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Fear is politically fungible, able to migrate stealthily from one cause to others, and from one host to others. Fear can also pool or coalesce around shocking experiences. These gymnastic capacities are what give terrorism its social and, ultimately, its political punch.

W hen people express fear they typically think they know the source of what makes them afraid. In simple, direct cases, the alignment is usually determined accurately: If a large, stray dog is growling at you menacingly as you stroll through some park and you become afraid of the dog, you are probably right about the source of your fear. But where the case is neither simple nor direct nor time-focused, but complex and abstract and temporally indistinct—and where relevant information is mediated rather than sensed through direct experience—aligning fear with its actual source is much harder to achieve.

That is certainly the case with the ambient social fear generated by terrorism. People who live in places where telegenic, gruesome terrorism has in recent times become stamped into collective consciousness say, Paris, London, Berlin, Jerusalem are naturally more afraid that they, or friends and loved ones, will become victims of the next random outrage than they were before.


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Many people know how to take such fears in stride, maintaining their routines, goals, and political views. But some are less stoical by temperament than others, and that goes for nations as well as individuals. This matters because terrorism does its real, long-lasting damage not through body counts but through the insidious undermining of the foundations of trust and normalcy that define all healthy, functional societies, by infesting rational deliberation with incipient panic and by sowing disunity within a diverse population.

More important, some general living circumstances generate more basal angst than others. Those who live in broken or otherwise difficult family settings, those who face economic insecurity or think they face downward social mobility for themselves or their children, and those who live as members of marginal—immigrant or otherwise minority—populations among less-than-completely-hospitable hosts often live day to day with more objective ambient fear than do others.

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But fears tend to bundle and pool together, suddenly coalescing around vivid shocks, a bit like how water vapor coalesces around floating particles to form rain. Underlying sources of angst often go unrecognized, unarticulated, denied, or are merely assimilated into some layer below wide-awake consciousness. They then can cling together, losing touch with their sources, when terrorism focuses those fears on a specific cognitive gestalt: So people think they are afraid of terrorism, and they are; but the depth of their fear typically draws on myriad other insecurities.

So already shaky people, and relatively insecure nations, tend—all else equal—to be shaken more by terrorist atrocities than those not so shaky. Shaky societies develop markets of a sort for fear abatement. The most effective way for political entrepreneurs to take advantage of such markets is to focus on what or, better, who to blame for what makes people afraid.

No matter how varied and interactively complex the real sources of fear and insecurity may be, rattled people are easily manipulated by those offering parsimonious, emotion-driven conflations—especially so, perhaps, in our age of technologically disintermediated individuation. Now, in a world awash with immigrants and refugees further flung than ever before, anxieties about alien ethno-linguistic and sectarian communities get mixed up with anxieties about older marginal groups, like the Roma in several European countries, to form a new, more multicultural target for illiberal scapegoating.

One way to think of this is to imagine every person and every society as having a reservoir of insecurity that can be activated by any number of experiences. A terrorist attack is one such experience. So a confident, forward-looking, pragmatic person, or society, will more likely resist reacting to news of a terror attack by pouring that reservoir into consciousness, and from there into public space with blame falling variously on foreign plotters and whole immigrant communities, depending on the case.

Every nation has its more or less effective coping mechanisms for dealing with danger and the fears they let loose to roam, and every set of mechanisms is shaped by history and culture such that some are more resilient than others. Here in the United States lately, Americans have developed ever-deeper reservoirs of insecurity from a range of sources, a development that sits uneasily with the relatively placid security experience of the country.

Before September 11, , there had been no direct foreign military attack on the continental United States since the War of The former convulsed American politics for more than a decade, adding to the river of disorientation caused by vast domestic cultural changes; the latter resulted in both near-term panic and the sowed the seeds for the bureaucratized paranoia Americans have inflicted on themselves ever since.

T here is, however, another factor or two at work, and how they work bears some on the character of contemporary American politics. Fear is not only fungible and prone to being bundled and evoked by catalytic events, it is also contagious and exportable. The capacity for fear to be contagious is to a large degree a media technology function. The capacity for fear to be exportable depends on the vicissitudes of political goals and character, and the extent to which people in different countries feel civilizational kinship with people in other countries. As to contagion, the growth and nature of social media and the internet have only made the emotional power of terrorism to undermine social foundations greater—all the more reason that we must double down to understand how this field is evolving.

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After a terror attack somewhere, how much of what shows up almost immediately on the media technology we have to hand tends to calm people down and reassure them, and how much of it tends to magnify and spread fear and insecurity? All this is well known. Let me get to the relevant case at hand: T he political drama playing out in Germany, against the background of the burgeoning of immigrant-fed populism across the continent especially over the past three years, has been front-page news not only in Germany.

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And everyone understands that immigration from Muslim-majority societies—especially from Arab countries like Syria in the current German case—is tightly associated in the public mind with the risks of importing terrorists and terrorism. Merkel and Seehofer reached a kind of ceasefire in their disagreement last month, but no one expected it to last long or the difference of views to evaporate.

Some of the world was last month also misunderstanding what was happening, for this was no simple passion play pitting the angel Merkel against the demon Seehofer. The American elite media tended to portray Seehofer as a right-wing populist like the populists recently ascendant in Italy and Slovenia, joining predecessors in Austria, Poland, Hungary, and elsewhere.

Moreover, worrying about the social disruptions of massive and sudden immigration from culturally alien places does not make ordinary people racists or bigots, even if racists and bigots try to capitalize on those worries. As I put it on September 12, , writing from Berlin literally within days of that famous train full of Syrian migrants arriving in Munich from Budapest: Even the Chancellor, who by German standards is far from a raving leftist, appears to firmly believe that everyone must be a multiculturalist for moral reasons, and that all people who want to preserve the ethno-linguistic integrity of their communities—whether in Germany or in Hungary, Poland, and elsewhere—are acting out of base motives.

That is not racism in Europe any more than nervousness about immigrants is racism here in the United States. This market offers a huge demand for counterterrorism, anti-riot, law-enforcement and emergency-management technologies, products and services.

America and the Politics of Insecurity

Such weapons include biological, chemical, nuclear and radiological devices, and range from the silent threat of a poison gas attack to a cataclysmic nuclear explosion. Those who would launch such attacks know thousands could die, of course, but their fundamental motive would be to strike fear and panic in tens of millions more. In his State of the Union address on Jan. Intimately interwoven with this resurgence of geopolitics is an overwhelming sense of insecurity which is arguably more palpable and more lasting than the insecurity that marked all but the tensest moments of the Cold War.

New York subway posters warn ominously: This insecurity is simultaneously manufactured and experienced at the deepest ontological levels, and like geopolitics, it plays out very differently in different places. We also know there are known unknowns: Cosmopolitan estrangement and democracy-enriching dissent are not being prized as civic assets in the United States today.

I welcome the statement put out by the Muslim Council … the vast and overwhelming majority of Muslims … are decent and law-abiding people who abhor this act of terrorism every bit as much as we do. The population of damaged areas was nearly half black This was not a terrorist attack against the mighty and the powerful … It was aimed at ordinary, working-class Londoners, black and white, Muslim and Christian, Hindu and Jew, young and old. A strategy for making visible, through security infrastructure and regulations, which spaces of the city are more valuable and which other spaces are less important or appreciable.

In other words, which spaces are economically successful and deserve to be inhabited, visited, consumed and remarked on the city map. You could also find interesting. Newsletter Subscribe to our newsletter and we will keep you posted with our activities. The CCCB is a consortium formed by: