Please take a moment to read carefully the following paragraph:
“The so-called ‘psychotically depressed’ person who tries to kill herself doesn’t do so out of quote ‘hopelessness’ or any abstract conviction that life’s assets and debits do not square. And surely not because death seems suddenly appealing. The person in whom Its invisible agony reaches a certain unendurable level will kill herself the same way a trapped person will eventually jump from the window of a burning high-rise. Make no mistake about people who leap from burning windows. Their terror of falling from a great height is still just as great as it would be for you or me standing speculatively at the same window just checking out the view; i.e. the fear of falling remains a constant. The variable here is the other terror, the fire’s flames: when the flames get close enough, falling to death becomes the slightly less terrible of two terrors. It’s not desiring the fall; it’s terror of the flame yet nobody down on the sidewalk, looking up and yelling ‘Don‘t!’ and ‘Hang on!’, can understand the jump. Not really. You’d have to have personally been trapped and felt flames to really understand a terror way beyond falling.” David Foster Wallace.
I always found this paragraph to be the most accurate description of depressive and suicidal thoughts that I have ever read. The quote was taken from Infinite Jest, the Magnum Opus of one of my favorite writers, David Foster Wallace, a man who battled Churchill’s and Nick Drake‘s black eyed dog -depression to those unfamiliar with the metaphor- for over 20 years. On September 12th of 2008, Wallace hanged himself on the patio of his house leaving behind a wife and a remarkable career. I identify with the man greatly, I do. So when I was reading an article today on his soon to be published story, I couldnt help but cast what he said on the recent wave of self-immolations in the Arab world. Most notably, the case of Fadoua Laroui.
A single mother of two, Fadoua set herself ablaze when she was denied access to a government social housing program simply for being a single mother. Fadoua and her family were left homeless after the government destroyed their make-shift shantytown in an effort to eradicate slums from Moroccan (big) cities. Her complains were dismissed as quickly as the fire ravaged her young body, and according to her brother, ”She was angry after finding out that choice land near her father’s plot would go directly to businessmen with connections, even though it was supposed to be reserved for the poor”.
Moroccans are wondering, why? After all, she isn’t the only poor and homeless shantytown woman in the country. The status of single mothers , highly stigmatized, still leaves a lot to be desired. Although the status-quo apologists will respond by claiming that the Moudawana, Morocco’s latest family code, already grants women “too many” rights. Didnt she fear Allah? Some said while regurgitating a Hadith or two condemning suicide victims to hell. But the thing is, those standing still on the sidewalk wondering in their confusion and watching Fadoua as her flesh burns will never understand why she ignited the match, for they have never felt the real flames she felt, way before she doused herself in Gas.
Fadoua gazed into the abyss, and it was frightening. As she pondered upon the excruciating pain and her “after-life” punishment, she realized that living in utter despair was going to be much more painful. Ergo, what Wallace describes as creeping fire flames, for Fadoua, it was watching her children being ripped off of what might be their only chance to a dignified life. These feelings of impending doom, helplessness and , for lack of a better word, L’Hogra (Algerian term describing government’s contempt towards the wretched) when coupled with some devastating depression-induced cognitive distortions can produce a condition even more inflammable than gasoline.
While Fadoua decided to end her pain by taking the leap, other Bouazizis are diluting the overly grim reality by resorting to the ever-alluring escapism. Now, I am in a no position to judge anyone who prefers the company of anti-depressants, hallucinogens or a bottle of cheap wine to numb the pain. Lord knows I need it sometimes. What I despise however is our alarming indifference to other Moroccans’ plight or even worse, some pathetic attempts to trivialize those unfortunate and inhumane conditions. Maybe this apathy is yet another escapist defense mechanism, who knows.
The nepotism that cost Fadoua’s children their future house runs from Fadoua’s prefecture to the royal cabinet. To make matters even worse, Moroccans’ tax money is spent on palaces maintenance, unnecessarily expensive and useless projects or on yet another dysfunctional council run by the same old saggy faces. Meanwhile, our media is shoving its “Moroccan Exception” image down everybody’s throat while silencing the critics now that international media is looking the other way.
Moments before she set herself on fire, Fadoua screamed “They stole my house. They stole my house!” as the sidewalk crowd watched, amused by the show. What disturbs me the most about self-immolations is the idea that deep inside, the victims wish for someone to help them out once their voices have been heard. And you know there’s something wrong with the country when Fadoua’s only option to express herself was by self-immolation after her complains were hurryingly dismissed time after time.
On February 23, two days later, Fadwa died in a Casablanca hospital. Not even the sidewalk crowd nor the government intervened to help, but as Wallace puts it “You’d have to have personally been trapped and felt flames to really understand a terror way beyond falling.”