“Drapetomania”, a pseudo-scientific term coined by the American physician, Samuel A. Cartwright in 1851, was a socially/politically-constructed mental illness which supposedly afflicted black slaves who fled captivity during the US’ slave era. While later dismissed as pseudo-science and “scientific racism”, imperialists today still adopt the same psychopathologizing discourse when referring to freedom-seeking, oppressed people who actively resist foreign domination. Thus for example, the US foreign policy concept of the “rogue” state (which at various times included Iraq, Iran, Syria, Libya, North Korea, Cuba, Afghanistan, Sudan)—first floated by Ronald Regan ”…the strangest collection of misfits, loony tunes, and squalid criminals since the advent of the Third Reich” and later defined as the “recalcitrant and outlaw states that not only choose to remain outside the family [of democratic nations] but also assault its basic values,” by Clinton’s National Security Advisor, Anthony Lake.
In essence, all mental disorders are characterized by a detachment from reality and some degree of irrationality, hence the frequent depiction of Iran as an irrational political actor (see my blog entry here for a brief discussion of this tendency).This discourse can also be found in the pervasive labeling of anti-imperialist leaders like Bashar al-Assad as being “delusional”, “out of touch with reality” and suffering from various psychological disorders. Anti-imperialist, anti-Zionist intellectuals are similarly pathologized as lacking “emotional distance” and “objectivity” (ie. a an accurate reading of reality) and are summarily dismissed as stupefied “groupies”.
As with the psycho-pathologization of African slaves in the past, and American society in general today, the objective behind this psycho-political phenomenon is the need to control, manage and tame the “deviant” state or party which refuses to be enslaved to Empire. More on this later in that article on psycho-pathologizing the resistance axis.
Below are excerpts from Cartwright’s definition of the disorder:
“Diseases and Peculiarities of the Negro Race,” by Dr. Cartwright (in DeBow’s Review)
“DRAPETOMANIA, OR THE DISEASE CAUSING NEGROES TO RUN AWAY.
It is unknown to our medical authorities, although its diagnostic symptom, the absconding from service, is well known to our planters and overseers…
In noticing a disease not heretofore classed among the long list of maladies that man is subject to, it was necessary to have a new term to express it. The cause in the most of cases, that induces the negro to run away from service, is as much a disease of the mind as any other species of mental alienation, and much more curable, as a general rule. With the advantages of proper medical advice, strictly followed, this troublesome practice that many negroes have of running away, can be almost entirely prevented, although the slaves be located on the borders of a free state, within a stone’s throw of the abolitionists.
If the white man attempts to oppose the Deity’s will, by trying to make the negro anything else than “the submissive knee-bender,” (which the Almighty declared he should be,) by trying to raise him to a level with himself, or by putting himself on an equality with the negro; or if he abuses the power which God has given him over his fellow-man, by being cruel to him, or punishing him in anger, or by neglecting to protect him from the wanton abuses of his fellow-servants and all others, or by denying him the usual comforts and necessaries of life, the negro will run away; but if he keeps him in the position that we learn from the Scriptures he was intended to occupy, that is, the position of submission; and if his master or overseer be kind and gracious in his hearing towards him, without condescension, and at the sane time ministers to his physical wants, and protects him from abuses, the negro is spell-bound, and cannot run away.
According to my experience, the “genu flexit”—the awe and reverence, must be exacted from them, or they will despise their masters, become rude and ungovernable, and run away. On Mason and Dixon’s line, two classes of persons were apt to lose their negroes: those who made themselves too familiar with them, treating them as equals, and making little or no distinction in regard to color; and, on the other hand, those who treated them cruelly, denied them the common necessaries of life, neglected to protect them against the abuses of others, or frightened them by a blustering manner of approach, when about to punish them for misdemeanors. Before the negroes run away, unless they are frightened or panic-struck, they become sulky and dissatisfied. The cause of this sulkiness and dissatisfaction should be inquired into and removed, or they are apt to run away or fall into the negro consumption. When sulky and dissatisfied without cause, the experience of those on the line and elsewhere, was decidedly in favor of whipping them out of it, as a preventive measure against absconding, or other bad conduct. It was called whipping the devil out of them.
If treated kindly, well fed and clothed, with fuel enough to keep a small fire burning all night—separated into families, each family having its own house—not permitted to run about at night to visit their neighbors, to receive visits or use intoxicating liquors, and not overworked or exposed too much to the weather, they are very easily governed—more so than any other people in the world. When all this is done, if any one of more of them, at any time, are inclined to raise their heads to a level with their master or overseer, humanity and their own good require that they should be punished until they fall into that submissive state which it was intended for them to occupy in all after-time, when their progenitor received the name of Canaan or “submissive knee-bender.” They have only to be kept in that state and treated like children, with care, kindness, attention and humanity, to prevent and cure them from running away.”
Sharmine Narwani has written a scathing attack on Western journalists’ coverage of Syria in this excellent article here: “Western Journalist: Visa Denied”.
As expected, her piece was met with the usual barrage of you -are -a-baby-killer type insults on Twitter and on Joshua Landis’ the comments’ section of the blog, Syria Comment.But none were as offensive as one Tweep’s reference to her as a “regime lap dancer”. Josh doesn’t moderate the comments section so one must assume he isn’t aware of the slur.
This isn’t the first time white western males, whose interests are allied with Empire, refer to us “Middle Eastern” female political analysts in such sexually derogatory terms, as I personally know only too well. What is particularly disturbing about this case though, is how Arab female, anti-Assad “revolutionaries” rushed to his defense and attacked Narwani’s condemnation of his vile misogyny.
As a woman and an anti-imperialist, I really have to restrain myself from resorting to the same type of ad hominem attacks against him and his kind that he so gratuitously avails himself of on Syria Comment and on Twitter. His misogynistic, sexually abusive slur against Sharmine Narwani as a a “regime lap dancer” is all too reminiscent of Orientalist tropes which revolve around the sexualized belly-dancing Muslim harem. Such is his intellectual and political bankruptcy that he could not even abide by the minimal requirements of liberal, politically correct discourse which, while insidious in its own way, at least tames its more sexually and racially offensive elements into professing multicultural tolerance and sexual equality.
Nothing scares such types more than the image of the decolonized native who rejects their preferred al-Jadaliyya (read, House Arab) line of thinking, than the decolonized female native who takes the lead in liberating the minds of her fellow natives. What a silly little white man.
And as for you Arab women out there who are siding with your white, Western, male oppressor: the efforts of the likes of Narwani to liberate you from his grip, are wasted on you. You deserve your own self-imposed enslavement.
Just finished reading the full transcript to Christiane Amanpour’s interview with Ehud Barak here . While we have become somewhat desensitized to Israeli racism, it’s always unsettling to view it through the lens of unquestioning mainstream western media. Take for example Barak’s reference to the Shi’ite doctrine of “taqiyya” (dissimulation) instituted in the wake of Imam Hussein’s martyrdom: “Have you heard the term atakia (ph), which means in Islam, especially in the Shia, a kind of permission from heaven to the leader to lie and mislead”. Aside from Barak’s confusion between the original term and Bashar al-Assad’s summer home in Latakia—which I am starting to believe reflects a general Israeli tendency to deliberately mispronounce the Arabic language—the ability of a public official to mock a central religious tenet with such impunity is indicative of Euro-American media’s increased tolerance for the defamation of Islam.
But more insidious still, is this old/new trend of psychopathologizing USrael’s enemies in the resistance axis as “irrational” or, to put it more euphemistically, as not being rational in the Western sense of the term. Airing footage from a CBS interview, Meir Dagan, former Mossad chief, answers an interviewer’s question about Ahmadinejad’s rationality: ”The answer is yes. Not exactly our rational. But I think that he is rational….No doubt that the Iranian regime is maybe not exactly rational based on what I call Western-thinking, but no doubt they are considering all the implications of their actions.” Dagan therefore categorizes Israel as belonging to the “western” type of logic, which Iran departs from even if does adopt a similar mean-ends type rationality characterized by its own unique internal consistency between beliefs/desires/expectations and actions. But ultimately, they remain irrational vis-a-vis western criteria for rationality, and hence the very otherness of this rationality is necessarily inferior. But one need not deconstruct Dagan’s response to arrive at this conclusion, given that the interviewer, Lesley Stahl, deemed it perfectly normal, and within the bounds of politically correct liberal discourse, to ask it in the first place.
An even more flagrant example of how such a neo-Orientalist notion has become normalized and mainstreamed in public discourse, is the following question Fareed Zakaria’s posed to General Martin Dempsey, Chairman, U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff: ”When you observe Iranian behavior, does it strike you as highly irrational? Does it strike you as sort of unpredictable? Or do they seem to follow their national interests in a fairly calculating way?” To which Dempsey enthusiastically responds “That is a great question,” effectively undermining his subsequent assertion that Iran is a rational actor.
Needless to say, the idea of questioning the inherent rationality or logic of any Western country or Israel on mainstream American media is inconceivable, let alone the notion of an Arab or Muslim statesman using such media as a platform from which to blaspheme Jewish doctrinal practices.
There are numerous other instances of such psychopathologization, not only of Iran but of Assad, Hizbullah and Palestinian militants too, but I am saving them for an article I will publishing on the issue (and re-posting here) in the not too distant future. Stay tuned.