In the chapter of Abramowitz’s text, Searching for normal in the wake of the Liberian war, Abramowitz describes the post-war Liberian society and the collective trauma engulfing its members after years of civil war violence. The statistics that begin the author’s exploration are sharp: 50% of the country’s population reported “significant levels of PTSD symptoms,” 40% reported symptoms of depression. However, as the author mentions herself, these statistics allow one to understand the symptomatology of mental illness in the population, but to really understand the trauma one must look at the stories of the people.
Stories of the Liberian civil war feature atrocities ranging from human sacrifice to child soldiers being provided with cocaine and guns in preparation for battle. The war ended with an estimated 200,000 dead and 1.5 million displaced, and a society in complete disarray. As Abramowitz mentions, “violence had transgressed the most basic social values” during this war. I did not fully comprehend what this meant until I read an article in Newsweek featuring an interview with an ex-combatant named Mary who was 16 when the war ended in 2003. After the bar, she opened a bar which she manages with another 10-year-old girl, catering to “homeless crack-smoking teenagers” and older men. The article reports that Mary frequently engages in violence, beating and kicking her “manager” in the stomach if she breaks glasses, and getting into fights with adults.
Such a story can only be imaginable within the context of a place that lacks any sense of social order and sense of normalcy. It seems to me that the point Abramowitz is conveying is that the collective trauma of the Liberians stems from not only the violence of the war, but additionally from the collapse of social order under the pressures of civil war. The author retells the stories of those who have lost their roles in society – Valentine, who has lost his role as a loving son and student; Kumba’s neighbor, who has lost his role as the sub-chief of his village. In sociological theories pertaining to violence, when people can claim well-defined identities and roles in a given context, the situation is problem-free. Problems start to arise when a society cannot afford for its members to have well-defined situated identities and roles, because the societal structure is a mess. This lack of definition is echoed in the text – there were “voids of social and cultural space” allowing for violence to breed. This, in turn, would lead to more trauma, and more disorder and violence. Valentine describes feeling stuck without “forward momentum,” as his society continues to spiral down into more trauma and violence.
Present-day conflicts have the possibility of following the same trend as Liberia. What will post-war Syria look like? Already the war has been taking place for 4 years, with over 300,000 killed (June 2015 SOHR estimate) and over 4 million refugees (July 2015 UNHCR estimate). Already horrific stories have spread of children beheaded and women forcibly impregnated by members of the Islamic State. When Syria emerges from this civil war, will it have a functioning societal structure in place to prevent the downward spiral of post-war trauma and violence?
As Abramowitz mentions, Liberians who had fled during the war were the ones who seemed happier and healthier in the post-war society. The solution I have to prevent societal collapse in Syria is improvement in the global effort to accommodate its refugees. If people can be allowed to live and work in functioning environments with strong moral codes, if and when they return to their home country these people can transition back into recreating a sense of normalcy for themselves as they rebuild their country.
Discussion Question 1: Is it idealistic and demanding to think that European countries should just “open up their borders” and allow in as many refugees as they can without collapse of their infrastructure and economy?
Discussion Question 2: How can one even judge how many refugees countries can take in without total collapse? Many countries have stated that they can only take in and handle a few thousand. This to me appears to be out of Islamophobia and laziness.
Left, S. (2003, August 4). War in Liberia. Retrieved from The Guardian: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2003/aug/04/westafrica.qanda
MacDougall, C. (2013, July 31). When Liberian Child Soldiers Grow Up. Retrieved from Newsweek: http://www.newsweek.com/2013/07/31/when-liberian-child-soldiers-grow-237780.html
Writer, S. (2014, November 14). ISIS Accused of Crimes Against Humanity. Retrieved from Al Arabiya News: http://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2014/11/14/ISIS-commits-crimes-against-humanity-in-Syria.html