Hey valued readers. I’ve been a bit too busy with reviews, life and work to do any blogging for a few days. I’ll try to do a ranty roundup of recent events tomorrow, but until then here’s my review of Cultures Of Fear, which as the name suggests wasn’t exactly a barrel of laughs. It appeared in today’s Morning Star.
Cultures Of Fear
Edited by Uli Linke and Danielle Taana Smith
According to the Home Office website, the current terrorism threat level for the UK is Substantial. In the United States, it is currently Elevated, or Yellow. I don’t know if Substantial or Elevated is more dangerous, and it’s impossible to know when this current, linguistically meaningless level of potential terror is to subside. Possibly never: the home office website goes on to warn “…threat levels do not have an expiry date, and can be revised at any time”
For the authors of Cultures Of Fear, a collection of essays concerning global manifestations of fear and its affect on ordinary people, such disconcerting uninformation would come as no surprise. With contributors including Noam Chomsky and Susan Sontag, Cultures Of Fear forms a coherent look at how fear is increasingly used as an instrument of control via a backdrop of global chaos, instability, terror and war.
Masco’s “Engineering Ruins and Affect” recalls the ‘duck and cover’ and cheerful obliteration drills of the early Cold War Era, a state-led attempt to prepare for an ordered Armageddon; this compares interestingly with Atheide’s “Terrorism and the Politics of Fear”, which notes how the “US Homeland Security advised the American people to buy duct tape and plastic sheeting as a barrier to terrorism”. The point being that this anticipation of victimhood comes with an accompanying curtailment and suspension of civil liberties.
Elsewhere, we find Susan Sontag’s reaction to the abuses at Abu Ghraib – her comparison of pictures taken by US soldiers proudly posing in front of their torture to that of lynching photos from the early 1900s is a chilling one – and the Kleinmans’ “Cultural Appropriations of suffering” examines the neocolonial contradictions of humanitarianism, the phenomenon of ‘compassion fatigue’ and the ethics of photojournalism with reference to Kevin Carter’s infamous images of a Sudanese famine victim – suffering viewed via a paternalistic “ideology of failure, inadequacy, passivity, fatalism and inevitability”.
But perhaps the most moving article in this collection is Solrun Williksen’s “Narrative of an Asylum Seeker”, in which the concepts of nationalities and borders are rendered meaningless by a girl fleeing oppression across continents, coming up against cruel and contradictory authorities and policies, before finally becoming a citizen (and thus an actual person) in Norway. This is a moment of relief in an otherwise bleak and worrying read, which suggests the fight for true freedom – the freedom from fear – will need to be the defining movement of the 21st century.