Elias Aboujaoude has agreed to allow me to reproduce his article on Rafah which appeared on 27 September on the web-based "Psychology Today",
Muting a Therapist: The Case of Dr. Rafah Nashed
Imprisoning a therapist for the crime of treating traumatized people
Published on September 27, 2011 by Elias Aboujaoude, M.D. in Compulsive Acts
Another revolution is sweeping the Middle East, and another sclerotic regime is trying to get in its way. Over the last few months, many stories have leaked through Syria’s iron curtain, detailing atrocities of Spanish Inquisition proportions. As examples, an anti-government political cartoonist was punished by maiming the fingers of his dominant hand and a pro-revolution singer’s voice was silenced by slitting his throat to sever his vocal cords. And, on September 10th, in a first in the various governments’ desperate response to what has been called the Arab Spring, a sixty-six-year old Syrian psychoanalyst, Dr. Rafah Nashed, was abducted. Her crime, as far as one can glean, is to have wanted to treat a traumatized population.
The first female psychoanalyst in her country was about to board a Paris-bound flight at Damascus airport to attend the birth of her first grandchild when she was stopped by security agents. As the arrest was unfolding, she managed to call her husband, Dr. Faisal Abdullah, a professor of Ancient History at Damascus University. He recounts the phone call on a Facebook page dedicated to his wife’s disappearance:
"She was at the luggage scanner when she called me on the phone saying: 'they are checking me hysterically and they have lists, the man took my passport and went away...' Then she stopped talking but her mobile was still on and I could hear the noise of movements and some of her words 'take out this'... Then it went offline."
A review of Dr. Nashed’s trajectory reveals a woman with a deep commitment to uncovering the secrets of the unconscious, not an insurgent, gangster or Islamist. When the revolution broke out in March, she, along with some Jesuit priests, organized support groups open to citizens of all affiliations, with the goal of helping them process the violence around them. Like any good psychoanalyst, she believed in the healing effect of verbalizing one's secret anxieties and fears. But inviting a public verbalization of feelings in a political structure that specializes in muting its people was a step too far past the red line. A true dictatorship desires to control not only its subjects' conscious experiences, but their unconscious as well. And so Dr. Nashed, whose work explores, deciphers and opens up the unconscious, became an enemy of the state. The preeminent doctor who helped countless patients over her long career, even opening a school of psychoanalysis in her city, now lies in a women’s prison in a Damascus suburb, charged with "activities susceptible of destabilizing the nation". It is unclear how she will resurface and what body part an inquisitor might choose to target in a psychoanalyst’s case. It is also safe to assume that as she contemplates what lies ahead, the terrified doctor will have no access to a therapist’s comforting words.