The Politics of Fear


            I sit happily on a stool in my local corner shop chatting away to Mem while munching through a packet of ‘tangy’ dorritos (which I really shouldn't be doing). But the dorritos police – who know who they are – cannot see me and I can munch away to my heart's content.  
          Why no dorritos?  Sodium and gluten are strictly verboten nowadays as part of a radical lifelong healing programme.  No such thing as a 'free' lunch...but just one packet won't hurt....? Well, actually yes it will, and it does. But what the heck, life is much too short to deny oneself the occasional dubious pleasure. The problem occurs when 'occasional' becomes 'frequently'.
           But back to the corner shop: for the last fifteen years or so Mem (who is Turkish, Muslim and the proprietor of the corner shop) and I regularly engage in what he calls political discourses. Yesterday we dissected the Malian ‘War on Terror’.  I said Mali makes it less Muslim and more African in a way that Libya did not. Well, that’s about tribe says Mem, you obviously consider yourself more African and less Muslim. 
           I smile at Mem.  Muslim friends and colleagues often say that "we are all Muslims".  I agree. Ultimately we are all everything because at the end of the day there is only one of us...out of many one people, one world, and one universe. And there is only one God; surely people of 'faith' can agree about that? The only thing I dispute is that this God is invaribly male and presumably has a penis.
          The conversation turns to consideration of what must exist as a precondition in order to trigger the level of atrocity, including gratuitous torture, and indignity that one human being is prepared to heap on another.  We came up with a short list: lust for power, lust for vengeance, severe mental illness and the grand daddy of them all, fear.  When the four meet that must be be what Armageddon looks like; or might they be the Four Horsemen.

Fear of Annihiliation
            In the last week a very senior UK politician referred to the "existentialist threat" to the West posed by 'Islamist' militants in different parts of the world.  I am intrigued by the use of the word 'existentialist'.  What the heck does it mean?    
          Those late 19th/early 20th Century European philosophers - Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Sartre et al - who had something to say about existentialism, seem to be seeking reason or purpose concerning their existence, and for meaning in a world of absurdity.  I really don't want to second guess the politician's meaning, but I do believe his is talking about fear, the fear of annihilation.
          Human behaviour stem from both conscious intent and unconscious motive. Often our fears – of flying, of birds, of open spaces etc – the source of which are unknown or are deeply repressed, can seem irrational.  But we feel propelled to act in a particular way without truly understanding what is motivating that behaviour. 
           We say that a particular thing ‘pushes our button’ or 'make us see red'.  Psychologists call it a ‘complex’ when certain events and situations or trigger words stimulate a specific response. These 'complexes' or external images and/or patterns of thought activate an emotional reaction or physical response. They usually develop out of traumatic experiences, family interactions in early life and patterns of cultural conditioning.
These hidden inner complexes have much to do with fear of the unknown; with the need for survival and the satisfaction of desires.  A complex is like a probe inserted into the farthest reaches of the mind-brain, or subconscious, such that it is totally inaccessible to the conscious mind until certain trigger words elicit a specific response.
     The modeling of this idea is portrayed by spy movies and novels where a ‘sleeper’ is ‘inserted’ into a community or organization. The ‘sleeper’ integrates him or herself into that community until certain trigger words are spoken which activate the embedded response. 
     The ‘world views’ of different cultures are so deeply entrenched, such that certain words trigger an automatic response.  When Barack Obama’s former pastor used the word ‘whitey’, it caused furore and stoked a deep fear at the heart of the American psyche; its the same fear that stalks white South Africa. For some Americans, the word ‘whitey’ has become a complex.  
For most in the Middle East or the Arab and Muslim world it is the word ‘crusade’; for the peoples of Africa it is ‘colonialism’. For most of us in the West the words ‘Islamist’ and ‘Taleban’ have become complexes, and will therefore elicit an automatic, and by now predictable, response. 
    

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