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Fayek, A. (2007). The Impasse Between the Islamists and the West: Dreaming the Same Nightmare. Ann. Psychoanal., 35:273-286.

(2007). Annual of Psychoanalysis, 35:273-286

The Impasse Between the Islamists and the West: Dreaming the Same Nightmare

Ahmed Fayek, Ph.D.

Islamists are entangled in a complex web of negative relationships with the Western world. They vehemently deny being terrorists but fail to convince their adversaries that they fight for legitimate causes. The Western world is in the same quandary. They deny being colonialists but fail to convince Muslims that they advocate freedom and democracy. It is an impasse that raises questions, which psychoanalysts are good at answering.

As psychoanalysts, we distinguish between what is manifest and its latent content. We work on uncovering the latent by examining the internal inconsistencies of the manifested, meaning that we expose a gap that separates the false from the true. In interpreting dreams, we try to reveal the “work” of dream-work in disguising the latent content. We could do the same thing with the impasse between Islamists and the Western world.

This impasse raises three questions: Are Islamists (militant organizations) truly religious movements, as they claim, or is there a hidden content to that manifest? If there is a hidden content, how could we identify it? If we identify it, how could we be sure that we got it right? The same approach applies to investigating the claims of the Western world of advocating democracy in the Islamic world.

Sometimes we encounter what looks like a conflict between two uncompromising identities in interpersonal relationships but discover later that it was for consolidating shaky and poorly defined identities. The conflict between Islamists and the West has features of a search for consolidating shaky and poorly defined identities. Islamists want to emphasize their Islamic identity over their Arabic one, and the West wants to emphasize the civility of its identity over a purely cultural one.

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