Fear Mongering is Terrorism, Too

If we define “terrorism” as deliberate acts intended to incite fear, then is not “fear mongering” about terrorism like a form of terrorism itself?

You can terrify people by bombing their buildings and murdering their compatriots. You can also terrify people by convincing them that other people want to bomb their buildings murder their compatriots. In the end, the net result is the same. Fear.

It seems to me that you can’t justifiably deny that the annals of history are haunted by an eerie pattern: terrified people tend to make deadly decisions. They make the kind of decisions that future generations tend to grieve and regret.

In the long run, I battle the instinct to be more terrified of fear mongering than I am afraid of terrorism. Ironic, yes.

Inasmuch as our anti-terrorism legislation and measures are animated by our fear, are they not themselves something like measures of terrorism, too? Our fear seems to be the very oxygen of their existence.

What if “terrorists” — that is, the ones spreading fear — are they very ones who are telling us that we must be afraid of others?

And what if, by simply whispering this question and framing this proposition, I myself am “implicated” as an “accomplice” to the enemy?

Indeed, if simply speaking out against fear becomes a criminal offense, we have far more immediate things to fear than the threat of “foreign terrorists”. But fear we shall not. For when our governments and media conglomerates insist that fear is the only legitimate response, then never is it more important to stand together courageously and, above all, without fear.

This, then, is my “anti-fearism” hypothesis: anti-terrorism strategies ought to result in the diminishment of fear, not in its escalation. Fear mongering is terrorism, too.

5 thoughts on “Fear Mongering is Terrorism, Too

  1. I daresay that I don’t think fear-mongering can be equated with terrorism. If anything, it is an excessive response to a terrible situation. I say this because I have seen the other side of the spectrum – an apathetic response to a dangerous situation. In that scenario, all that happens is assault over assault from the terrorist, completely ignored and even prompted by lazy policing and imperfect laws, combined with a weak democracy and uncharismatic leaders.

    That is a poorer situation to be in because no matter how bad things get, the defacto response becomes, “it could be worse”.

    I don’t say that fear-mongering is good. I’ve seen it get used to destroy lives and start communal riots too. But there is a healthy level of fear-mongering that a Statesman must use to inspire people to action. There’s that sweet spot that can only come if leaders have true power and a moral compass that points due north. I see both these things missing from most of politicians today.

  2. Hi Nitin,
    I agree, burying one’s head in the sand, as they say, is equally futile, and equally dangerous. I’m a pragmatist at heart on issues of national security. Personally, I want to live in a country that has a national defense apparatus that is second to none — I want to feel safe and protected just as much as anyone else. Just as you agree that fear-mongering isn’t good, so I too agree that apathy is not good either.
    All I’m saying is that the incitement of fear is the incitement of fear, and in as much as even the most righteous, competent governor utilizes fear to compel/inspire their constituents to action, they too are making a utility of terror. “Fighting terror” by appeal to fear is thus a far more nuanced and complex situation than many of us instinctively recognize. My gut says that it would be better if more filtered the words of our political leaders through such an analytical filter.
    In line with your comment, I have an article scheduled to be published next week in the Caesura Letters drawn from some literature on the ‘complacency vs panic’ problem in theoretical literature. We humans, the theory argues, are not really built to operating inbetween these poles of response: we have evolved to either brush off treats, or switch immediately into fight/flight mode. What’s in the middle? Conceptually speaking, I think this question is hugely important, especially to discussions of things like national security and terrorism. I will post a link in this comment thread to the other article once it goes live.

  3. James,

    I cannot speak to the theory you’ve explained. I’d love to read that Caesura Letter and formulate an opinion based on that.

    However, I can talk towards a certain scenario that I’ve been thinking about since I read your post – What if you’re the strongest military in the world, but there’s no open war you’re fighting, or huge terror organization you’re keeping in check? In such a scenario, you’ve got no politicians using the language of fear, no need to fight terror openly or make campaign promises based on what wars you are willing to fight. But what happens then? Your military and intelligence apparatus is so strong and itchy to do something, that they will start working covertly, collaborating with forces around the world and subverting regimes based on what they predict would be a good idea for your country.

    How does this fit into our discussion? It is human tendency that where we do not perceive threat either visibly or vocally, we let others sit in the driver’s seat of decision making. We let people we deem fit to make such decisions make them without our involvement.

    One issue that has arisen from the recent debate on privacy is thus, that the cost of ignorance of terrorism is the ignorance of what your own government is doing. Thus the middle scenario, as good as it gets, from what is observable right now, is that we let people we believe to be professionals in the field process all that fear-mongering instead of it seeping down to the public.

    That was more of a ramble than processed thought. I’ve love to read that upcoming post of yours before making up my mind on something definite.

  4. Your comment seems to describe the “industrial military complex” theory to a tea! Practically speaking, once a certain portion of your economy depends on military expenditure, you’ve gotta start coming up with things for your military to do.

    I’ll definitely post that other article here when it goes live. It would be very interesting to discuss both concepts in light of each other.

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