Fear and Loathing in Manchester

This morning I’m taking in the news from Manchester, U.K.

A day after Trump speaking in Sunni Saudi Arabia laid the responsibility for terror largely on Iran and Shia Islam, a bomb attack kills 22 and injures 59 — or at least that’s the toll being reported now.  And the perpetrators? ISIS has claimed responsibility, and thus this terror likely has radical Sunni culpability.  For a useful corrective on the Trump speech, I recommend Juan Cole (University of Michigan),  Trump on Islam: Neo-Orientalism and anti-Shi’ism.

We need to hit the reset button on our approach to this cycle of violence whose hub is in the terrain we call the Middle East.  Donald Trump has made it plain that he would have us see that we can separate the world into evil people and therefore also good people: this Manichaean framing can be trusted only to make matters worse.  Trump would have us pass over terror by those who identify as Sunnis, terror by those who identify as Christians, terror by Israel.  Blaming one side in the conflict will only stoke the fires.

So what can we do in the meanwhile? For one thing, we can press for continuing normalization of relations with Iran, especially in the aftermath of Hassan Rouhani’s electoral victory.  For another we can oppose selling arms to Saudi Arabia.

We can also resist the temptation of fear.

I find myself thinking of the Bene Gesserit litany from Frank Herbert’s Dune:

I must not fear.

Fear is the mind-killer.

Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.

I will face my fear.

I will permit it to pass over me and through me.

And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.

Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.

The bombers in Manchester were looking to instill fear.  To the degree we react with fear, we give the bombers what they want.  Our media magnify this.  The coverage of events like the Manchester bombing can easily lead you to believe that terrorist acts are the most significant threat an ordinary person faces in the course of ordinary days.

‘Terrorism Is Aimed at the People Watching,’ writes Conor Friedersdorf today in The Atlantic.  As horrible as the harm to those killed and injured, we need to take care not to cause further damage by letting the violence spread through our own fear.  (“I will permit it to pass over me and through me.”)  Friedersdorf calls attention to the media exaggeration of terror deaths.  He particularly calls attention to analysis from Pricenomics about How Media Fuels Our Fear of Terrorism, which includes this striking graphic:  Screen Shot 2017-05-23 at 9.34.45 AM


Mourn for the dead, pray for the wounded, but do not be consumed by fear.

About Doug Bennett

Doug Bennett is Emeritus President and Professor of Politics at Earlham College. He has a wife, Ellen, and two sons, Tommy (born 1984) and Robbie (born 2003).
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