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The Rise of a Politics of Fear: War-mongering? Let’s talk for a minute about fear-mongering

Joe Dunne, BA International Relations

As rarely happens in the 21st century, a Hollywood blockbuster in the form of Hunger Games: Catching Fire struck a satirical cord in its uncanny resemblance to our global political system. The head ‘Gamesmaker’, the absurdly named Plutarch Heavensbee, advises President Snow that ‘more fear’ is required to subdue the social unrest threatening central control. While much of the fictional world of Panem is an unconvincing reference point with the real world; the notion that diffusing fear amongst an agitated and discontented populace to reinforce social stability can be identified just about everywhere we look, including here at home.

Examples of such are embarrassingly easy to find. David Cameron even said as much in a memo when he described how the ‘in’ campaign would use similarly fear-mongering tactics to win the forthcoming EU referendum. One could say such tactics are working; an Ipsos MORI poll from last month marks the mood of the British public at 52:39 in favour of staying in the EU.

The ‘Yes’ campaign had similar grievances with the Westminster establishment who directed the ‘No’ campaign during the Scottish independence referendum; supposedly under the pretext of scaring the Scottish electorate into reverting to the known and rejecting progressive change.

One could equally argue that Erdogan’s framing of national security issues and discourse precipitated his resounding electoral success in this month’s Turkish parliamentary elections, vis-à-vis labelling Kurdish secessionists as a greater threat to the state of Turkey than that of ISIS.

Once again, striking fear into the hearts of an electorate seems a potent mechanism for rejecting liberal progressivism.

The secondary objective of playing the politics of fear is well-documented. Creating a context of fear regarding a social, ethnic, religious or racial group as a scapegoat for social issues through popular discourse often deflects from popular attention away from the government’s failure to address the more pertinent issue of the day.

To examine the most conspicuous example of which; see popular discourse surrounding immigrants in a country where income inequality is the fourth highest in the world.

Gramsci wrote of the requirement for a charismatic ‘strong man’ figure to restore social harmony in times of unrest, and thus, through Erdogan’s inflammation of divisions in Turkish society, he has created the social unrest which requires the ‘strong man’ figure such as himself to be superficially necessary. It seems reflective of democracies as a system of government, that when an electorate feels imperilled by external forces, its reflex action is to turn to a hawkish conservative government which will provide the most decisive short-term response to such issues; i.e bombing.

We also tend to revert to more nationalistic discourses and threads. To determine that the Kurdish independence movement is a graver threat to the Turkish state than ISIS is absurd, yet has a certain nationalistic common sense about it.

By framing the issue of national security as one of nationality within the state, not outside, of it, Erdogan masterfully appeals to people’s sense of familiarity and sense of belonging with those in their own language, ethnicity, religion or identity as a whole, vis-à-vis Turks, not Kurds, thus expediting the AKP’s electoral victory.

In the US, some leading Republicans’ response to the ‘refugee crisis’ is to create databases of known Muslims and to accept ‘confirmed Christians’, with the implication that Christians are more worthy of asylum than Muslims, because they are more like ‘us’. Oddly, many in the US forget that their country was founded by settling colonisers who displaced the indigenous peoples and used their alien religion to justify their actions.

France declared a ‘state of emergency’ on the Saturday after the attacks in Paris for the first time since a coup d’etat was attempted by army generals during the Algerian struggle for independence in 1961. Naturally, the French have the right, even the obligation, to defend their citizens with whatever measures they have at their disposal; and yet, the declaration of a state of emergency crystallises a permanent environment of fear which warrants extreme counter-measures, such as French airstrikes on the ISIS capital of Raqqa. The French know, as do most of the global community, that Raqqa has already been reduced to rubble by Russian and American airstrikes. Thus, their added cruise missiles are merely decimating the remaining infrastructure that sustains the trapped populace of roughly 400,000; many of which are citizens experiencing a rare kind of hell notwithstanding Western intervention.

The population of Raqqa before the civil war ignited was marked at over a million. Reports suggest that ISIS are intensifying their internal security measures to strike their own brand of fear in their citizens with regular crucifixions, hangings, beheadings and the removal of hands with a blade.

French airstrikes will do nothing but destroy the livelihoods, homes and lives of those trapped in Raqqa, and invariably create twice as many terrorists as they destroy.

Fear is the weapon that ISIS have used with such potency to force the people within it’s conquered areas to side with them or face a unique form of oppression that those in the Western world haven’t experience since the rise of the Third Reich.

With the seemingly never-ending scope of ISIS’ reach, into Belgium, Paris, Mali, Lebanon and beyond, it is of course tempting for our politicians to react rashly and violently in the immediate short-term, particularly in our supposed liberal democracies, and succumb to the fear.

Martin Luther King wrote with his trademark elegance that ‘returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars’ and that is the foremost way that ISIS will achieve their transcendent aim of igniting a grand, global holy war. It goes without saying that this would be costly for all.

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