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The walls within: working with defenses against otherness

Online Conference 5-11 July 2021

Psychoanalytic Thoughts on 9/11

Terrorists, in particular suicide murderers, are fanatics. In following Erich Fromm I want to emphasize the fanatic's 'passio' and 'rashness,' on the basis of which he 'uncompromisingly' and 'rigidly' defends his 'overrated idea' (Hole 1995, p. 37). Erich Fromm (1961) particularly stresses that not every person who has a 'profound belief' or has embraced a 'philosophical or scientific convictio ' must immediately be classified as a fanatic. In fact, the fanatic could be identified 'more easily by certain personality traits than by the contents of his convictions' (p. 61). The fanatic, he states, has killed off all feelings for other people and projected them to the party or group whose ideology seems reasonable to him. He idolizes the collective and its shared ideology, to whom he has become enslaved. His complete submission under this idol creates a passion within him, whose emotional quality Fromm characterizes as 'cold fire,' and 'burning ice,' as 'passion lacking warmth' (ibid.). The fanatic acts, thinks and feels on behalf of his idol' (ibid.), and is prepared to sacrifice for it everything he still holds dear in life. For example, the Palestinian Nizzar Iyan confessed in an interview with a German journalist (cf. Schirra 2001), that he found his greatest fulfillment in his sons' sacrifice as suicide murderers in the fight against Israel. When his 17-year-old son Ibrahim actually lost his life in a suicide bombing, his father said: 'My son Ibrahim is dead. I never felt happier than at the moment, when they came and said: The Jews killed your son.' And when the interviewer asked, 'But you, after all, are his father, you must feel pain,' the father replied, unmoved, 'I am quite honest, I am saying this out of conviction, I do not feel grief, I feel joy, true joy, that my son has accomplished a part of what we believed in. Life has no savor when one cannot accomplish one's dreams and one's goals' (p. 16). Typical fanatics 'place ideas above people; their dedication to ideas is abnormally powerful, while their dedication to people is strangely blocked or defective' (Hole 1995, p. 93). The fanatic lacks 'the capacity for empathy,' for 'understanding,' for 'sympathy,' which 'on principle is based on a capacity for love, for openness, for letting other people come close' (p. 94). Theoretically speaking, the fanatic is a highly narcissistic personality' (Fromm 1961, p. 61).On the day of the attacks on the World Trade Center, terrorist pilot Muhamed Atta's luggage, which had not been transferred on time, was found at Boston Airport (cf. Der Spiegel 40/2001, pp. 32-33). Among other things, it contained the suicide pilot's last will, a psychologically informative document revealing Atta's inner world. Among the eighteen items in his last will, three alone dealt with his fear of the impurity of women: 'Neither pregnant women nor unclean persons shall say good-bye to me--I disapprove of that.''Women shall not apologize for my death...'' Women shall neither be present during the burial nor come to my grave on any occasion thereafter.' (ibid.).'