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.