THE TALIBAN HAS A PSYCHIATRIST? ARE YOU KIDDING ME? by Art Smukler, author & psychiatrist

In the late 1990s until 2001, when the Taliban controlled Afghanistan, Doctor Nader Alemi, the only Pashto speaking psychiatrist in the area, actually treated thousands of militant fighters. Since many of them were struggling with the psychological effects of war — anxiety, PTSD, depression, psychosis etc., they were desperate for help. Even some commanders sought his care.

Dr. Alemi disagreed with the Taliban’s ideology, but still treated them.

I used to treat the Taliban as human beings, same as I would treat my other patients…even though I knew they had caused all the problems in our society. Sometimes they would weep and I would comfort them.

Incredibly, while all this was going on, his wife Parvin Alemi ran an underground school for about a hundred girls. Under the Taliban, girls were not allowed to study.

This article by Tahir Qadiry in the BBC News intrigued me. I asked myself what I would have done under similar circumstances. Could I treat someone whose ideology I despised, a person who under other circumstances would have gladly killed me and my family — an ISIS fighter, a Nazi, a white supremacist, a racist?

Dr. Alemi is a remarkable man, a man who sees the human side of all people. But, is the Hippocratic Oath still in play with someone sworn to kill you and anyone who believes what you believe?

The Israelis treat Palestinians who are ill or wounded. Throughout history, captured soldiers are medically treated by their captors. Does compassion lead to mutual understanding and kindness?

Every day, I treat people with opinions and philosophies that differ from mine. It’s what I and other health professionals do.

So, would I treat someone whose ideology threatens the lives of all non-believers?

I don’t know… I really don’t.

What do you think?

Art Smukler is an award-winning psychiatrist and author of Chasing Backwards, a psychological murder mystery, Skin Dance, a mystery, and The Man with a Microphone in his Ear. All are available as paperbacks and eBooks.

11 thoughts on “THE TALIBAN HAS A PSYCHIATRIST? ARE YOU KIDDING ME? by Art Smukler, author & psychiatrist

  1. I believe human beings have the capacity for the utmost evil and the utmost good, as shown by history all over the world. We don’t need to go to the Middle East for this. These tendencies are in all of us. The reason we lean more toward “good” or “evil” are many-fold. However, this is theory. So would I be able to help a person whom I know to have done and will do horrible things to others or would I take a gun, if available, and shoot him or her? I hope I will never be tested that way. I don’t know how I would act.


  2. There are probably very few with a colder heart than I as it regards the Taliban, Isis, Al Qaeda and terrorists in general; however, I’m not that far gone to not recognize the huge giving hearts that most in the medical profession have. I’m thankful for this and revel in the amazing fallout that God’s gift of free will to mankind has created.


  3. As a volunteer physician in Vietnam, treating locals, we assumed that at least 20% of our patients were Viet Cong. During the Tet offensive, several North Vietnamese prisoners were brought in. We were forbidden to treat them, but we went to the province chief (like a state governor in the U.S), who gave us permission to treat them.


  4. i think that if i actually had to live in a place like that and i was a doctor of any kind, or teacher, or counselor, I would treat anyone who asked. We can not expect any other person to open their mind or heart if we don’t first do the same.


  5. Art,
    You come up with the most interesting blog questions.
    In general, I believe that health care professionals, whether they be shrinks, surgeons, family doctors, nurses, etc. go into health care because they have compassion for others. Granted, some do it for the money, but I think that most who take the Hippocratic Oath do it in sincere motivation to provide the best care they can to anybody.

    In regard to the Taliban and ISIS, showing compassion might not change their opinions toward the Western world, but it is what WE do to differentiate ourselves as we are not barbarians. My father was an M.D. in the Army Air Corps during WWII and although he boycotted German and Japanese products through the 1950’s, I don’t think he would have hesitated to treat an enemy in need during the war.

    What would you do if instead of being a psychiatrist, your were an ER surgeon and a convicted gang member and murderer was brought in with severe gunshot wounds? I have no doubts that you would let the gang membership or conviction enter your mind as you had a patient in your lap needing immediate medical care and you would do the best you could to treat the patient. Let the legal system decide the ultimate fate later.

    To summarize, although we might despise a person who has vowed to kill us or our family, if that person requires healthcare, we should provide it. Just keep the eyes in the back of your head open and be careful when you turn your back to the person as he/she might not know the appropriate way to say thank you.



  6. These ISIS fighters, in fact the whole group of people there who somehow believe that the way to salvation is to kill people (especially Jews) are impossible for us to ever truly understand. I certainly would not live in their country, but if I were a surgeon in wartime and a prisoner was brought to my OR, I would certainly treat him to the best of my ability, as many of my colleagues did in Vietnam. I was fortunate in that war to have served my time in the Public Health Service, but in a similar way, we saw the gangs and crud of the streets in the ER throughout my training and didn’t hesitate to treat them. One could argue that this was good educational value, but I continued to adhere to that philosophy even after training. Now if only there was some way to convince these people that if they weren’t constantly at war with the Jews, their own people and women, their economy would improve; they would be considered human by the rest of the world and I have a feeling even Allah might approve.


  7. First of all as a Westerner, we cannot always assess these questions in the same context that the psychiatrist from the Middle East would think. We cannot always separate ourselves from our personal likes and dislikes in which case there would be few who could be successful in treating those whose ideology is so rampantly foreign to our way of thinking.


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