Blindfold the cow and everything will be fine

Amir Afkhami, an American psychiatrist, gets to meet a “faith-healer” in Iraq and watch him doing his stuff.

The path of a faith healer is arduous, Mullah Eskandar told us, speaking in Kurdish. “Such a calling,” he said, “is best reserved for a religious and spiritual man.”

Right. Religious and spiritual because there is no actual knowledge or technical skill involved, and man because it’s women who get fucked up by misogynist religions and traditions. Totally makes sense.

He went on to recount his 15-year apprenticeship to a renowned senior healer, who taught him the basics of spiritual treatment and the essentials of Koranic law and prophetic traditions. His description reminded me of my own long and difficult years in medical school and residency training.

Except for the difference in the acutal substance of what you learned compared to what Mullah Eskandar learned.

“Over 80 percent of my patients are females,” he continued. “They struggle with insomnia, headache, depression and marital problems.”

Gee I wonder why!

“Ours is like your profession, which has both good and bad doctors,” he continued: “those who care about patients and those who are in it for worldly rewards.”

Nooooo, not exactly. The difference between good and bad doctors isn’t just caring.

The first patient to enter his reception room was a young woman in red flowing garb typical of the rural inhabitants of eastern Kurdistan…Like most unmarried Iraqi women, she was accompanied by family: a heavy-set, mustachioed father and a watchful mother.

The mother explained that the day her daughter became engaged to a relative, she had developed fainting fits, nightmares, foul moods and an inability to walk. Her family had consulted a general practitioner, who referred them to a neurologist, to no avail. She continued to faint at the talk of marriage — even became agitated at the prospect of her younger sister’s impending betrothal.

Yes. She doesn’t want the marriage. The way to cure her is to call off the marriage and let her run her own life.

But the mullah didn’t suggest that. He

began to chant a Koranic verse into her right ear, imploring God’s help and warning of the devil’s temptations.Then he explained that the young woman was possessed by a jinn, one of the race of evil spirits that the Koran blames for sowing mischief and illness in the world — in this case, spreading discord in the young woman’s family by disrupting her marriage. To banish the jinn, Mullah Eskandar prescribed a regimen of prayers, daily bathing and rosewater perfume. And he counseled the patient on the responsibilities of a daughter to marry and the happiness that awaited her once she had a family of her own.

It struck me that Mullah Eskandar’s rituals, particularly his reassuring counsel, appeared to mimic our oft-practiced supportive therapy in Western medicine. His authoritative opinion and his apparent empathy, coupled with his ability to realign the young woman’s vision to a more positive outlook, appeared to give her some degree of comfort immediately.

Well isn’t that sweet. The mullah conned the young woman into resigning herself to her horrible unwanted fate, and the American psychiatrist watched in cheery approval. The mullah talked away some of the young woman’s symptoms while leaving the cause entirely untouched, and the medical professional was impressed.

I’m not.

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