Why the politics of fear is dangerous

As we mourn the people who died in the Orlando night club shootings, Americans are stopping to ask how and why such a senseless and cowardly act occurred. They are asking why these shootings are getting worse and what the politicians of the day will do to stop it.

And the people who hold the power strings are responding. Condemnation abounds on the media of the attacker, and rightfully so. It is exacerbated by Mr Marteen calling himself a Daesh supporter. Politicians are tripping over themselves to appear to be the toughest person on the block and ramping up tough talking rhetoric. And by doing so, they become part of the problem.

Fear can be a dangerous phenomena. Yes, we all have our natural fears and in many cases they are totally reasonable responses. Someone for example who has been a victim of violent crime is likely to have mental trip wires hardwired into them to cause them to react in a way that might be seen as extreme by people who do not know their history. Some of them are based on bad experiences with natural or human made events – there are people who survived the Christchurch earthquakes who start crying uncontrollably when there is a big aftershock, because for whatever reason that was how their body in reacting to what it could see, hear, smell and feel was hard wired to do. These types of fear are quite rational because they are the result of a person experiencing an extreme event.

But there is also irrational fear. This is the type of fear based in poor information or understanding, (mis)perceptions of a hazard – physical or social – that may or may not exist. It may stem from being fed a steady stream of information that is deliberately exaggerated, inaccurate or even outright false. It might be heightened by societal responses, such as seeing police with semi-automatic weapons patrolling the streets, questioning people . Some are so paranoid about what they perceive to be a hazard that they call out entirely innocent people (e.g. Hindu’s being mistaken for Muslims; Indians for Pakistanis and so forth).

Often this is institutionalized and can happen right from the office of Prime Minister/President/whatever, down through the courts, to Police officers. And if it is not institutionalized, sometimes it is sanctioned by a blind eye being turned to it when those institutions are called out on it. In the case of the fear of Muslims in the United States, sadly this is more than just institutional hatred. It is blinding the American political establishment who have bought right into the fear. It is blinding America and Americans at large in ways that are dangerous and unlikely to address the causes of the problems.

People of a particular grouping – whether it is a particular race, or a particular religion, nationality or even sexual orientation – are often singled out by people who have a fear of them. Some of these people are criminals who have grudges against society, and others perceive that these people are out to take over the world and remake it in their view. Some of them join groups such as Right Wing Resistance, whilst loners might commit overtly violent acts on their own. The planning of their attacks varies – few people seem to know that a potentially much worse act of violence by a non-Muslim was being planned in Santa Monica against a Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender rally, where the offender had bought a large amount of ammunition, and had a drum of explosive making chemicals in his car and a security badge. What if he had managed to launch his attack? Would there suddenly be a fear of deranged non-Muslims with guns in the way there is of Muslims? I doubt it.

By creating blinding effect, fear enables governments to become more restrictive and crack down on civil and human liberties. The fear enables Governments to build up the military out of fear of some sort of foreign attacker. It is great for the arms industry, but not a lot else.

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