Beyond the Media Hype: Lebanon

Lebanon’s location bordering Syria made it a trading hub between the Mediterranean and Arab worlds and resulted in it becoming the most religiously diverse country in the Middle East.  Its mountains isolated religious and ethnic groups from each other.

Lebanon Simple Map

Lebanon is north-south alternating strips of lowland and highland–a coastal plain, a mountain range, a central plateau, then more mountains.  Its shoreline is regular, rocky and has no deep harbor.   The Beqaa Valley between the mountain ranges is the main agricultural area but fruit and vegetables grow well on the very narrow maritime plain.

Lebanon Topography

The CIA estimates the population to be 40% Christian, 27% Shia, 27% Sunni, and 5% quasi-Shia Druze.  The Lebanese Information Center estimates 34% Christians while Statistics Lebanon estimates 46% Christian.  The 34% to 46% range for Christians is matched by a 27% to 40% range for Shia.

There are several Christian groups.  Maronite Catholics make up 21% of the overall population, Greek Orthodox 8%, Greek Catholic 5%, Protestant 1% and 6% other denominations.  When the last census was taken in 1932, Christians were 53% of the total.  It was about the same in 1956 but more Christians than Muslims have emigrated since then and the Muslim population has a higher birth rate.

Lebanon has over thousands of years been part of many empires.  It became an orthodox Christian center under the Romans.  They persecuted an ascetic Christian tradition established near Mount Lebanon in the late 4th century by a hermit named Maron.  Most of Lebanon was ruled as a Christian Crusader State from 1109 to 1289.

Most eastern Mediterranean Christian communities swore allegiance to the head of Eastern Christianity in Constantinople, but the Maronites aligned with the Pope in Rome, which led to centuries of support from France and Italy even after Lebanon became part of the Ottoman Empire in 1516.

In 1842, fighting between Maronites and the Druze led to the Mount Lebanon area being separated into a Christian district in the north and a Druze one in the south, both of which reported to the governor of the Sidon district in Beirut.  France got the northern district separated entirely from Muslim Syria in 1861 to protect Mount Lebanon’s 80% Christian population

Lebanon Religion Map

In 1920, after the Ottoman Empire fell, the League of Nations gave Syria and Lebanon to France, and Palestine and Iraq to Britain.  France was welcomed by Christians around Mount Lebanon and vehemently rejected by Muslims in Syria.  It took until 1923 for France to gain full control.

France added Tripoli, north of which is primarily Sunni, to the former Ottoman district of Mount Lebanon, along with Sidon, south of which is chiefly Shia, and the Bekaa Valley, which has a mix of Muslims, Christians and Druze, and established it in 1926 as the democratic republic of Lebanon.

A political system was established that shares power based on religious communities.  There is an unwritten agreement that the president will be Maronite Christian, the speaker of the parliament Shia, the prime minister Sunni and the Deputy Speaker of Parliament and the Deputy Prime Minister Greek Orthodox.  The Shia have considered themselves marginalized ever since.  They as well as the Maronites were persecuted by the Ottomans.

Lebanon Detail Map

When France’s puppet government during WW2 allowed Germans through Syria to attack British forces in Iraq, Britain invaded Syria and Lebanon.  France then said Lebanon would become independent with France’s ongoing support.  But when the newly elected Lebanese government abolished France’s mandate in 1943, France imprisoned them.  France was then forced by international pressure to recognize Lebanon as fully independent.  France withdrew its troops in 1946.

In 1958, Muslim demands for reunification with Syria led to the brink of civil war and US military intervention when Muslims wanted Lebanon to join the newly formed Egyptian-Syrian United Arab Republic.  Tension with Egypt had been growing since 1956 when Lebanon’s Christian president did not break with Israel and the Western powers that attacked Egypt to regain control of the Suez Canal.

Internal tensions continued to grow.  In 1975, civil war broke out between a Christian coalition and an alliance of Druze and Muslims with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).  Syria sent troops, allegedly for peace-keeping, that remained in Lebanon until 2005, long after the end of the war.

The PLO leaders had set up new headquarters in Beirut after they lost the 1970-71 civil war with the Sunni monarchy for control of Jordan.  The PLO was founded in 1964 in Jordan where Palestinian refugees from Israel had become the majority population.

Thousands of Palestinian fighters fled to Lebanon after the Syrian civil war, preceded by refugees from Israel and followed by more from Jordan.  There are 450,000 Palestinian refugees in Lebanon now, primarily in the south.

In 1978, Israel invaded southern Lebanon to push PLO forces away from the border.

In 1982, PLO attacks led to a second Israeli invasion through Shia southern Lebanon and a siege of Shia Beirut.  The militant Shia political party Hezbollah came into being in the next few years to expel Israel forever and end Shia marginalization.

Lebanon_sectors_map

The civil war ended in 1990 with an agreement to disband all non-governmental Lebanese militias and deploy the Lebanese army on the border with Israel.  But Syria’s Shia government, which controlled Lebanon then, with fundamentalist Shia Iran’s support, allowed Hezbollah to continue fighting a guerrilla war against Israel and the South Lebanon Army in Shia areas occupied by Israel until 2000.    Many see Hezbollah as a proxy of Syria and Iran.

Hezbollah has continued fighting with reduced intensity since then to liberate Shebaa Farms in the Golan Heights, territory occupied by Israel since 1967.  The UN considers Shebaa Farms Syrian territory.  Both Syria and Lebanon consider it part of Lebanon.  UN resolutions in any case require Israel to withdraw from all occupied territories.

In 2005, a former Prime Minister who worked to end Syrian dominance of Lebanon was assassinated, for which some accused Syria, others Israel.  Demonstrators supported by the West demanded the end of what some consider military occupation by Syria and its undue influence on Lebanon’s government.  A 1991 treaty made Syria responsible for Lebanon’s protection.

In 2006, Hezbollah launched rocket attacks and raids into Israel.  They responded by invading southern Lebanon, and with airstrikes throughout the country that destroyed bridges, ports, power stations, water and sewage treatment plants, schools, hospitals and homes.

Lebanon locations bombed 2006

The latest threat to Lebanon’s stability is the Syrian civil war.  Of Lebanon’s total 5,883,600 population, 450,000 are Palestinian refugees and 1,200,000 are recent Syrian refugees.  Refugees make up almost 30% of the population and 20% are very recent arrivals.

Diverse populations are not easily governed even in a democracy.

Most nations in the Middle East are autocracies–Sunni in Saudi Arabia and Jordan, Shia in Iran and Syria, first Sunni now Shia in Iraq.  Lebanon is a parliamentary democratic republic a quarter or more of whose population is either Christian, Shia or Sunni citizens, or refugees from Palestine, Jordan and Syria, most them Sunni.  That’s a formidable challenge.

And Lebanon’s government was dominated by Syria from 1975 to 2005, while southern Lebanon still is dominated by PLO and Hezbollah forces, which makes it a battle ground with Israel in the quest for a Palestinian nation state.

Lebanon’s future is inextricably tied with Syria, which is in turmoil, Palestine which does not exist as a nation state, and Israel.  It seems to have been a mistake to have established Lebanon as an independent nation state and/or not to establish Palestine as one at the same time.

Beyond the Media Hype: Kuwait

Kuwait is just smaller than New Jersey.  Its key geographic feature is Kuwait Bay, a sheltered harbor with almost half the country’s 120 miles of coast on the Persian Gulf.  It has a well accepted 155 mile border with Saudi Arabia and a 150 mile contested one with Iraq.

Less than 1% of Kuwait is arable land and 90% of the population lives around the Kuwait Bay.    Kuwaitis make up only around 30% of the 4.1M population, which also includes 1.1M Arab expatriates and 1.4M Asian expatriates.  Most of Kuwait’s citizens are Muslim, an estimated 60%–70% Sunnis and 30%–40% Shias.

Kuwait Physical Map

Kuwait’s strategically located deep water port has since ancient times been important for trade.  It was colonized by Greece, fell to the Persian Sassanid Empire, then to a Muslim Caliphate in 636 AD, to a kingdom in Iraq and in 1521 to the Portuguese.  Then Arabs moved in from Saudi Arabia and took control.

The king who established Kuwait’s dynasty declared allegiance in 1752 to the Ottoman governor of Iraq.   Kuwait was then nominally governed from Basra in southern Iraq.  In practice, it was largely autonomous.  It took over much of the trade that passed through Basra when that city was attacked by Iran from 1775-79 and quickly became the primary center for shipping between Arabia, Iraq, Syria, East Africa and India.  Ships made in Kuwait carried most of the area’s trade from the late eighteenth through the nineteenth century.

Kuwait’s borders were defined in 1913 when Britain made an agreement that it was part of the Ottoman Empire.  It encompassed all land within about 110 miles from the capital.  Britain confirmed that definition in 1922 when it controlled Iraq.  Limiting Iraq’s access to the Persian Gulf to about 35 miles of swampy coastline made it almost impossible for Iraq to become a naval power.

Iraq gained independence from Britain in 1932.  In 1938 it asserted a claim to rule Kuwait, and although it formally recognized the existing border in 1963, it continued to press for control over Bubiyan and Warbah islands through the 1960s and ’70s.

In August 1990, Iraq invaded and claimed all of Kuwait.  The UN restored its independence the following year and a UN commission reconfirmed the border, but Iraq did not accept the result.

803213.ai

Kuwait’s economy was devastated in the first half of the 20th century by a British trade blockade when Kuwait supported the Ottoman Empire in WW1, then by a Saudi Arabian trade blockade from 1923-37 whose aim was to annex Kuwait, and also by the Great Depression which drastically cut European demand for goods shipped via Kuwait from India and Africa.

Kuwait’s king in 1896 was assassinated and replaced by his half-brother.  When his brother’s former allies got Ottoman backing he asked Britain for naval support.  They agreed, seeing it as an opportunity to counter German influence in the region.  In 1899 Kuwait pledged never to cede territory without Britain’s consent, which gave Britain control of Kuwait’s foreign policy and security.

Kuwait  was saved by British forces when it was invaded by Saudi Arabia in 1919-20.  Britain redefined its border with Saudi Arabia after that at a conference where Kuwait had no representative.  Although Saudi Arabia got more than half Kuwait’s former territory, they continued their economic blockade and intermittent raiding.

Kuwait’s large oil reserves were discovered in 1937 but exploration was delayed by WW2.  When oil exports began in 1951, most Kuwaitis were still impoverished.  A major program of public works was begun almost immediately and by 1952, Kuwait was the largest exporter of oil in the Persian Gulf region.  That attracted many foreign workers, especially from Palestine, Egypt and India.

The royal family’s rule had been relatively limited up until WW2 but oil revenues eliminated their financial dependency on merchants who had always been Kuwait’s primary source of income.  Oil now accounts for nearly half of GDP and 94% of export revenues and government income.

Kuwait Oilfields Map

Kuwait gained independence from Britain in 1961 and became the first Gulf country to establish a constitution and parliament.  It embraced Western liberal attitudes and most Kuwaiti women did not wear the hijab in the 1960s and ’70s.  It consistently ranks as having the freest media in the Arab world, outranking Israel since 2009, and is the only Gulf state ranked even “partly free.”  Its legal system is mostly secular with separate family law for Sunni, Shia and non-Muslim residents.

Kuwait supported Iraq in its 1980-88 war with Iran but refused to write off the $65B of loans it had made.  Then came economic rivalry after Kuwait increased oil production by 40%, and in 1990, Iraq claimed Kuwait was stealing oil by slant drilling into its Rumaila field near the border.  Iraq attempted to annex Kuwait later that year.

Before the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war, Kuwait was the Gulf’s only pro-Soviet state.  Its relationship with the US had been strained ever since independence in 1961 and it refused to allow USA military bases in 1987.  But now, since Iraq’s 1990 invasion, the US has 10,000 soldiers based in Kuwait.

I knew nothing about Iraq or Kuwait at the time of that invasion.  I supported the US-led response to what I accepted as a war of aggression.  Now I’m not sure what I think.

Kuwait does not have the geography of a state.  It is tiny and lacks natural borders.  Its borders were defined arbitrarily by Britain.   Until Britain gained control, it was governed from Iraq.  Iraq’s desire for it as a deep water port on the Persian Gulf makes sense.  But Kuwait’s government has been pretty good for its citizens, enormously better than Iraq’s, or Saudi Arabia’s.

Depression: Suicide

I mentioned my own close approach to it in Out of the Closet, and how I reacted to my friend’s suicide in this comment.

Eric shared more details of his heart-wrenching story.  

I too was severely depressed and was saved from killing myself by Beethoven.

“I had decided to do it and stayed out very late thinking about ways.  I got home and decided to listen to The Emperor concerto for the last time.  I lay on the floor with my ear to the speaker with the volume very low so as not to wake my mother.  

“When the second movement started, the notes were so lovely that I could feel the combination of Beethoven’s depression combined with great hope and that hope spread through me and changed my mind.  

“Life became even more difficult and I dropped out of high school and took up lots of very dangerous behavior.  But I was a fighter at that point, and just kept on digging myself out.  

“I am still undergoing that process today.”

I’ve pointed out before what courage it takes to reveal such a story, especially when the battle still has to be fought every day.  Now I have something to add.

Eric and I were lucky.  I was weakened by pacing back and forth along the river bank, unable at last to decide if I had the courage to drown myself.  Eric’s strength was restored by Beethoven.  We were saved by something unintentional.

We had hidden our decision from those who loved us most.  Only something unintended could have stopped us.

Our parents would have been devastated if we had not been stopped.  They would have felt such guilt because they had not noticed our suffering, or had under-reacted.

We fear for our loved ones, our children most of all, and we rightly try hard to keep those fears to ourselves.  But while banishing fears of imaginary harm, we must remain alert to what can be very subtle signs of another’s pain.

We must learn how to ask, gently and with enough insistence when we sense a loved one’s pain so that we will get the chance, if they are lost in misery, to try to help while help is still possible.

Depression: Addiction

Many who have felt the utter desolation of depressive episodes are compelled to help their fellow-sufferers.  Mike and Michael’s stories in Depression: The Willpower Delusion and other stories in previous posts illustrate the compassion that arises from what they learned.

Those who have experienced depression know that willpower alone is not a cure, and they know what makes treatment even more elusive.

As Katie wrote in Depression: Help for Young People:  “Our culture teaches us that mental illness is something we must keep to ourselves … something we should feel ashamed of.”

By stigmatizing it, our culture amplifies the pain that comes directly from depression.  And there’s something even darker.

A friend who lost a family member to drug addiction, which stems from and is a form of mental illness, points out that addiction is far worse stigmatized.

I said little in Out of the Closet about my self-medication with alcohol, not because I want to keep it secret any more but because I did not become addicted.  Enormous numbers of us are not so lucky.

Overcoming addiction takes both enormous courage and the right kind of support.

My friend wrote: “Drug addiction is condemned by our society and abused by the insurance industry.  This person was sent home after 5 days of detox to an outpatient program that met three times a week for 3 hours.  The insurer said they would pay for an inpatient program if the person failed the outpatient treatment.

“He failed.  The insurer did not have to pay.”

That’s heart-rending…

Systems that result from our culture can be bewilderingly cruel.   We don’t usually reflect much on culture.  When we examine its results, it can be startling sometimes to see how very far things have gotten from being OK.

We don’t choose to become depressed, or become addicted, or get cancer.  We might act in ways that put us at higher risk, or it might just happen.  What is best for society in either case is that we get cured.

But recovery, or at least mitigation of the symptoms, is something we must choose.  That can be an agonizing truth when a loved one is addicted.

Addiction can only be overcome by someone who has arrived where every other alternative, even suicide, feels worse.  We may be able to help them arrive, but feeling cannot be commanded.

And there is a second agonizing truth.  They may reach that feeling but be unable to get treatment.

We must end addiction’s stigma.  That will make it less difficult to seek treatment, and it will make it no longer “acceptable” for insurers to deny coverage.

Depression: The Willpower Delusion

Nancy’s story in Depression: Parents and Children shows how she came to accept joy in what at first she did not want, and tells about her work to help suffering children.

Many of those who suffer depressive episodes help fellow-sufferers.  It is a natural response and we know better than anyone that willpower alone is not a cure.

Mike wrote: I see so many struggling as I do, but support is not available.  We are often left to cope on our own or get support for a very limited period.  Suicide rates are increasing in young men in the UK.  

“Society still doesn’t understand and I often find that people just don’t know how to respond when you are open.  I once stood up in a meeting at work and explained why I was doing reduced hours because I was struggling with my mental health.  Everyone looked very uncomfortable.  

“Afterwards the only responses I got were from members of staff who were suffering from depression.  They turned to me for support because I had been open about it.  

“What happens then is I support them and ignore myself, until it all gets too much and I crumble.  

“It is seen as a weakness, but we are all so strong because we battle through this every day.”  

Mike’s story illustrates how ignorance about mental illness prevents us from helping and even increases suffering, and that imagining depression to be weakness is utterly incorrect.

Mike also shows us the very sad truth that his form of depression is like some physical illnesses–the symptoms can be mitigated but there is no cure.

And we see another very sad truth.  Because he is a exceptionally kind as well as courageous, Mike tries, despite the additional suffering he knows it will cause himself, to help others who cannot get society’s help.

Michael is less unfortunate because he is often in remission.  He  helps fellow-sufferers via an established channel.  He wrote:  I have struggled myself on several occasions.  Now I provide CBT-based therapy through the UK National Health Service to those who suffer anxiety and depression.  

“Once a week I facilitate a workshop to approximately 25 people.  One of the best aspects of this is that the clients can see that depression is very common and does not discriminate.  

“I am keen on public health initiatives that help to ‘normalize’ depression, while acknowledging the debilitating effects that it can have on those who suffer.  In the UK one in every five visits to a doctor is for anxiety or depression.

I replied:  We are trained by society to imagine we can overcome depression with will power. The implication is, if we can’t do that we are weak.  Will power is essential just to keep going but battling depression is exhausting.  It can become impossible to carry on.  

“We must eradicate that delusion.  We don’t expect anyone to overcome diabetes with will power.  We understand for so many other maladies the need for treatment.”

Michael responded:  “If people could ‘pull themselves up by their bootstraps’ they would have done so. Depression is exhausting and it can take massive will power to just get out of bed. This is a characteristic of depression, not evidence of weakness or laziness – though unfortunately those who are depressed are often all too quick to flog themselves with such thoughts.”

Doug added:  More generally, no mental illness of whatever type is amenable to a willpower cure.   It can lie undisturbed under the surface for arbitrarily long periods and then emerge to endanger any or all aspects of one’s life.   I’m a board member of NAMI New Hampshire which lobbies for treatment options, produces training materials, and provides support for family members.   Along with other readers of Martin’s piece, we do not believe in the miraculous self-help model.”

So, fellow-sufferers from depressive episodes, when opportunities arise and you have the strength, please help others recognize that depression is illness, nothing more and nothing less, and that even those with chronic illness can suffer less and be more productive with treatment.

And everyone, perhaps you can help change society in a systematic way as Doug and others do.

We must eliminate the idea that willpower is a cure for illness.

Depression: Parents and Children

In Depression: Panic Attacks and Focusing Connie tells how she tried and failed and at last found a successful treatment for her panic attacks.

Now Nancy’s story points to two great truths–when we can accept what we have been given we can find the joy in what we did not want, and we must change what in our society creates suffering.

Nancy wrote: Like many parents of special needs children, I experienced debilitating depression for several years.

“I tried all sorts of natural treatments, including two years of no alcohol.  Ultimately, only meds helped, and as I started to deal with recovery in more positive ways, i.e. changing to a special education career, I gradually began to accept and appreciate the cards I was dealt, and no longer needed the meds.  

“Our son brings Chris and me so much joy (and laughter) that today we cannot imagine a life without him.”

The practical short term truth this illustrates is that depression, like other illnesses, may require medication.  The longer term truth lies in what Nancy says about the result of treatment, that she became able to accept what she was given and in that acceptance find joy.

First treatment, then recovery into joy.

Then Nancy wrote:  I now am working with a local mental health hospital, overseeing education services for their adolescent program.

“This experience has been enlightening in many ways, from first hand exposure to the trauma and suicide ideation/attempts these patients exhibit to the horrific insurance hassles parents face.  

“Our special education system, though broken, is at least mandated for all.  Our mental health system discriminates against people of little or moderate means.

“The only way patients who are not wealthy can participate in this program is through scholarships, which are few and far between. Insurance companies masterfully block coverage in ways that seem unbelievable, though true from my experience. 

“This segment from 60 Minutes is an excellent treatise on the problems parents face.”

It had never occurred to me!  How odd it is that our society provides education for every child, including those with special needs, but does not provide treatment for illness to every child.

That’s startling enough but early one morning a few years ago I was staggered by these words of fundamental truth: “If you really want to end suffering, it’s very simple.  Just stop creating it.”

We can end suffering created by our society’s systems and beliefs–we can change them.  We can end our own suffering by accepting what we’ve been given–which may first require treatment.

 

Depression: Panic Attacks and Focusing

Depression: Help for Young People is a story about a treatment that worked.  Here is another courageous story that I hope will help those who suffer.

Connie courageously revealed what she experienced and pointed to the healing path she discovered.

“I had debilitating panic attacks since age six and depression as certain situations would make my personality disappear in a self-protection beyond my control.

“I had saved for years to take Arthur Janov’s Primal Therapy when they opened a center in NYC but it didn’t reach the problem.

“One day at age 27, I decided I had enough and took the body sense that was so strong and presented possible scenarios and the second day, a cameo of a hateful face of my mother presented itself to me that connected to the body sense.  It was a pre-verbal memory.  When they connected, it released about 90% of the panic attacks.

“I was curious about what occurred and one day read in the NY Times book section a description of Eugene Gendlin’s book “Focusing”.  It turned out that was the process I had stumbled on.

“Years later, I learned Focusing and became certified to teach it.  It is a powerful bodily awareness to consciousness technique that can be used by itself or with other modalities.  So powerful, I have even had body healings from some of the connections – one being a now normal back after 14 years of debilitating back pain.

“Focusing can be done by ones self or more easily with a partner, who “holds” the space as you go within, and can be done via partnering on the phone – it does not need to be done with your partner in person.  It is a little known process, sadly.

“There is a Focusing community.  Gene Gendlin was a contemporary of Carl Rogers at the University of Chicago.  He discovered Focusing by listening to successful sessions of therapists to try to understand what they were doing in their session, but discovered instead it was a process the patient was doing!

“Focusing saved my life.  I, too, did not see myself continuing my life if I had to go on with those panic attacks and depression from the inability to “be” in the presence of others.

“One can learn how to do Focusing from a certified trainer over the phone as one option.”

Focusing looks valuable for everyone, even those who have no depressive episodes at all!

The www.focusing.org website says: “Focusing shows how to … create a space for new possibilities … your body picks up more about another person than you consciously know.  With a little training, you can get a bodily feel for the ‘more’ …  From that bodily feel come small steps that lead toward resolution.”

Thank you so much, Connie, for your bravery and recommendation.

Depression: Help for Young People

I was inspired by Professor Railton’s courage to join him in coming Out of the Closet” to admit that I, too, have lived through debilitating depressive episodes.  

Railton says: “We must call [depression] mental illness because that’s what it is, illness that takes up residence in the mind, but no more of the essence of a person than any other illness.  And when we hear of mental illness, treatment should be the first thing that comes to mind.”

The Facebook link to my “confession” prompted an outpouring of moving stories, mutual support and help that I hope to make more accessible with this and other posts.  

Teenagers are especially vulnerable to depression and are among the least well equipped to get help.  Liz wrote:  “The black dog” of depression and other mental illnesses are part of our common human experience.  We need to be able to openly discuss our mental health, just like we do our physical health: there should be no shame in being in pain.  I was recently gratified to read an article my high-school age daughter wrote for our local paper on this subject; I didn’t know she was that brave!  Maybe it means things are actually changing? 

Liz’ daughter, Katie, is indeed brave and her article “Teen Talk: YouTube can be a valuable resource” offers very practical help.

Katie begins by telling us: “Studies show that the number of teenagers who report feeling regularly anxious and/or depressed has doubled in the last 30 years or so, that children today have anxiety levels similar to those of the average psychiatric patient in the 1950s.”

When Katie experienced “a perfect storm of stress and unhappiness” she, like every teenager, needed more help than her parents could provide:  “I am lucky enough to have supportive parents who could sympathize with what I was experiencing, but sometimes sympathy wasn’t enough.  I wanted to feel understood; I wanted a sense of camaraderie with other people my age who were going through similar things.”

What she found is: “on YouTube of all places … a handful of younger people — younger women especially — who made videos on their experiences with anxiety, depression, body image and mental illnesses in general, to spread awareness and encourage recovery …  People … offered authentic and beneficial suggestions on how to manage living with anxiety or depression on a day-to-day basis.”

This is so important because:  “Teenagers who don’t feel comfortable telling anyone that they are dealing with mental illness now have somewhere they are able to get information.”

“That’s not to say,” Katie writes, “that informational YouTube videos are a replacement for cognitive behavioral therapy or any other form of treatment, but they are certainly a step in the right direction — a step that many people would not normally be able to take.”

I hope we can change what Katie points out:  “There is still a stigma surrounding mental illness. Our culture teaches us that mental illness is something we must keep to ourselves, something that is too personal to share or discuss, something we should feel ashamed of.”

But people need help now.  So, everyone who knows a teenager, here’s a way they or a friend can get help when they feel alone, too vulnerable to talk.

Thank you so much, Liz and Katie!

 

Beyond the Media Hype: Jordan

Jordan, Israel and Palestine coexist warily in what Christians, Jews and Muslims call the Holy Land.  Jordan is east of the Jordan River with Syria in the north, Iraq in the north-east and Saudi Arabia in the south.   It was populated mainly by tribal Arabs when its borders were set.    They are outnumbered now by Palestinians who fled since Israel’s establishment at the end of WW2.

Most of Jordan is plateau and most of that is desert rising gradually in the west to villages in the Jordanian Highlands.  Further west, the highlands descend into the north-south rift valley down which the River Jordan flows through the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea to the Red Sea.   Only about 2% of Jordan’s land is arable, half of it permanently cropped.  There is no oil, insufficient water, few resources of any kind that humans value.

Jordan Topography

Jordan is landlocked except where the Gulf of Aqaba gives it access to the Red Sea.  Aqaba was a major Ottoman port connected to Damascus and Medina by the Hejaz railroad.  The WW1 Battle of Aqaba was key to ending the Ottoman Empire’s 500 year long rule of Arab lands.

Gulf of Aqaba

Jordan’s population is around 8 million, about half of whom are Palestinian refugees or their descendants.  It was 400,000 in 1948, about half of them nomadic, but when 700,000 Arabs fled or were expelled that year from what became Israel, many went to Jordan, and many more came later.

Since the 2003 war in Iraq, a million refugees have also arrived from there, and, since 2012, more than half a million refugees from Syria.

About 92% of Jordan’s population is Sunni.  About 6% is Christian (the CIA says 2%), down from 30% in 1950 primarily because of Muslim immigration.  Well educated Christian Arabs dominate business.  A 1987 study showed half of Jordan’s leading business families to be Christian.

Since most of Jordan is desert, the population is highly concentrated in the northwest.

Jordan Population Map

When Britain gained control of Jordan and Iraq at the end of WW1 it appointed sons of Hussein bin Ali as their rulers.  Britain had promised Hussein rule of all Arab lands in return for leading the Arab revolt against the Ottoman Empire.  Faisal ibn Hussein became ruler of Iraq and his brother Abdullah ibn Hussein ruler of Jordan.

Abdullah I established his government in 1921.  Britain granted nominal independence in 1928 but kept a military presence, control of foreign affairs and some financial control.  At the end of WW2, although the US wanted Israel to be established first, Britain granted Jordan full independence.  US President Truman recognized the independence of Jordan and Israel on the same day in 1949 considering them twin emergent states, one for refugee Jews, the other for Palestinian Arabs displaced as a result.

Jordan Relief Map

Abdullah I had represented Mecca in the Ottoman legislature from 1909 to 1914 but allied with Britain during WW1 and played a key role in the Arab revolt.  He ruled as an autocrat.

Recognizing the inadequacy of resources within Jordan’s borders, Abdullah hoped to reestablish and rule Greater Syria, the Ottoman district made up of present day Syria, Lebanon, Palestine and Jordan.  He invaded Palestine with other Arab states in 1948, occupied the West Bank and formally annexed it in 1950.  Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon and Syria then demanded Jordan’s expulsion from the Arab League but were blocked by Yemen and Iraq.  Abdullah was never trusted again by other Arab or Jewish leaders.  He was assassinated in 1951 by a Palestinian who feared he would make peace with Israel.

Abdullah I was succeeded by his son Talal who had to abdicate the following year because of mental illness.  His son Hussein who was educated in Egypt and England then ruled until his death in 1999.

King Hussein recognized that while the borders Britain had set for Jordan with Syria, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia could not be eliminated as his grandfather had hoped, they might with negotiation be improved.  In 1965, he was able to make a deal with Saudi Arabia that gave Jordan an additional 11 miles of coastline on the Gulf of Aqaba to expand its port facilities.  The great problem was Jordan’s border with Palestine.

From 1950, near the end of Abdullah’s reign, Jordan administered the Palestinian West Bank.  Then Israel invaded and seized it in the 1967 Six Day War.  What should Hussein do?  He continued to claim the West Bank until 1988 despite its occupation by Israel.  He relinquished it to the Palestinians then, and signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1994.   Jordan is still only the second Arab nation to do so.  Egypt was the first in 1979.

Over the course of his long reign (1953-99) , Hussein kept negotiating for peace and managed to establish a relatively solid footing for Jordan despite competing pressures from great powers and massive immigration from Palestine, but his strongly pro-Western policy meant that he was never entirely trusted by other Arab leaders.

Hussein made less progress on Jordan’s economy, which is among the smallest in the Middle East.  Because there is so little fertile land, agriculture accounts for only 3% of GDP.  Phosphate mining and other industry is around 30%.  Trade, finance and other services make up the balance.  Jordan depends largely on foreign aid, of which the US is the main provider, and the government employs at least a third and perhaps more than half of all workers.

Jordan Land Use Map

Hussein was succeeded by his son, Abdullah II, who was educated both in England and the US and who served in the British army as well as both Jordan’s army and air force.  He has focused on religious coexistence, Israeli-Palestinian peace as well as building a powerful Jordanian military, and especially on Jordan’s economy.

Abdullah II  worked for several years to get agreement on a project that was first proposed in the late 1960s as part of peacemaking between Israel and Jordan.  The Red Sea–Dead Sea Canal will provide desalinated drinking water to Israel, Jordan and Palestine, replenish the Dead Sea whose surface area has shrunk 30% in the last 20 years because nine tenths of the Jordan River’s flow is diverted for crops and drinking, and generate electricity.  In late 2013 the three nations reached agreement to go ahead with the project.

Jordan Red Sea Dead Sea Map

What Abdullah II has not done is make Jordan’s government more democratic.  It is a constitutional monarchy in which the king is Head of State, Commander-in-Chief, and appoints the Prime Minister, Cabinet and regional governors and 75 members of the Senate.  The House of Representatives and other Senators are elected but elections have been seriously rigged.  A new law in 2012 prohibits parties based on religion.  That led the Muslim Brotherhood and others to boycott voting.

Although its military is strongly supported by the US, UK and France, Jordan is also a founding member of the Arab League whose goal is to “draw closer the relations between member States and co-ordinate collaboration between them, to safeguard their independence and sovereignty” and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation whose goal is to “safeguard and protect the interests of the Muslim world in the spirit of promoting international peace and harmony.”  Jordan is also an active member of the UN and provides the third highest participation in its peacekeeping missions, and is in the European Union’s program to bring the EU and its neighbors closer.

Jordan’s ruling dynasty has good international relations and is well accepted by Jordanians despite autocratic rule, massive immigration of refugees, an economy that is not self-sufficient, and high unemployment especially among young adults.

Because Jordan’s population is so heterogeneous, it is not a nation in the sense of a potentially genocidal homeland.  It is very much a state, however, even though it has no natural borders with Syria, Iraq or Saudi Arabia.  They accept the ones drawn by colonial powers almost a century ago.  It does have a natural border with Israel and Palestine, the Jordan River, that is now accepted by all parties although the status of Palestine itself remains unresolved.

There is much to be learned from Jordan’s history of governance.

Out of the Closet

I was never a good follower.  But sometimes there’s no choice.  Today, I must follow Professor Peter Railton who studies ethics and the philosophy of science.

I highly recommend the transcript of his entire Dewey Lecture but it is 16 pages long so I will be much more brief.  Asked to weave his own life story and developments in neuroscience into a call for action, he spoke of three times of transformation in his life.  I will mention only one, and here is the only bit of neuroscience:  “Memory turns out to be tightly linked to our capacity to imagine alternatives to the ways things are and to meet new challenges—to face the future, where it is still possible to make a difference.  For these purposes, it is better to have a living memory system capable of recombining, relating, correcting, and enriching stored information.”

Railton recreated in his speech “a series of moments from my remembered life,” each of them “a moment of making a transition.”  His hope was “if I can make the experience of these moments real enough to you, even briefly, they might speak to you in ways that go beyond the little stories.”

He followed those three seminal memories with what he hoped would be a new one right there in the lecture hall.  He introduced it this way:  “The stunning reversal of age-old attitudes toward gay marriage came about [because] enough gay individuals courageously … came out publicly.  Within two decades the rest of the population had learned … that among their friends, neighbors, coworkers, children, parents, teachers, students, and favorite movie stars were many gay individuals.  Were these people to be denied the rights of life and love the rest of us enjoy?”

What those courageous gay individuals did was “insisted that privacy should be a choice … made visible … so that heterosexuals could see their gay brothers and sisters for what they are, not for what their incomprehension and apprehensions had made of them.”

Being gay is not a choice.  What must be a choice for everyone who is gay is whether or not to keep it private.

We are still living in another “don’t ask, don’t tell” world, Railton continues So there’s nothing for it.  Those who have dwelt in the depths of depression need to come out as well.”

Our society sees depression as an inner weakness.  We must learn to call it what it is, Railton tells us “We must call it mental illness because that’s what it is, illness that takes up residence in the mind, but no more of the essence of a person than any other illness.  And when we hear of mental illness, treatment should be the first thing that comes to mind, not shame and withdrawal.”

So I, too, must come out because I, too, have lived through debilitating depressive episodes.

The first, when I was 16, is very luckily the only one where I wanted to kill myself.  I walked along the river bank for so long, afraid to continue living, equally afraid of drowning.  Finally I was tired out and continued to live by default.  I went to the doctor the next day and explained my symptoms.  “You’ll just have to get used to it,” he told me.  “Learn to hide it as best you can.”

So I did.  Alcohol was a mixed blessing in some especially severe episodes but I was luckier than my very close High School friend who killed himself.  My experience manifested most often in second-guessing that slowed me down but left me enough strength to keep forcing myself onward.

Shortly before I retired from business, where I accomplished a lot but could have done more, Felicity got me to a doctor again.  There are now plenty of antidepressants and although their effect is poorly understood and/or misunderstood, I have been symptom-free since that time.

If I had been open about my depressive episodes, the business challenges I enjoyed would not have been open to me.  But if more of us reveal our mental illness along with what we accomplished despite it, I hope others will have the choice of openness that Professor Railton, I and so many others did not.  And I hope they will promptly get treatment!