“Then said Achish unto his servants, Lo, ye see the man is mad: wherefore then have ye brought him to me? Have I need of mad men, that ye have brought this fellow to play the mad man in my presence? shall this fellow come into my house?” — 1 Samual 21:14-15
“The whole religious complexion of the modern world is due to the absence from Jerusalem of a lunatic asylum.” — Henry Havelock Ellis
Towards the year 2000, the whole world was busy preparing for the “Year 2000 problem” that arose from the way dates were stored in computer programs. In preparation for the 2000 celebrations, the residents of the holy city of Jerusalem were also busy with the phenomenon known as the “Jerusalem Syndrome”: Education – mostly Christian – convinced some believers around the world that the city gives them messianic powers, hence, strange warnings appeared on the police radar about “exploding Christians” who intended to arrive at the region.
The Christian tourists, to whom the locals have been selling supposedly-original fragments of the cross of Jesus for years, are far from being the only ones exhibiting disturbing mental phenomena in the Middle East. Have you seen the movie ‘Fight Club’? If you did, you probably remember the scene of Ed Norton beating himself badly. Yet every year, millions of devout Shiite Muslims do just that, as part of the “Ashura” celebrations, especially in Iran and Lebanon. Chains, knives, and sticks are often used in today’s ritual and lots of blood is to be seen. The whole scene looks like it’s taken from a Hollywood movie full of ketchup.
And while Orthodox Jews in Jerusalem spit in the direction of crosses and make sure not to tear toilet paper on the Shabbat, Palestinians in Gaza throw homosexuals off rooftops. The mere mention of the word “pig” can ignite a fire in both communities. The religious Druze males in the area claim that a man will give birth to the Messiah, so they wear baggy trousers, just in case, you know.
So what is wrong with this Middle East, which insists on fostering such views and actions, while the modern world has somehow managed to get rid of them? The answer is not clear, but given the increasing global integration, we can bet that the spirit of the Middle East will not be lost from the Western world anytime soon.