What About The Children: What Exit Strategy Exists For Them?
Last week I had read Newsweek’s “The Next Jihadists” and found some disturbing information:
- Nearly half of Iraq’s population is under the age of 18.
- 9 out of 10 young Sunni and Shia Iraqis view the United States as an occupying force.
- 47 percent of respondents of one survey of Baghdad children say that they have witnessed a “major traumatic event.”
- 30 percent of 1090 Iraqi children of Mosul surveyed suffer post-traumatic stress disorder, a study sponsored in part by the World Health Organization.
- 70 percent of elementary school kids are no longer attending classes regularly according to Iraq’s Ministry of Education.
- 92 percent of kids surveyed by the Association of Psychologist of Iraq show signs of learning impediments.
What does this mean for Iraq’s future? What does this mean for the US in particular?
The answers may lie with similar conflicts where societies have experienced similar atrocities. Extensive studies have been done of Bosnian children, one study showing surprising results of the resilience of children. Provided that the child was not separated from parent or experienced a loss of life of someone close.
However, Iraq is far from Bosnia. While the two may share a religion as a commonality, the two are far removed culturally. The war on Iraq is reshaping Iraq’s culture through the cold reality of affect. Today, the Iraqi Red Crescent Society says it has been seeing increases in households run by women, a problem in traditional Iraqi society where women rarely worked outside of the home. Children are reportedly becoming the sole providers with the loss of fathers.
Two examples present themselves within this very region, the first of which is Afghanistan:
According to a 1997 UNICEF study, almost 100 percent of Afghan children witnessed acts of violence during the fighting. Two thirds saw dead bodies or parts of bodies and almost half saw multiple people killed in rocket and artillery attacks.
“But radical groups have always found their most ready recruits in societies undergoing profound and violent change. The closest analogy may be to the Taliban in Afghanistan. They filled their ranks with the orphans of war—very often refugee kids—and offered them a different kind of family structure cemented by the bonds of Islam.”
Now let’s consider that Afghanistan has been in conflict off and on over the past 20 years and take into account these chilling affects upon children; Ninety percent are worried about what would happen to them in the future; 3/4 reported feeling constant fear, even when no immediate danger was present; over half said they had difficulty of experiencing happiness or sadness of any kind; three quarters believed they would not live to adulthood and 8 out of 10 children reported sometimes or often “feel so sad they can not cope with life.”
Another such society has been infected with conflict for nearly 60 years now and born from such conflict the Muslim world’s first hijackings and suicides. We call them terrorism. The location of such a society: The occupied territories. The society: The Palestinians.
What have we learned from Palestinian and Israelis?
One study conducted on 1300 West Bank Palestinians and Israeli settler children shows that 70 percent of the West Bank children and 30 percent of the Israeli settler children show signs of post traumatic stress disorder. Another study is showing that 90 percent of the children who experienced the first intifada showed symptoms of post-traumatic stress.
Statistics become a hard pill to swallow sometime, but even harder are the actualities of these situations:
While they were fully engaged in playing, they heard an intensive flying of a drone plane. The noise became closer and closer, yet they didn’t pay any attention for it, since they became used to the sound of the Israeli airplanes flying continuously at low altitudes in the sky of Gaza Strip. They proceeded to play. But, suddenly they heard a heavy fire shelling. In response, they tried to escape and hide away from the fire, yet they didn’t find any safe place that may protect them; it was an open area. At that moment, Jehad hid in a sewage hole and his peers followed him seeking protection. Meanwhile, they heard a huge, close explosion that has shaken the entire area. Jehad describes the scene: “I didn’t realize the source of the explosion, nor its location; I didn’t see anything; but, we noticed tremendous dust and smoke rising from the hole which we were hiding in. I, then, realized that the plane has targeted us. The fired rocket has converted my friends into torn limbs. I couldn’t recognize them as the scene was very horrible. The wounds and burns changed the features of their bodies”. Five of Jehad’s friends were killed instantly, while he was hit by the shrapnel of the fired rocket all over his body. He was drowning in a pool of blood. At this moment, ICRC staff and an ambulance reached the place of the shelling to evacuate the injured and the bodies. Jehad described that scene saying: “my friends’ bodies and I were transferred in the same ambulance, which made me more fearful and sad. In our way to the hospital, I was detecting my body trying to ensure that I did not loose any parts. I could not believe that I was alive and could not believe that I did not loose any part of my body as happened to my friends.
What I found more disturbing was this:
Jehad feels very guilty for loosing his friends. In this regard, he says: “I feel guilt and pains as I am the cause of my friends’ martyrdom…had I not hidden in the sewage hole, they wouldn’t have been killed. I am very sad that I wasn’t martyred like them; I hope to join them as their images don’t leave my mind; I cannot forget them or stop thinking about them. Nowadays, I can hardly sleep and I have horrible dreams and nightmares. I cannot talk to anybody and I became very irritable. I prefer to stay at home, and not to go to the sea as I used to”.
Moreso, children of the occupied territories compose the highest rate of bedwetters in the world, just one sign of post-traumatic stress. Research is also showing that the loss of a father or home is the worst kind of trauma a child can experience as they both represent security.
Israelis say that Palestinians are raising terrorists, and yes, Palestinians do glorify their terrorists by naming streets, parks, plazas after them and textbooks do assist preaching hatred, but psychological studies have now brought to debate the role that Israel is playing in the creation of these terrorists. It’s high time America started looking into this matter considering the devestation that we have placed Iraq under, considering war’s new weapon is the human body and it considers no borders.
Fortunately the research of Bosnian children and their resilience provides us with hope. The challenge now is bringing about a peace and including psychiatric counseling in an exit strategy.