A Psychiatrist's Perspective: Syrian Refugees and the Middle East

Just the evening before, I had asked someone to explain to me, what is going on in the Middle East, to create the Syrian refugee crisis.  The person was not clear about it either. The very next day, the NY Times devoted their entire issue to help clarify the multitude of factors, in the Middle East, that culminated in our current global crisis. The headline reads:


The New York Times Magazine has dedicated an entire issue to a single story: the Arab world’s undoing since the invasion of Iraq

It took all evening for me to read through it the first time. I decided to read it again, because the conflicts were so many, the names so unfamiliar, and the incidents so incredible, that it was difficult, to absorb it initially. 

As a psychiatrist, I see things through the heart and in holistic, philosophical strokes.  In viewing politics, idealism and the inner examination of the soul are fragile and delicate instruments, when faced with the guns of war. So, I will humbly apologize for my ignorance, beforehand, on matters in the Middle East. I will simply explore my personal reaction and experience, as I read their recent history.

What I found, as I read the overview, was a conflict of my own. On the one hand, I felt great compassion for the suffering, homeless citizens. I wished they could be housed properly, that they could be given a chance to work as refugees, and that they would find kindness from their neighboring countries. On the other hand, I lacked the ability to empathize with how they arrived at their situation. I could not empathize or understand their need to destroy each other, to fight over property, and the cycle of narcissistic despotism, which destroys their hope for peace.

The words that came to mind, to describe what fueled the endless killings were: selfishness, pride, need to control, secrecy, and lies. These words describe the nature of evil, and of course, at its root: fear. So, it came down to this for me: that evil and fear, like a fire, inflamed and magnified suffering, until it boiled over, like an overheated pot of soup.

The answer to the evil that overruns the area, from the forces that try to contain it, is to kill it. Beat it to death. Destroy a little more. Kill a little better.

Could that be the way to establish peace? It seems rather paradoxical to expect peace to come through violence, don't you think?

For example, what would I think of a parent who slaps a child and says, "Don't hit your brother!"? It may be a quick way to stop the child from hitting their brother, but ultimately, that child knows that it is okay to hit someone, because his/her parent had demonstrated exactly how it is acceptable.

If selfishness, pride, need to control, secrecy, and lies fueled the endless wars in the middle east, then would it not make sense that what would restore peace would require just the opposite energies?  That is: unselfishness (unconditional love, sharing), humility, empowerment of all, transparency, and the truth. Could there be a short cut to peace through any other path? Perhaps through the altruism, sharing, and unconditional caring of the neighboring nations, a model of peace could provide a short cut to creating greater peace within the middle east.

I think of the great leaders of all time--those who lived and breathed peace--all became martyrs, without exception.  Is peace and strength mutually exclusive? Must a leader of peace succumb to the forces of violence? Must peace be powerless in its defense against attacks? I don't think so.  

But a leader of peace uses different "weapons," do they not? Their weapons create rather than destroy, enlighten rather than annihilate, unify rather than segregate. Their skills come from a different source: love. With regard to politics, the players of peace create as a group, unified and guided through love without boundaries. Such groups would not think it strange to be inclusive of different religions, backgrounds, gender, and education, as long as each voice is furthering the cause of peace, unity, and understanding; and the means (how to achieve something) towards the end (achievement) are consistent and in harmony with each other.  

In other words, more than social and religious affiliations, players of peace worship love, peace, and truth before all else.  They ask themselves, "Is this in the service of love, peace, and truth?" When faced with a task, they look for a way to meet the task lovingly, peacefully, and truthfully. Life is not about "us vs. them", because it is not driven by material things one can touch or own, but about living in that state of love, peace, and truth with one another. 

Perhaps some may think of such a perspective as poetic imagination, impossible to achieve. Others may think of it as threatening their way of life and the cohesion among their allegiances. But, when faced with the goliath of war, why not have faith in a pebble, aimed by a force greater than self? Let it not be about a war between David and Goliath, or even a struggle between life and death, but about who and how we choose to be while we yet live.  

The usefulness, of learning from current history and politics, is to glean, vicariously, the lessons we need to learn for our daily conduct with ourselves, with each other, within the family, and in the community.  Be what we would want our world leaders to be, but be that, in our own sphere of influence, however small we may perceive it to be. Remember to respond from a place of love, generously and without fear.

When we are attacked, take a breath, and allow that attack to go no further than where we stand. And then, in our next breath, breathe out peace and strength. That is my wish for us and for the world.  

Alice W. Lee, MD