Just As Human

Nader Alemi has been a psychiatrist in Mazar-e-Sharif, Afghanistan, for many years. Most of his patients have been from the Taliban and I was fascinated by his comments to a BBC reporter. We are so used to seeing Taliban fighters as ruffians, men who live for fighting without giving much thought to anything else that their need for the guidance of a psychiatrist almost feels unnatural. But Alemi paints a different picture, one that parallels the psychological issues undergone by U.S. fighters, particularly those with PTSD. A source of stress for Taliban fighters, for example, is their uncertainty. They do not know where they shall be next since they are totally under the control of their commanders. Separated from their families, they also do not know when they shall, or if they shall, see them again. Like U.S. servicemen and women they hesitate to go talk to a psychiatrist. Alemi noticed that the fact he is a doctor in a place that has little if any medical care, gives them a reason for going. Sometimes their wives, mothers or other female relatives too go see Alemi. As one can surmise, their stresses are all too familiar. They are separated from their loved ones and have to live with uncertainty, grief and hardships. Reading about all this, I couldn’t help but think about the so-sure-of-themselves-and-everything fighters for ISIS. Wouldn’t they too, despite their flag waving and knife brandishing during public executions and elsewhere, feel the stresses of battle? Like the Talibs, they sometimes forget their humanity, but they are humans nonetheless subject to whatever feelings and reactions we humans aren’t able to avoid.