Global Humanities – Finding New Narratives


Conflict, Culture, and the Clinic: Finding new narratives

Ayesha Ahmad


In a recent publication “Syria Speaks”, the book volume is a collection of various forms of narrative that have been born in conflict. In reflection, there is a line that says: “War ignites people’s anger, and acts against culture, which is the work of the mind and the imagination”.

I find this interesting because culture becomes a force, a current of an ocean that is our imagination—our creativity, whereas war personifies all ways of life ending—killing, being killed, dying, and seeing others die.

Conflict is not culture. Rather, conflict unearths the skeleton of our human condition at the same time as burying the flesh from the bodies that are returned to the ground.

The ground, or land, is the bedrock of a conflict. The soil is separated and territories are disputed. The fragmentation of the land is a replica of the falling down of humanity. Pieces of the land are fenced away, boundaries that keep people apart from their footsteps.

I recall a passage in a story of four seasons in an Afghan village, recounting the lives of women weaving carpets; their hands moving in ways their grandmothers patterned the stories of their lives into colors and shapes.

The book, The World is a Carpet by Anna Badkhen, features a character called Amanullah. I was captured by the description of Amanullah walking “the trail by heart, steering from a memory that wasn’t even his own but had double-helixed down the bloodstream of generations of men who had travelled this footpath for millennia. A memory that was the very essence of peregrination, a flawless distillation of our ancestral restlessness”.

Our lives mirror our memories, and we carry our cultures; sometimes as treasures and sometimes as burdens.

I wonder about medicine. I wonder about a horizon where those walking from ancient paths like Amanullah entered new landscapes. I wonder about the doctor who encounters the Amanullah’s reaching Europe as refugees; what is the body when the body is without land?

If culture is our embodiment of the soil of our cradle, then medicine must confront culture in the clinical setting, as a form of sight, of hearing, of tasting, of feeling and of expression.

Our “travelling cultures” (Ahmad, 2014) must not be forgotten. In the examination of the toll of such journeys, medicine is challenged with new boundaries of healing and of humanity.

The question that emerges and I leave open for thought is “can doctors find a new narrative for culture in the clinic that inherently holds hope for the suffering?”



Ahmad, A. (2014), Do Motives Matter in Male Circumcision? ‘Conscientious Objection’ Against the Circumcision of a Muslim Child with a Blood Disorder. Bioethics, 28: 67–75.

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