The Real in the Real

Dilan Qadir

Dilan Qadir

I have been close to death many times. At age four, immediately after Gulf War I walked hundreds of miles with my family crossing the border from Kurdistan to Iran in an exodus; fearing that Iraqi regime would bombard Kurdistan Region in crazy retaliation to the Allied attacks; I got an unexplainable internal rheumatism that makes me roll my legs in my sleep to this day. I was eight when the civil war broke out in Kurdistan Region, northern Iraq in the mid of 1990s. One day, I was returning to my hometown with my mom and, as the bus was entering the town, the opposing forces were driving out the fighters that were controlling the town at that moment, sending bullets after them; we weren’t hit, bullets know the enemies as the saying goes.

When I was twenty-three, two years ago, I was part of a demonstration against political corruption in Kurdistan. Some demonstrators started throwing stones at a political party’s office that was running the government, and the guards responded by shooting the crowd: bullets for stones. I was right in front of the building on the other side of the street, when the AK47s started shooting, everyone panicked and ran. I was running against a crowd in front of me, and thanks to my long legs, I could jump over those who were trampled down. As I was stepping over a man, he firmly caught the pocket of my coat, I ran so forcibly from the rain of bullets that my pocket tore off in his grasp. I was holding a closed umbrella all the while, and by the time I reached a corner I noticed that the umbrella I was holding was broken in the middle, maybe I used it as a standing-straight stick and its end might have poked on those I jumped over. A few minutes after the bullets waned, I saw two men carrying a boy away from the scene, blood dripping from his body; half of his head was missing.

The last closeness happened when I was in Boston. In April 2013 two bombs went off during the Boston Marathon, killing three and injuring over a hundred of people near the finish line of the marathon. It was a holiday, no school, but for some reason I was attending a class in my professor’s home. If it wasn’t for that class I would have certainly made my way to the marathon, I would have occupied a place near the finishing line, watching the runners mixing tiredness with excitement, and I would have been drinking beer in cola bottles, cheering. I don’t know how I might have reacted to the explosions, if I wasn’t among the injured, I would have run, to nowhere particular, then maybe returned to check on and help the wounded. I’m imagining all this, though. I was in my professor’s home watching the news coverage with some other students.

When I left the apartment in late afternoon, I saw a boy and a girl, walking in front of me, squeezing hands, smiling and flirting. On the other side of the street some people were playing soccer in a field, shouting now and then. When I reached the subway, a drunkard was sleeping and snoring on a bench. All the while, I wasn’t able to process my thoughts. I knew something terrible had happened, it reminded me of my childhood in Kurdistan. I felt sympathetic for the injured, and their families. I knew the trauma public terror could cause. I knew, and so I understood, I understood, and so I felt. It was a break from the normal, and it was real in a Lacanian way.

In Lacanian psychoanalysis, such events are called “the Real.” The Real is a rupture in the ordinary, everyday life. It is the moment and instance in which a shock, a trauma, enters tangible reality. Such sudden breaks are called “the Real,” because they reveal aspects about the mundane life people routinely experience almost everyday, in a new light they show facts that are shockingly true. What were the facts in this case? Whatever the specifics might be, the timing of the explosives shows how deliberate and planned the incident was. One of my friends called me from home and affirmed that Al-Qaida was behind the attacks, there were rumors in the social media that it was a conspiracy by the American government tied to the huge public debate on weapon restrictions occurring at the time; another friend linked the explosions with the North-Korean threats. Whatever the real reasons, it was sure it wasn’t random.

When I got back to my apartment, thinking about the possibility that I could have been among the injured caused me a terrible headache, I tuned the radio and the online news to updates. All the while, my roommate was in the living room watching a sitcom or a movie and eating popcorn. I couldn’t bring myself to eat until 10 pm.

I started speculating about the causes behind the attack. I had to be wary of unfounded judgments. I gave up. The case needed time to be solved. Meanwhile, the attention of the media, the people, and the law enforcement seemed to shift toward finding those responsible for the bombing. I wondered what would happen after they found the perpetrator(s). Would a “just trial,” be the satisfactory response? Would people delve deeper to address the real reasons that had led the perpetrator(s) to commit such an act? I knew that there are causes and symptoms for every illness, and that it is treating the causes that heal the illness.

The Boston bombings happened in a time in which I was an international student in the city. People were interested to know my perspectives as someone who grew up in an environment that was familiar to similar violence. I wanted to tell them two things. I wanted my American friends to wake up from their comfort zone and be aware of the level of gun and family violence in America that result in individual and mass murders every now and then, and to open their eyes to gain a better understanding of violence in other parts of the world. Nevertheless, the terror of terrorism is worse in that the targets are all of us, and that’s why we all feel repulsion after an attack. But we also grow, or show, because I believe it is already there, a feeling of solidarity. That if I were in any part of the world I’ll have these two responses after a terrorist attack, which I think are the appropriate responses in uniting affected people and bolstering their recovery from a shock. I also wanted to tell them that growing up near death never normalizes death and violence. Every gunfire and bomb explosion stirs in me an itching feeling that someone is hurt. We should keep in mind that even if seeing violence on a daily basis may cause the development of a coping mechanism in those who are not directly affected, the trauma and tragedy would be ever present in the lives of the victims, and it is the endangered people that we must think about in every violent situation, instead of measuring the influence of violence by calculating our distance from it.

Dilan spends most of his time thinking about what to write (he is just too picky). When he occasionally writes, he enjoys it to the fullest. He is from nowhere in particular, although food binds him to the middle-east, and he thinks he has ‘dislocation complex’ a term he invented and cannot even explain it to himself. The lucky guy studies MFA at Emerson College, where he thinks it is his home as of now.

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