the interrogations of shamshouma

On madness, violence and suicide


Shortly after the LBC video ,showing a Lebanese man beating up am Ethiopian woman outside of her embassy in Lebanon, was shared, a few people asked on facebook whoever was watching the video to wait and watch the LBC news because “there is a story behind it that will explain why the woman was treated this way”.

The story turned out to be that the woman, Alem Dechasa, is insane, and therefore Ali Mahfouz, the man who was beating her up, was only trying to help her by controlling her “mad behaviors”. This is why her suicide a few days later came to actually reinforce Mahfouz’s story of her madness. Even though a lot of people dismissed this narrative of madness and called Alem’s suicide  murder , the “madness argument” seems to be quite successful in depoliticizing actions and events of violence that reveal the madness of the empire and society itself.  Such framings of violence as “madness”, be it a violence performed on others or onto oneself like a suicide, should be deciphered as a way for the system to cover up the gaps and holes that violent actions produce within it . Arguments of madness are a way for the system to re-cover its own unveiled “madness” and “violence”. After all, and to be very clear, madness as a thing of the real, as a real thing, does not exist.

If we look a bit closer, we will realize that we are and have been surrounded by madness narratives for quite some time. One recent “act of madness” is the killing spree conducted by an American soldier on 16 Afghani civilians, including 9 children. Memorable others include the attacks and killings of Egyptian Copts by a “deranged” egyptian man in 2006 in Egypt, school shootings in the US, and the Ford Hood shooting. These acts of violence were considered “deranged” and “a product of mad individuals” by both Egyptian and American governments and by no means rational, intentional forms of violence. Somehow madness arguments make stories of violence, racism, and terror less shocking and more acceptable. They (acts of violence) become not the product of a violent military and social system but an act of a deranged soldier.

The picture shows a Coptic woman in 2006 carrying a banner saying “The killers of al-Kosheh martyrs were acquitted by the government’s justice system. What can we expect them to do with Alexandria’s deranged man?” The Kosheh bloody attacks in Upper Egypt on the eve of 2000 claimed the lives of 20 Copts

The madness argument works to sustain the status quo of institutional violence, to reinforce the state’s sole right to use violence, while others who use it without following the “proper channels” do not produce violence but madness. For the exception of course of Muslim Arabs whose action of violence vis-a-vis the West is always an act of terrorism and never ever an act of madness.

The madness argument therefore serves to regulate disobedient subjects’ actions, to show them not as political, defiant and violent, but as outside of the realm of what is acceptable “as violence”, as an act of violence that does not need a solution or a project. Acts of violence that are framed as “mad” need only medical and psychiatric attention. There is nothing wrong with the American army, with United States’ presence in Afghanistan, there is nothing wrong with the troops, with Egypt,  with the racist Lebanese society, with the systematic and formal state violence and how it is used and channeled.

The act of suicide on the other hand is an act of violence turned onto oneself that is easily dismissed as an act of madness, or at the very least, a consequence of substance or drug use and, in many cases as we all know,  of Satan worshiping  Through the madness narrative, Alem Achasa’s suicide becomes devoid of any form of political protest against a racist system and becomes an irrational act, devoid of political meaning and of  the capacity to signal violence and racism of the state. It turns the act of suicide, directed towards the state, back again onto Alem’s own body and soul. It’s amazing how Alem’s body and soul is and will always remain  the problem here. Racism and madness are very much intertwined sometimes.

We seem to be living in a time of suicide.  Some suicides have, amazingly enough, stopped being articulated as mad. Acts of burning oneself, and committing suicide outside of ministries, police stations, one’s job in Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria and many other Arab and Muslim states by mainly Arab youth have been both shocking and undecipherable within the madness narrative. One can hardly frame these suicides as acts of madness because of their abundance and their very visible forms of protest. These suicides, including Alem Achasa’s suicide, threaten the very legitimacy of the state and powers of regulations because they should be  be read as a  form of politics that punches a hole in the System’s wall to show us the structural racism and violence quite visibly.

Last Sunday I took the bus #15 to Rawcheh to find a nice place to write this blog post. I sat down next to a middle aged woman, listening to my music. I could tell that the woman was glancing nervously at me. When I looked at her she frighteningly looked away. I thought that she might be annoyed by my music so I turned down the volume. But she kept looking at me. Somehow her glances communicated fear to me. She was whispering something so I decided to turn off my MP3 player.

She finally asked me for 250 L.L. to complete her bus fare “I thought it was 2000L.L. on Sundays” , I said as I gave her the 250L.L. “no, it’s not, they tried to do it but everyone protested…so they couldn’t do it..no one would take the bus anymore if they do that…I take this bus everyday from Dawra to come here…. I bring food and leftovers to feed the cats, they wait for me..look, here is my bag of food…I feed them at Rawcheh and make them feel better….I found this cat the other day, he was covered with Mazout and he couldn’t breathe. I wiped the mazout off his stomach and fed him…He always hides in the same corner, look…here…he always hides in the bushes next to the bank…I take care of him…he almost died, you know, he was covered with mazout…”

Suddenly I could feel the whole bus staring at us, thinking “this woman is insane”. One woman kept looking at her, and some people turned and stared. She never looked any of them, or me. She talked as if she was talking to herself, looking forward at her seat. “I am originally from Tebnin, I used to go there a lot but they told me not to come back. They told me not to take the bus or service because it is not safe. They will kidnap me…It is not safe anymore, they kidnap a lot of people these days…it is not safe”

this picture is stolen from the internet.

She helplessly tried to avoid the gazing in the bus. She tried to look at the sea, fix her hair, any meaningless behavior to make them stop looking. People glanced at each other and smiled when she got off the bus. They looked at me, waiting for me to become complicit in this little game of “naming the mad”. Is this what madness look like, I thought, someone’s unveiled vulnerability, humanity and loneliness? A painful yearning to communicate and an inability to relate and make sense of a harsh, devastating and threatening world that drowns cats in mazout and is constantly gazing at you? I wanted to sob.

As for me, the story of Nietzsche going mad one day at the sight of a man abusing a horse keeps hunting me, and I wonder what my breaking point will be. As I was going back home today in the Service, three non-white non-Lebanese looking women were crossing the road when two men on a motorcycle started screaming things at them and laughing, and the two other women in the service started laughing as well “shoo 2alla? Shoo 2alla? hahahaha” Is that funny, I thought. Is everyone going mad or am I the crazy one here?

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