The Battle of Fear: Politics vs. Terrorism

When Paris happened, I said it won’t be different. What I meant was, that the reactions to it will be the same as after every other major terrorist attack. On the one hand, I was wrong, because I was surprised by many people bemoaning the same reactions and criticizing our ignorant view on these events, which makes me hopeful. On the other hands, seeing how politicians react, how the bombing started right away, how everything became a little bit more insane and extreme, I realize that it’s exactly what I feared, only worse. I’m not the first to say that terrorism’s goal is to instill fear and what most politicians are doing right now, is taking that fear and riding on it to do whatever they want, they increase and nurture it and keep it alive. They do exactly what the terrorists want them to do.

A week ago, the British Prime Minister David Cameron said that people who are against bombing Syria are “terrorist sympathisers.” There is no doubt again that we are told that the world is black and white and that you are either with us or against us. Which then means there is only one right way to react. He also said “The question is this: do we work with our allies to degrade and destroy this threat and do we go after these terrorists in their heartlands, from where they are plotting to kill British people? Or do we sit back and wait for them to attack us?” He is using that argumentative fallacy of claiming that there are only two ways of doing things, or to be more precise, to do something (bombing, nothing else) or to do nothing. If you are against bombing, you invite the terrorists to come and attack us again. Are you scared of more attacks? Well, then we have to bomb them. He uses fear, nothing else.

U.S. President Barack Obama said this two days ago: “The threat from terrorism is real, but we will overcome it.  We will destroy ISIL and any other organization that tries to harm us.  Our success won’t depend on tough talk, or abandoning our values, or giving into fear.” He was heavily criticized for his speech because he seemed “too soft.” I’m not a big Obama fan because he is just another politician but his words here are not unreasonable. What he is not doing, is giving people a clear vision of what to do, but that is not easy if everyone else seems to agree that doing the exact same bombing and war strategies are the only way.

Let’s also talk about Donald Trump and his recent “Ban all Muslims” idea. Yes, people are criticizing that across the board but just imagine he had said that about any other ethnic group in another political climate. Imagine he had said that about African Americans or Jews. As much as people are “shocked” now by what he said, the reaction is not nearly as strong as it would have been with any other ethnic or religious group. He knows that because he knows that people are scared and the best way to use that fear is to focus it on a specific group. Terrorists are abstract because we only see them when they start shooting or exploding but Muslims are real. And now they are demonized more and more. There is no far-fetching in comparing Trump with Hitler, but we also have to remember that Hitler alone wasn’t capable of doing what he did, but it was the climate that made people afraid and looking for answers.

I’m normally not a conspiracy theorist but it seemed really odd to me in the days and weeks after Paris, how suddenly terrorism threats appeared everywhere all the time. Part of it was the fact that many incidents, that in the past would barely have been reported widely, now were featured in a bigger way, like the hotel ambush in Mali or the attack in Tunisia (which nevertheless have already been forgotten by now). But part of it is also that many officials have now talking about this threat all the time. Even if nothing was found or if nothing happened. Suddenly every violent attack in a Western city needs to be classified as either terrorism or not. This binary thinking, which is so inherent for our culture, again creates fear. And it allows policies that would have been at least discussed in the past. Not only the bombings or the drones, but also the state of emergency France is still under, allowing for hundreds of raids and arrests, the days of siege in Brussels that uncovered nothing to the public and of course the increasing restrictions put on refugees now. Is that the consequence of terrorism or of the fear that it created?

If you look at all the hate people feel for refugees, in Germany alone, all of it is a result of fear. And the fear plays perfectly into the hands of the three pillars I often like to talk about when it comes to our culture. What’s happening right now is this: because of the fear of attacks people look at authorities and they use their authority to create policies and commit actions that work under the pretense that they work and that the threat is bigger than ever before. We accept this pretense because of our ignorance of the current situation (e.g. Muslims are terrorists), the ignorance of alternative possibilities (“What do you want to do instead of bombing? Sit around until they shoot you?”) and, the tiniest voice in all of this, the ignorance in the history of ISIS, of terrorism, of the politics of the past. Read any relevant and substantial article on ISIS and you’ll see the U.S. mentioned, their role in Iraq, in Syria, the role of Saudi Arabia and how the others ignore them, the interests of all the big players in that “war” they are all proclaiming now.

Did you hear about the first Chinese military base in Africa, in Djibouti? Have you heard about the drought in Ethopia and how the always controversial charity organization Save the Children acts as the sole expert on the country, urging people to “act” (meaning to donate money to them)? Have you read the Drone Papers which show how the U.S. cooperates with Germany and others for years fighting their secret dirty wars in many African countries? Do you notice a pattern here? So much of the terrorism comes from but also happens in African countries and the rest of the world uses much of it as opportunities to get back into the business of mingling in African affairs. They are able to do that because of our ignorance of Africa.

But I’m getting sidetracked (and it’s just Africa after all, nothing serious). Many politicians proclaim that we shouldn’t be governed by fear and show “them” that we’re “strong.” But most of them do that by evoking fear. What we really need to do, more than ever, is to not be satisfied with what we are told. To look under the surface. To question, always, and ask “Why?” and “Really?” To follow our own authority, our instincts and don’t give up our freedoms. To not believe that there is one right way to fight terrorists (especially if that way is failing us for years and decades).

I’m suffering from enough anxiety in my life already and I want to keep laugh about and doubt politicians instead of being scared of them too. Or of people following xenophobic and hateful ideologies just because they are afraid and feel no control over their lives. We need new visions and we need them quick because all the programs we’ve been trying seem to just accelerate the collapse.

Fear was mine

Fear was by my side

It kept me well

Hell, it kept me alive

I counted days as they faded away

I only felt sane when I was afraid

- The Thermals, When I Was Afraid


I want to hold her hand,

And show her some beauty,

Before this damage is done.

- Arcade Fire, The Suburbs