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Mental Health in the War on Terror: Culture, Science, and Statecraft
Aggarwal, Neil Krishan
Columbia University Press / Hardcover / 2015-01-01 / 0231166648
Terrorism / Transcultural / Multicultural Issues
price: $52.00 (may be subject to change)
232 pages
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Neil Aggarwal’s timely study finds that mental-health and biomedical professionals have created new forms of knowledge and practice in their desire to understand and fight terrorism, and in the process, psychiatrists and psychologists have either worked uncritically to protect state interests or labored to protect undesirable populations from state control.

Professional interpretation, like all interpretations, is subject to cultural forces. Drawing on cultural psychiatry and medical anthropology, Aggarwal analyzes the transformation of definitions for normal and abnormal behavior in a vast array of sources: government documents, professional bioethical debates, legal motions and opinions, psychiatric and psychological scholarship, media publications, and policy briefs. Critical themes emerge on the use of mental health in awarding or denying disability to returning veterans, characterizing the confinement of Guantánamo detainees, contextualizing the actions of suicide bombers, portraying Muslim and Arab populations in psychiatric and psychological scholarship, illustrating bioethical issues in the treatment of detainess, and supplying the methods employed to deradicalize terrorists. Throughout, Aggarwal explores the fascinating, troublesome transformation of mental-health practice into a potential instrument of counterterrorism.


"Very few people are able to synthesize the disciplines of anthropology, mental health, cultural studies, political theory, religious studies, bioethics and forensics as Aggarwal does in this book. He offers a balanced and insightful account of the challenges of forensic psychiatry in assessing and managing terrorism suspects." — Hamada Hamid, Yale University

"The war on terror has significantly transformed every area of American life including medicine and especially mental health care. Using concrete clinical cases to anchor sophisticated and thought provoking analysis, Dr. Aggarwal demonstrates that not only ethics but the very nature of clinical knowledge and practice are at issue in the use, and especially misuse, of

mental health categories in the war on terror. Brings a new level of critical self-reflection to the psychology of terrorism." — James W. Jones, author of Blood That Cries Out from the Earth: The Psychology of Religious Terrorism

"An indispensible and astute account of the insidious cultural manifestations emerging from the justifying framework that is the War on Terror. An essential read." — Orla Lynch, Lecturer in Terrorism and Political Violence, Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence, University of St Andrews

"Cultural psychiatrist Neil Aggarwal has written a theoretically sophisticated, multi-sided exploration of how the War on Terror and mental health are powerfully connected through the “culture” of psychiatry, psychoanalysis, hospitals, courts, the military, and Islam. His argument is that science, religion, and moral experience are not just infiltrated with cultural meanings, but come to create new cultural forms such as “trauma,” forensic processes, and “terrorism,” which in turn remake the world. An important achievement." — Arthur Kleinman, Harvard University

"This book offers a clear and impassioned discussion of the presence of psychiatrists and mental health knowledge practices in the micro-functioning of the “War on Terror” (WoT) and the impact of each on the other. It is a compelling portrayal of the – perhaps unique – way that medicine and its scientific languages and knowledge structures are able to move through and across political domains, being put to use to challenge and undo the very power structures of which they are also put into service. The text is engaging, rigorous, and beautifully written." — Sarah Pinto, Tufts University

"Radicalisation is a complex behaviour that is not well understood, and none of us can be complacent in preventive efforts. In this impressive and provocative volume, Dr Aggarwal reveals many hidden failings of dominant social and political thought on radicalisation and terrorism. Bioethics, arabic science, symptoms in Guantanamo detainees, are all debated to present an alternative rounded, and compelling approach that includes medicine and cultural psychiatry as essential actors." — Kamaldeep Bhui, Queen Mary University of London




1. Mental Health, Culture, and Power in the War on Terror

2. Bioethics and the Conduct of Mental Health Professionals in the War on Terror

3. The Meanings of Symptoms and Services for Guantánamo Detainees

4. Depictions of Arabs and Muslims in Psychodynamic Scholarship

5. Depictions of Suicide Bombers in the Mental Health Scholarship

6. Knowledge and Practice in War on Terror Deradicalization Programs





About the Author

Neil Aggarwal is a psychiatrist at Columbia University and the New York State Psychiatric Institute. His areas of research interest are cultural psychiatry, cultural competence training, and psychiatric anthropology. He is especially interested in conceptions of health and illness among South Asian and Middle Eastern populations.

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