Nancy Hartevelt Kobrin is a psychoanalyst who becomes a counter terrorist expert delving into the mind and body language of the jihadi is a rarity. This is what I do – one of the deepest dives to date, to the best of my knowledge, into the mind of the jihadi. Having taught military and police, I realized that they do not have the opportunity to study early childhood development which is critical in order to understand why jihadis do the violent things that they do. They have a rage that exceeds murder itself. They annihilate the other and produce body parts as in serial killing. They are the tip of the spear.
Nancy Kobrin developed a theory of imagery to explain the unconscious meaning of the Islamic suicide attack demonstrating that it embraces a death fusion, i.e. concretely fusing together in death. It is the opposite of the life fusion, the maternal symbiosis: think of either the image of a pregnant woman and/or Madonna and child.
Nancy’s “deep dive dictionary” reveals their special disturbed nonverbal language in which the jihadis communicate. She spent eight years creating The Jihadi Dictionary: The Essential Tool for Military, Law Enforcement, Government and the Concerned Public. The dictionary received an outstanding review in German in the prestigious journal Psyche. Until now this dictionary has been translated into French by Joëlle Perelberg-Houriez and is being translated into Spanish by La Universidad de Granada.
About the dictionary, Nancy Kobrin says, “The dictionary builds out a subfield within counter terrorism studies about childhood development. Fear is not terror. Terror is deep, early and nonverbal. The jihadis speak in a “maternal” pantomime about their own terrors. They don’t feel their terrors. They become the terror. They project it into us. Just press the mute button on the big screen. Ask yourself what are the jihadis really saying?”
Recently, Nancy Hartevelt Kobrin accorded an exclusive interview to internationally acclaimed multi-award-winning anti-militancy journalist and editor of BLiTZ, Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury. Here are the excerpts:
Shoaib: Thank you Nancy, for agreeing to this interview. Please tell us more about ‘The Jihadi Dictionary’ and how and why you first decided of this project.
Nancy Hartevelt Kobrin (Nancy): Thank you so much Shoaib for taking interest in my work and inviting me to participate in this interview. I look forward to reaching out to many people in order to explain the mind and body language of the jihadis which arises out of their early childhood experience in a shame honor culture. It has been stamped by huge unmet emotional and psychological needs. A jihadi can come from a wealthy family like OBL and still have experiences unmet psychological needs that prove to be detrimental. It gives rise to unbelievable murderous rage and a lack of emotional intelligence. This also applies to the converts who radicalize.
A key factor is “shaming” and being raised in a shame honor culture or in the case of the radicalized converts, shame honor families. I will return to that in a moment.
However, I would like to note at the outset that before I became a psychoanalysis, I did my first doctorate in Islamic literature, Ahadith of 16th c. Spain written in aljamía i.e. Old Spanish in Arabic script. I studied the Muslim forced converts to Catholicism, the Moriscos. I have always been involved in convivencia, the co-existence of the three Abrahamic faiths. This is important because I have studied Muslim cultures intensively. After completing my doctorate only then did I undertake training to become a psychoanalyst at the Chicago Institute for Psychoanalysis. I had a clinical practice and taught psychiatry residents as an expert concerning PTSD. In Minneapolis I did prison interviews then I became a military contractor so I have a unique skill including the study of a series of languages. Only then did I begin to shift my focus to the very special language — the nonverbal communication of the jihadis.
After 9/11, I was asked by the US military as to what is the connection between the abused devalued female in Arab Muslim culture and the suicide attack? They sensed that there must be some connection. I developed a theory of imagery in order to explain the relationship. You can see the problem if you look closely at the imagery. In Arab Muslim culture there is an unconscious taboo to separate from the mother. She is writ larger than life which is a psychological defense against how devalued the female is. This emotional experience for the infant is communicated through a suffocating kind of bond where the male is emasculated. Those women who become female suicide bombers try to “out French the French” as an overcompensation for their social inferiority and the abuse they have experienced chronically growing up from the moment they are born. The mother experiences honor for the first time only by giving birth to a male.
Why did I compose the dictionary? I taught military and police. I did this internationally. I began to realize that they don’t have the opportunity to study early childhood development which forms the personality. About 94% of communication is nonverbal. I wanted to explain to them how jihadis communicate nonverbally by the misuse objects like planting bombs in toys and what that reveals about their very disturbed childhoods.
The prologue to violence is early childhood. Happy, well-adjusted children do not become jihadis. It begins in the family. None of this is rocket science but the problem is that it is unconsciously so terrifying that people and the experts turn a blind eye. This signals that they are uncomfortable with their own aggression and rage.
I imported the idea of play therapy to the jihadis. In play therapy a child can’t express his emotions through language in a nonviolent way. Play therapy details with a child’s aggression. It was difficult at first to figure out how to write the dictionary. I started by simply developing a list of objects and it went on and on for several years. Then I finally figured out how to format and present the material – to take a regular psychological definition and then translate it into how it presents in the mind of the jihadi This is from the introduction of my dictionary:
I give a four-pronged entry for each concept that includes the basic definition, the etymology, the psychological definition, and information on how the entry relates to jihadi thought and behavior.
The basic dictionary definition is not meant to be comprehensive but to give the reader an idea relevant to the entry.
The brief etymology gives the origin and history of the word under investigation, which I hope will help the reader better understand the meaning of the psychological concepts in this dictionary.
The etymology entry is represented by the root symbol √ expressing the essence of the root of the word.
The psychological definition is represented by the Greek letter psi Ψ.
These three entries (the basic + etymological + the psychological) flow into the jihadi definition, represented by the symbol [of crossed swords], in which I attempt to suggest how the jihadis express themselves in light of their primitive mental states, the defenses that they deploy, and their misuse of objects.
Shoaib: As you say, “The prologue to violence is early childhood. I make explainable the violent nonverbal language of the jihadis which I call Jihadese. It reveals a rage that exceeds murder itself, as if it were serial killing. Jihadese holds the key to political terrorism. Jihadese shows that the rage is not of this time, not of this place. A deep dive into their psyche reveals this”, we have seen you use a different terminology ‘jehadese’ instead of jihadists. Would you please explain why it is jehadese.
Nancy: Jihadese is not a replacement for the term jihadist or jihadi rather Jihadese is the moniker for this special non-verbal language in which the jihadis speak to us. They, themselves, are clueless about what they reveal concerning their infantile unconscious behavior. I coined the term Jihadese from the preexisting term Motherese – the language that the mother speaks to the baby. Why? Because the problem for the jihadis is very early developmentally. There is a problem in maternal bonding, also called maternal attachment. The key is the way in which they bond to people and they bond to us violently. They lack emotional intelligence. From my dictionary:
“Like Desperanto, Jihadese is a nonverbal means of communication, marked by violence and acts of terror, and based on the Jihadis fear of the self and other.”
Shoaib: You say, “the prologue to violence is early childhood”, and “jihadese holds the key to political terrorism”. Can you please elaborate this for our readers?
Nancy: In the dictionary I wrote the following:
“Jihadese” uses a parallel form of communication, using body language accompanied by a graphic enactment of violence at the crime scene. It is as if jihadis are in play therapy and transparently revealing what they are trying to communicate to us about their early life experience, their terrors and trauma, in addition to the obvious conscious tactical and strategic choices they make. Their body language is an unconscious communication of their emotional instability, which, as hard as they might try, the jihadis cannot manipulate and control. As Freud said: “He that has eyes to see and ears to hear may convince himself that no mortal can keep a secret. If his lips are silent, he chatters with his fingertips; betrayal oozes out of him at every pore.”
We learn how to bond to other people through our maternal experience (or primary care giver) because it is the first bonding experience in life. Bonding is how they attach to others. They literally throw themselves at us and die taking us out in a death fusion. This is murder-suicide the shared template with domestic violence. It is well know that the first law encounter with the police for jihadis often concerns domestic violence. The jihadis bond violently to us in a very concrete way. Jihadese is their unconscious language of attack. They have never learned to trust. They feel persecuted and project that feeling externalizing it outward in the manner of attacking. Here is the unconscious intergenerational transmission of trauma from the abused devalued female to the infant – the trauma is offloaded on to the infant. Their violent acting out way is their way to purge themselves of their toxic feelings i.e. cleansing their shameful feelings.
Honor is us a cover-up for their fragile shamed being. They feel contaminated by shame and thus they must blame the Other. They cannot tolerate difference. It is too threatening to their sense of self because they are not individuated from their mothers. Recall as I mentioned above that there is an unconscious taboo to separate from the mother – the bond is inseverable. This inhibits them from developing a very important cognitive function for self-awareness and critical thinking as they remain glued to the “maternal” tree -they cannot see the forest from the tree. They have not been encouraged to separate as the group self is more important than an individual sense of self. Hence, they never develop the cognitive capacity to turn the corner and look at themselves and contemplate why they are so enraged. Their rage is not of this time and not of this place. Jihadese is invaluable because it decodes the unconscious meaning of their behavior and their herd mentality.
Shoaib: In one of your articles titled ‘Nobody born a terrorist’, you wrote: “There are many factors that can impede the development of real empathy in young people—genetic disorders, early disruptions in the child-mother bonding, trauma during stages of separation, environment issues, including pervasive shaming, brain development, epigenetics, etc”.
As we know, while thousands of Palestinian girls fall victims of incest, being raped by their fathers and brothers, Palestinian boys are also falling victims of pedophilia. In most cases, victims of such sexual violence resort of destructive acts, including acts of self-destruction. Do you think, a significant portion of these victims are joining suicide squads?
Nancy: Allow me to put the question the other way around, do I think that early traumatic experiences concerning sexual abuse could be fueling the flames of suicide bombings and could they drive someone to be hooked into a terrorist organization and groomed to be suicide bombers? Absolutely. To the best of my knowledge there exist no statistics on this important manner. This is because the terrain of early childhood experiences of jihadis is poorly explored. Most researchers are not trained in this matter, especially concern the unconscious. This leads me to point out that neuroscientists assert that 95% of thinking is unconscious. Most researchers are only aware of the tip of the iceberg. That is why Artificial Intelligence is playing such an important role because it delves into this area. However, I have written elsewhere that AI will only be as good as the person who develops the program and has an understanding of the unconscious which is uniquely the terrain of psychoanalysis.
The elephant in the room is early childhood development. Jihadis never learned to have boundaries because they remained in a symbiosis with their mother in the attachment. The mother cling to them because they are allegedly her source of power i.e. “honor.”
Shoaib: In your opinion, why is the Islamist death cult is so appealing?
Nancy: I wrote an essay arguing that it is the sadomasochism of the Jihadi death cult which is the draw. Jihadi death cults are hyper shame honor entities arising out of shame honor cultures. In shame honor cultures one must willfully spill blood in order to cleanse honor. You don’t use soap and water. The cultural idea of cleansing honor is delusional. The role of shame is completely misunderstood and minimized to the degree to which shaming which takes place in these cultures completely destroys the healthy vitality of the child. The son of Hamas once said that the greatest enemy is shame. Chronic shaming can be thought of as soul murder of a little child.
There is a kind of perversity that gets mobilized and even we are drawn into the melodrama of the suicide bomber we have our own issues with power, control, aggression, perversion etc. all which facilitate an identification with the aggressor à la Stockholm Syndrome. That is why this kind of violence which starts in the home is never discussed. I call suicide bombing political domestic violence in Ibrahim’s family as it is murder-suicide routinely encountered in domestic violence. When I first began my work, I was censored and even made fun of, which meant to me that I was on the right path.
You cannot expect a devalued chronically abused little female to grow up and become a mother at all too young an age and be able to calmly bond to her baby. I do not say this to blame the mother but to reveal the complicated nature of early childhood bonding with the mother which sets the template for all other bonding — social bonding later in life.
Shoaib: In one of my articles, I have stated, there is really no existence of anything named Palestinian territory. Instead, Quran clearly says, Israel is the blessed land gifted by God to the children of Israel (Isaac) – meaning Jews. Nowhere in the Quran, there is anything stating, the blessed land – Israel was for the children of Ishmael. Meaning, for any Muslim, demanding anything named Palestine within the land of Israel is direct violation of Quran and can also be deemed as blasphemy.
The Quran in 5:20-21 verse says that Allah gave Holy Land (Israel) to the Jews.
The Quran did not talk about future land for Palestinian. The Quran was written in two sections, one in Mecca and the other was in Medina.
And King David built the city of Jerusalem and he made it to be the capital of Israel.
Actually, the Quran mentions quite unequivocally that Allah gave the Jews their land as a promised inheritance i.e. the land of Israel. This is a very disquieting fact which Muslims will never address because all the anti-Israel propaganda is that the Jews are interpolators or “colonialists” who have invaded and stolen the land of the “Palestinians”.
The Bani Isra’il (Children of Israel, a term connoting the Jewish people) are mentioned 20 times in the Quran. In other words, in every instance in the Quran in which the word “Israel” occurs, it is in only in this specific context, proving that Islam deems Israel the indigenous territory of the Jewish people—their rightful inheritance and property, sacrosanct.
Palestine is not mentioned in the Quran, because the term “Palestine” is a construct of the Romans to humiliate the vanquished Jews, whose land, the renamed Land of Israel, they stole.
What is your opinion about my observation?
Nancy: Your analysis is completely correct and honest. For this I applaud you. Those who hate Israel and Jews keep trying to change the narrative because they cannot tolerate the existence of Israel as it is a reminder that their revelation came later and that the Quran is according to them “to seal” or end all other revelations. So, we can see a conflict in establishing the Quran as super-ceding the Torah, i.e. the Giving of the Law at Sinai as well as the Christian Gospels which also reopened revelation but then was again super-ceded from an Islamic point of view. My doctorate deals with Ahadith Musa. Why? Because Moses is the law giver and the giving of the Law at Sinai makes divine will manifest in human discourse. That is why there is this competition as to whose narrative is the authentic one. Judaism is an autonomous self-standing religion which does not have any other of the two Abrahamic faiths roots. Christianity has Judaic roots as does Islam. This means that their religious identity is more complicated to negotiate with regard to “origin.” It is part of the unspoken politically incorrect problem.
Shoaib: A large number of Arab nations have normalized relations with the State of Israel, and there are indications of Saudi Arabia too following the path. But unfortunately, non-Arab Muslim nations, such as Pakistan, Malaysia and even Bangladesh are yet to take any initiative to normalizing relations with Israel. In your opinion, what stops these non-Arab Muslim nations from normalizing relations with Israel?
Nancy: They all use the case of Palestine as an excuse not to normalize, even though they have never fought a war though in the case of Pakistan some pilots fought in the Six Day War, if my memory serves me correctly.
It seems to me that the Palestinian conflict needs to exist for them in order to externalize and project all their problems on to Israel rather than deal with their own problems at home. It is a poor ineffective strategy for maintaining control over its respective populations.
There is an image which keeps coming back to me in my mind concerning Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. They are like two 8-year-old pre-pubescent boys elbowing each other standing on the edge of a pool as if who will jump in first — into the pool of normalization of relations with Israel. To some degree again this has to do with “saving face” i.e. deflecting humiliation and dealing with their own shameful feelings of inadequacy and as if normalization is a defeat, a breach of trust with the group herd rather than understanding that normalization is the sine qua non of maturity, hope, stability and peace for their own people, in short a victory.
No less importantly is the fact that these countries have failed their own people in that they have not prepared their civic society for peace. They trade in fear mongering which works well for a shame honor culture but leaves the people impoverished financially and psychologically.
Shoaib: Since 2003, BLiTZ, a newspaper that boldly confronts radical Islam and jihad; denounces anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial; defends the State of Israel; and promotes interfaith harmony has been publishing from Bangladesh. Despite the fact that there are many Israeli and pro-Jewish publications in Israel and the Western nations, in your opinion, how much important is the existence of a newspaper like BLiTZ?
Nancy: The Weekly Blitz is extremely important because it dares to speak the truth. There is too much PC found in most of journalism nowadays because so little is understood about the unconscious psychodynamics of hatred and blood-shed. The reason being that it is all too terrifying. Ironically, PC signals that there is tremendous terror and an identification with the aggressor. Bin Laden did get it right – he knew people liked the strong horse. No one wants to be the victim. However, if you don’t seek the truth, you are by definition the victim because you live in denial.
I have been working on normalization of relations with Pakistan people to people since August 2020 and have found it most challenging and interesting. The Pakistani people simply do not know Israelis or Jews for that matter. They have been fed a steady diet of misinformation. Very few know about the Holocaust, for example.
Shoaib: Some top Israeli officials say, while they are fully aware of the contributions of BLiTZ and that of mine towards normalizing relations between Israel and the Muslim nations, they do not want to recognize such contributions openly. In your opinion, what stops them from recognizing our contributions and my ordeals of serving 7-years rigorous imprisonment simply for the crime of demanding relations between Bangladesh and Israel?
Nancy: First, I would like to extend to you my heartfelt empathy for having endured 7 years in prison. Your experience calls to mind that of Natan Sharansky. No one who speaks the truth should ever have to pay such a high price.
Second, I want to confirm what you are saying that “they do not want to recognize such contributions openly.” I too have experienced this. I was told by a leading Israeli counter terrorist expert a decade before I made Aliyah, that one can never criticize Islam. I was initially taken a back but then realized that this was something that he had been taught and he also had never learned Arabic. I then realized too that not to be able to criticize infantilizes the Other. It really does a disservice to Muslims and Islam if one can’t speak openly about that which is problematic. The same holds for criticizing Judaism, Jews and Christianity and Christians. The root of all of this unwillingness masks their own deep-seated terrors. This is not to say that one still can’t be diplomatic. It is important to use both a carrot and a stick. You can’t just do a frontal attack. It won’t work because the group self is too brittle due to terror. Political Correctness reveals that there is a recalcitrant identification with the aggressor – those who are fearful can’t own their own aggression and contain their rage. It is a kind of sadomasochism that I have noted above with the jihadis.
I want to end on an optimistic note. I always stress that the one thing jihadis want is to destroy hope. Never giving into their infantile bloody vicious malicious melodrama is an antidote and part of a solution to this huge problem. It will take generations but I believe we will get through it and one day Saudi Arabia and even Pakistan will normalize with Israel and maybe even Iran too – everything in its own time. InshaAllah!