Ferkauf’s Visiting Israeli Professor Shares Insights on Terrorism

Moshe Almagor, PhD, visiting professor at Ferkauf Graduate School of Psychology, addressing students and faculty.

Feb 24, 2006 — Moshe Almagor knows terrorism.

Dr. Almagor, visiting professor at Ferkauf Graduate School of Psychology, shared some of what he knows with Ferkauf students and faculty Feb. 23 on the Resnick Campus.

In a presentation titled, “Coping With Terrorism: Denial Versus Grief,” Dr. Almagor began with various definitions of the word ‘terrorism.’ He said he found 15 different definitions in the dictionary, but uses the one currently accepted by the U.S. and other countries: the use of violence against civilians and civilian targets in order to achieve political goals.

But Dr. Almagor was quick to point out that terrorism need not include violence. If a foreign country or group were to print millions of counterfeit dollars or drachmas or yen, the result could bring chaos to the country whose money was being counterfeited without the loss of a single human being.

It is through violence, however, and the loss of human beings, that much of the world knows terrorism. The resulting trauma, and how it is dealt with, is what Dr. Almagor focused upon in his talk. Trauma caused by terrorism is also what Dr. Almagor focuses upon in Israel, where he counsels family and friends who have lost loved ones in terrorist acts or who themselves have been injured or affected by such an attack. At one point, Dr. Almagor referred to not only the pain that comes from losing loved ones in an attack but also of the strength of spirit that can emerge. He referred to a particular family, a mother and father, who had lost a daughter in a suicide bombing.

“The father used the event to justify disassociating and disconnecting from the outside world,” Dr. Almagor said. “He basically went into a room and locked the door. He occasionally went to the grocery store. His wife was able to use the experience to grow. She earned a PhD. She learned how to drive. She did these things for her daughter. Her daughter was motivation that allowed her to move on.”

Dr. Almagor, a father himself, asked: “What can be more important than your child?” He then answered his own question: “Nothing.”

The personal and the painful were weaved throughout Dr. Almagor’s talk. He also provided clear-sighted explanations of terrorism motives and terrorism effects. And he addressed the subtitle of his talk, grief and denial.

“Research says that denial is a positive mechanism of dealing with trauma,” he said.

In Israel, denial is practiced on a national level immediately following a terrorist attack, according to Dr. Almagor. Denial is part of an attempt to bring life back to normal as soon as possible.

“If a bus is bombed, the bus is removed in a matter of a few hours,” he said. “The street is cleaned. The government sends officials within hours to assess damage to buildings and immediately they begin to restore the property.”

Because he is Israeli and because he counsels Israelis (and Palestinians), Dr. Almagor possesses unique insight about terrorism and the Middle East. He said that Arab and Muslim hatred for Jews and Christians is not religious in nature. He said the Koran, the holy book from which Islamic fundamentalists and other Arabs and Muslims derive their code of behavior, professes respect for Jews and Christians as “believers.” In a slightly humorous observation, he said while male suicide bombers are promised a bevy of virgin women in heaven, a femal suicide bomber is not promised virgin men. Dr. Almagor mused that this was another example of inequality.

In the end, Dr. Almagor said Arab terrorism will never achieve the objective of driving Jews from Israel. He said Arab terrorists are under the false impression that when Jews, either soldiers or citizens, have vacated a particular geographical region it has been due to terrorism.

“We pulled out of Lebananon, because we didn’t know what we were doing there,” he said. “We pulled out of Gush Katif, because we didn’t know what we were doing there. We are not going to pull out of Tel Aviv. We know what we are doing there. That is our home.”

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