Editorial: Is the World Driving Us Mad?

15 July, 2022
Mohamed Hafez, “Jour­neys from an Absent Present to a Lost Past,” mixed media, 2022 (cour­tesy of the artist).
It’s indis­putable that we live in mad­den­ing times, as we tra­verse years of plague, war, migra­tion and cli­mate change — dif­fi­cult years in which men­tal ill­ness is on the rise.
When our edi­tors got togeth­er and brain­stormed a spe­cial issue on MADNESS, we intend­ed, of course, to talk about men­tal health dur­ing and as a result of iso­la­tion under Covid, but also dis­cuss some of the many crises of the day.
Few of us have enough expe­ri­ence to know how to deal with some­one in our imme­di­ate fam­i­ly who suf­fers from men­tal ill­ness, whether schiz­o­phre­nia, clin­i­cal depres­sion, para­noia or full-throt­tle psy­chosis. In the Unit­ed States, accord­ing to the Nation­al Alliance on Men­tal Ill­ness (NAMI), as many as one in four adults expe­ri­ences men­tal ill­ness in a giv­en year. In France, assert gov­ern­ment fig­ures, one in five adults encoun­ters men­tal health chal­lenges, trou­bling as many as 13 mil­lion cit­i­zens each year. Sim­i­lar fig­ures are the case in Iran, the Bor­gen Project found, although over 60% of Ira­ni­ans receive no treat­ment while only about 20% who suf­fer psy­chic stress have ade­quate access to men­tal health treat­ment. Men­tal health fig­ures in Arab coun­tries appear a lit­tle hard­er to come by.
Regard­ing sui­cide as an out­come of men­tal ill­ness, Iran­ian Amer­i­can nov­el­ist and TMR con­tribut­ing edi­tor Salar Abdoh reminds us that, “Many sui­cides are not a mat­ter of men­tal ill­ness, but the result of a per­son­al hell due to polit­i­cal and his­tor­i­cal cir­cum­stances. The Afghan women killing them­selves in droves after the Tal­iban took over last year would much rather not do so; if they choose to kill them­selves, it is because they are left with no oth­er option. The same can be said to be true of men and women in Iran, who reach the end of their teth­er due to eco­nom­ic hard­ship, often as a result of the harsh eco­nom­ic sanc­tions enforced by the Unit­ed States.”
By way of fur­ther expla­na­tion, as anthro­pol­o­gist and Jadaliyya edi­tor Maya Mik­dashi notes, vio­lence against women and femi­cide is on the rise, includ­ing in France, Lebanon, Egypt and Iraq. “Vio­lence against women has risen sharply around the world,” she tweet­ed recent­ly, “in recent Covid/crisis years.”

In her review of the Fran­co-Tunisian film Arab Blues, Mis­cha Ger­a­coulis finds that Tunisians suf­fer from a range of men­tal mal­adies, while a recent study found that over 40% of Tunisians sur­veyed would con­sid­er leav­ing the coun­try as undoc­u­ment­ed immi­grants. And Farah Abdessamad in her review of the exper­i­men­tal film 1941, explores the effect of war and trau­ma on the psy­che of Yemeni men and women. In his review of Waves ’98, Youssef Manes­sa dis­cuss­es the men­tal health of Lebanese in recent decades. And Youssef Rakha and Tugrul Mende review new books, by Maged Zager and Shahd Alsham­mari, who shares with TMR an excerpt from her first book, Lit­er­ary Mad­ness In British, Post­colo­nial, and Bedouin Women’s Writ­ing, which aims to inves­ti­gate lit­er­ary rep­re­sen­ta­tions of mad­women fig­ures who protest against their respec­tive soci­eties and environments.
And three short sto­ry writ­ers tack­le mad­ness as a byprod­uct of try­ing to cope, respec­tive­ly, in Iran, Italy/Lebanon and Cairo, in “Big Laleh, Lit­tle Laleh” (Shok­ouh Moghi­mi), “Where to Now, Ya Asfoura?” (Sarah AlKahly-Mills), and “The Dev­il’s Wait­ing List” (Ahmed Salah Al-Mahdi).
Final­ly, Ani Zon­n­eveld looks at the mad­ness of the US Supreme Court’s recent deci­sions, in “Amer­i­can Theoc­ra­cy and Failed States.”
The world may be dri­ving us crazy, but shar­ing our sto­ries across cul­tures and bor­ders is one way to hang on to our sanity.

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