The Great Fear

Yesterday was Thanksgiving except we didn’t celebrate. I only knew about it from the telly when the financial report said that Wall Street was closed for the American holiday. Then we heard about the bombing of the Israeli hotel in Mombasa. Was there a relationship? Possibly al-Qaeda thought that Israelis celebrated the same holidays because they were proto-Americans. They weren’t far wrong.

Has there been more blood spilt this year or is it just that the media juices it up more now? Little known statistics are bandied about – like over three million people having died so far in the Congolese civil war. Is that true? And, if so, I wonder who’s doing the counting? Then they say that millions more have died from AIDS and that it has reached pandemic proportions, especially in Africa and the ‘newly liberated’ states of Eastern Europe. What does that mean? And what does it mean when they say that the plague is just starting to be felt in countries like China and India where they expect millions more to die in the next decade?

The human mind can hardly conceive statistics like this. We can focus on a lone instance, an image of a child, perhaps, emaciated and tearful. But millions? It’s like trying to comprehend the cosmos.

And yet is that not what happens in the world? Death and putrefaction takes place in a cycle of mortality and renewal. Mass disasters are commonplace. Are they more today than a hundred years ago? Is there a mass mortality chart that tracks the progress of genocidal grim reapers? Or is something else going on - like Michael Moore has pointed out, the manifestation of fear that is pumped into our homes on a daily basis, with milk cartons plastered with faces of missing children and TVs sending out endless images of mayhem and murder in order to keep us afraid and therefore malleable?

Certainly there is a Great Fear that has overtaken us – as there was in the fifties. This one is of a different sort but we already see the consequences – like parents being cautioned not to photograph their children’s school play because it might fall into the hands of paedophiles and end up on the Internet. Or Israelis on the flight back home from Mombasa saying they are now too frightened to ever leave Israel! Too frightened to leave Israel, the most besieged country on earth? What a state of affairs!

And yet the news yesterday also had a feature on the need to build more airports in Southern England because of the surge in overseas travel. So which way is it going to be - risky adventure or safely at home under the covers? They can’t have it both ways, can they? Maybe, as a compromise, we’ll all be flown out to fortress islands in the middle of the ocean where we can bask in the sun without fear of al-Qaeda coming to blow up our MacDonald’s – as long as the shore is well protected from Arab submarines and Trojan Camels.

So we move one step further toward universally gated communities and guarded towers where streets are monitored with hidden cameras and pasty-faced children are strapped into cars and driven to and from everyplace they go. This then becomes the definition of Freedom and Democracy: to be gratefully incarcerated by voting yourself into jail. How easy it is to mould a pliant populace (as Goebbels knew quite well)! All it takes is a couple of well-placed bombs.

29 November 2002