Book review: A psycho-social perspective on terror

By Raza Rumi

The launch of Dr Unaiza Niaz’s excellent book in September was most symbolic, as the world commemorated the ghastly incident of 9/11 and the subsequent ten years of ‘war’. The global media pundits had remarked that the world will not be the same place after 9/11. In our neighbourhood we have seen a gruesome war and occupation in Afghanistan; and its spillover into Pakistan making it a playground for terrorists of all shades and hues.

Iraq is another tragic fallout of the 9/11. A war launched by the military-industrial complex with ‘sexed up’ evidence to use the British admission has led to nearly a million people, dead, missing or invisible not to mention the wanton destruction of a country. The continued struggles in Kashmir, Chechnya and Palestine are sizzling stories of politics, high-level negotiations and bargains. However, those who have been through this mayhem remain invisible or at best random statistics. This is why Dr Niaz’s book is so important and timely: it puts forth the lost narratives, the spiraling traumas and continued dislocation and loss of bearing.

Dr Niaz’s book serves as a great framework for all those who wish to understand what happens to the victims of terrorism, war, and violence. In Pakistan we have lost over 35,000 Pakistanis to the monster of terrorism and there are hundreds and thousands of men, women, children who have been affected by this syndrome. Unfortunately, we are severely short of trauma counsellors and virtually incapable to deal with the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as Dr Niaz explains in her brilliantly accessible chapters. More nuanced accounts of complex trauma and developmental trauma are also explained in detail with references and examples. In a way, this book is a vital, state of art compilation of most recent research and academic formulations on this critical subject.Another important strand in the book happens to the manner in which terrorism and its Islamic linkages have been debunked in the chapter contributed by Dr Idriss Teranti. It calls for the revival of Islam’s progressive and humane side instead of the Wahabi-Salafi onslaught witnessed these days. The book also dispels the myth that terrorists are mentally ill. The chapter on Algerian experience authored by Dr Idriss and Mohammad Chakali is a powerful account as it talks about the traumatism and resilience of people.

Wars, Insurgencies and Terrorist Attacks:
A Psycho-Social Perspective From The Muslim World
by Unaiza Niaz
Oxford University Press
Hardcover PP 350
Price: $49.95

The situation in Afghanistan is dire. Thirty-two years of continued trauma has distorted generations and the meaning of existence there. This is an important document for them too, and everywhere in the Muslim world where war and misery have destroyed lives and homes

My favourite part of the book is the chapter co-authored by Dr Niaz and Seher Hasan entitled Insurgencies in the Muslim world. It is closer to home as well. Since 2009, I have been advising a United Nations agency on post-conflict governance and development strategies. I had a chance to visit KPK and FATA after the IDP crisis where millions had to move away from Swat, Buner and Mohmand due to military operation. Having visited the IDPs and learnt of their stories, my economic and institutional analyses seem incomplete without the essential human aspect of the post-conflict trauma. Unfortunately, the federal and provincial governments had no clue or were completely ill-equipped to deal with the lives of women trapped in their tents in the scorching heat of May and the children who had lost their parents and guardians.

During 2010, I was also a part of the Post Crisis Needs Assessment carried out by the Government with the support of the United Nations and other International Agencies. Talking to men and children of FATA (I had little access to women) the meanings of complex and developmental traumas. The ongoing conflict is a reminder for all of us to focus our attention to the citizens of FATA and KPK and how they have been dealing with the Taliban, Al Qaeda, Pakistan Army and criminal gangs who have made life a living hell for people of Pakistan.

There are strong policy implications to Dr Niaz’s research and ongoing work. There are essential gaps in state’s medical […]