my head was where the trauma most affected me.

In fact I had no emotional qualms, really, about going to the Sears Tower for meetings with my client TzH.  Officials had erected heavy concrete barriers around the base of the tower, in order to hinder would-be car bombers from getting too close.  Security inside was very tight, and they must’ve quickly set up X-ray screening machines at the entry points.  Queues formed, where none existed before.  Still, as I was ascending to the 60th floor (if I remember correctly) of my client’s office, I imagined what it must’ve been like being in the elevators of the Twin Towers.  Again, I imagined an invisible plane crashing into the Sears Tower, while I was inside… unspeakable horror.  

Trauma is a form of empathy with our fellow men and women.

I flew to New York City for another meeting with TzH in early November.  I strained my head and neck, looking out the window of the plane, to see if I could catch a glimpse of what became known as Ground Zero, the site of the crumbled Twin Towers.  The cleanup, as you can imagine, was a round-the-clock effort and it took months to complete.  Another colleague told me, before I flew there, that he had gone as close as he could to Ground Zero.  He talked about the horrible stench in the air.  He didn’t need to explain.  Smoke was still smoldering in November, and it carried exactly what he meant, which I understood perfectly.  As he spoke, I could smell the stench of rotting, burning human flesh and bones.  

I visited our New York office on that trip, and one manager said that some of his staff actually witnessed the planes crashing, while looking out of their office window.  They were a few miles away, of course, safely tucked away by distance.  But who’s to say that they were actually safe, psychologically speaking?  In fact they needed time off to recover from what was obviously a more pronounced, close-to-the-incident trauma.  As he spoke, I could see what they saw.

Over many years, as a clinical psychologist, I had developed my ‘empathic sense.’  No, I can’t read minds, as some friends either are afraid of or are curious about.  But, yes, I have an ability to sense and grasp what others experience.  To put myself – mind and spirit – in their body.  This is an important means by which I can treat them.  It’s not a perfect, foolproof method of empathy, but I can do it.  There’s a kind of connectedness I can forge with people, that others can’t or won’t.  It’s a privileged opportunity, for I can tap the very privacy of a person – with his or her permission – and speak to intimate things that even their partners, families, or close friends are not privileged to speak to.  It’s almost a sacred privilege, really.  

So when someone tells me what they’ve seen or felt, I can visualize it and experience it in some measure as well.  A psychologist must bear that responsibility and burden with due care, professionalism and skill.  But at the end of the day, we are human of course and what we see and feel become entirely our own.  No longer the others’ sight or emotion.  

Trauma paves the way for healing.

Amazingly, I think, that in the very symptoms of trauma are the mechanisms for its resolution.  Here’s how it works.

You can ask, well, if TV transmits and perpetuates trauma, as I argued earlier, why were many people glued to it in the advent of a horrible incident like September 11th?  Is it really some sick compulsion to subject themselves to the pain of additional trauma?

Those repeated images, like that of a videotape with an endless loop, are an attempt of our mind and body to come to grips with the trauma – more specifically its psychological impact.  This is at the heart of why so-called repetition compulsions are the way they are.  Why some of us repeatedly engage in seemingly self-defeating behavior or persistently painful experiences.  It’s an attempt to cope with a trauma.  

Some psychologists may be quick to point out that such repetitious behavior is pathological.  Not so fast, I’d intervene.  Yes, while long lasting such behavior can be formal PTSD – for the majority of us, with more minute forms of trauma, it’s actually an adaptive coping mechanism.  It’s even more purposeful, if we can draw insight, meaning, and thus resolution from such repeated trauma.   

I don’t know if anyone of us will ever forget September 11th.  I hope not.  I hope our memories are a reminder that in the aftermath of horrors that we humans subject each other to, we can treat each other differently.

Time passes.  Healing happens.  Horrible images gradually go away.  As these things did, for me.  


Ron Villejo, PhD


+971 50 715 9026       



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Death in the Name of Allah


photo courtesy of AP

photo courtesy of AP

It’s become a sight all too common. Madmen in Indonesia, India, the United States, the U.K. and more, committing acts of terrorism and claiming they do so in the name of Allah and in the defense of Muslims.  RELATIVTY OnLine’syoungest contributor, Abdullah Adulsalam Belal, offers us a heart-wrenching view the effects and reminds us all of sense of loss that lingers on long after.





How do I feel when people blow themselves up in front of innocent bystanders, hijack planes, bomb hotels, or crash planes into buildings and all in the name of Allah? It makes me sick.


The word Islam translated into English means peace. The religion itself is a peaceful one and Allah does not tell people they have the right to kill other human beings, unless they are defending themselves. Allah punishes those who take the lives of others, or their own lives. Killing others or killing yourself is forbidden in Islam.


Terrorists think they can use the Islamic Religion to justify their horrific crimes against humanity, but they are wrong. I’m angry with those who kill innocent people and then say it’s in the name of Allah. How can anyone say such things? In the name of Allah?? How can those criminals wake up every morning and look at themselves in the mirror? Don’t they have a conscience? How small-minded are those who think they can play God? Don’t these cowards have children? Don’t they have families?


I remember September 11, 2001 when hijackers crashed two planes into the twin-towers of the World Trade Center. I was just 9 years old and too young to understand what happened. Now I’m nearly 18 and about to start college.


I’m ashamed of what they did on that day; ashamed and angry. How could a Muslim commit such a hennas act? My heart goes out to all families who lost someone dear to their heart, because there are people out there who think if they kidnap someone, bomb cities, or hijack planes everybody will listen to them.  These people apparently believe they can force people to do anything they want, that people will be scared of them, and as a result they can control the world.


But all of you terrorist out there, wake up, the world will not rest until we’ve wiped out you all out for good and the day will come.  Who could have known that September 11, 2001 would be the day on which the world would change forever? Before the attack, Arabs liked to go to America to peruse higher studies, to live and to work. Many Arabs travelled there with their families. Back then we felt quite safe in going.


Now everything has changed, as some American people view Arabs as their enemies. They think all Arabs are terrorists, men and women alike. Many of us don’t feel safe anymore. I would love to see America one day. I still look at it as the land where dreams can come true, but there is a part of me that worries I won’t be welcome there.


I’m scared that some Americans will view me as a terrorist or even attack me for something some crazy Arab terrorist did. I can understand their pain and anger, but please, don’t judge all Arabs by the actions of so very few. Those Arab people, who in the name of God kill, are not real Muslims. They just use our religion for their own evil doings. Whether in this life or the next, every last terrorist will get what they deserve.  


We here in the United Arab Emirates embrace people from all walks of life, we respect other people’s religions, and we don’t want to harm others. We want to help those in need and spread the message of peace and love. Our religion does not teach hatred, it teaches us to care, to forgive, to love and to respect one another. In short, it teaches peace.


I’m proud to be an Arab. I love my religion and I’m proud to be a Muslim. I would never harm another human life. Once again, I ask you all please don’t judge us all because some Arabs use our religion to play out their dirty games.


I pray to God for all the victims of crimes committed by terrorists. May there souls rest in peace. I hope that the American people try to get to know who we really are and that they will learn and understand that it’s not our religion that kills people. I love America and the American people. America is a great nation and the West as a whole is something the Arab world should strive to emulate. I hope that one day the American people, and the rest of the world, can say the same about us Arabs.


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