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Fear itself
August 22, 2004 4:22 PM   Subscribe

Fear Itself: an american journalist wants to put the threat of terrorism into perspective, and elects to ride on a bus line in Jerusalem, the train line through Madrid, and a British Airways flight said to be a bombing target. He comes away with it unscathed but the stories he tells about the history of terror, especially in Israel, is chilling and daily life in some parts of Jerusalem sounds like scenes lifted straight out of Brazil. [via the big K]
posted by mathowie (27 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
I've spent some weeks in Jerusalem visiting my sister, and yes, I rode the bus and did my groceries at Makhane Yehuda. I don't think the author conveys the shoulder-shrugging normality very well. People do not act afraid because it is too much of an effort to sustain the fear, and they will also tell you that you are more likely to be run over by a taxi driver than blow up by a terrorist.

Getting used to it is an act of will at first, but then it just is.

He's wrong about the guns too. Soldiers on leave carry them because losing your gun is a court-martial offence. The easiest way not to lose it is to carry it at all times.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 4:41 PM on August 22, 2004


I read this and was immediately reminded by that scene in Bowling for Columbine when they go to L.A. and stand in the middle of where the Rodney King riots started, just hanging out and talking for a while.

The symbolism of areas "where it happened" is powerful, and fueled only by the desire to remember it. I remember on the first anniversary of 9/11, I wrote about how few people knew (or cared) about Washington Square Park being a potter's field before the American Revolution- the area is home to thousands of unmarked corpses. And yet people wanted to "never use the tower footprints again" because it was "hallowed ground."

The New Jersey Turnpike is scattered with shrines to what was clearly a car accident years ago, and yet millions drive by them. My sophomore year at NYU I walked by a shrine to a small child gunned down in a drug deal gone bad on a twice-daily basis. Totems to past horrors are meant as a reminder of what has happened and that we should remain careful not to let it happen again. But like the accidents, the riots, and 9/11, people seem to think that avoiding it altogether will bring that.

The biggest danger to security in this world isn't forgetting what happened (because, you know, people will "forget" what happened on 9/11 or something. But I digress.) It's the "security moms." The guards taking our nail clippers away. Color-coded warnings. America is a more dangerous place, not just because we are scared shitless, but because we are scared shitless from talking about how we should be scared shitless.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 4:43 PM on August 22, 2004


i'm not afraid. i'm enraged. given the opportunity to spend ten minutes alone with george bush or any of his puppeteers, i'd beat the fuckers face to a pulp, just to show that theiving, murderous piece of shit what a true patriot is.
posted by quonsar at 4:59 PM on August 22, 2004


as always, the big Q sez what we are all thinking. reasonably-eloquently, no less.
posted by dorian at 5:01 PM on August 22, 2004


what we are all thinking

Speak for yourself, and only yourself.
posted by Steve_at_Linnwood at 5:14 PM on August 22, 2004


Speak for yourself, and only yourself.

Nah, I'd go with dorian on that, ;)
posted by Peter H at 5:19 PM on August 22, 2004


Hey, Quonsar, somebody's at your door.
posted by keswick at 5:23 PM on August 22, 2004


it's me! with a cake! : >
posted by amberglow at 5:28 PM on August 22, 2004


Using the word "all" without the word "almost" or "mostly" is usually a mistake.

Personally, I'd leave his face alone and Abu Gharaib his other body parts until he admitted he was a liar and a crook who hates freedom.
posted by wendell at 5:29 PM on August 22, 2004


Yeah, I think the first half of the article makes it clear how boring these places can be. It's just when the author goes on the tour with the guy that photographs bombings, stands in one place and tells half a dozen tales of atrocity that I kind of lost any interest to ever visit Jerusalem.

And the fact that "everyone has a story" is a sad comment on the ubiquity of terror in that region.
posted by mathowie at 5:30 PM on August 22, 2004


What a great article. Bruce Schneier's "Beyond Fear" is a good read if you're interested in actual security -- what makes us safe, and what's just so much theater.
posted by Vidiot at 5:43 PM on August 22, 2004


Matt, you don't have to live in that region to have a story...

Amber, you're supposed to be at MY door with a cake to apologize for comparing me to Kiki Dee in MeTa.

*hears knock at door*

Excuse me a moment.

*opens door*

It's not a cake! It's a pie! Aaarrrggghhh....
posted by wendell at 5:43 PM on August 22, 2004


Living for a couple of years in Seoul (now I'm nearly as far from the DMZ as you can get and still be in Korea), I was aware only in momentary flashes of the fact that I was about 50km from the most heavily guarded border in the world, one between two countries still technically at war, and reading the latest threats from the Norks, or seeing things like Young-hae Chang's harrowing Operation NUK0REA just served to bring the feeling of dread to the surface. Inevitably, though, it'd sink right back down again into a sort of background hum of low-level wariness and weariness, and I go on about my daily life. Reminded me, in some ways, of the perpetual subliminal fear of nuclear war I had growing up in the 70's and early 80's.

It's an odd way to live, but a lot of people do it, it's true.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 5:44 PM on August 22, 2004


Compare/contrast with the typical Californian's blase' attitude regarding earthquakes. The "big one" could be moments away, but the teeming masses somehow manage to tuck it away in the backs of their minds.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 6:17 PM on August 22, 2004


"Hey, Quonsar, somebody's at your door." - Keswick, you're at your own door.
posted by troutfishing at 9:27 PM on August 22, 2004


Not completely related, but then, not completely unrelated: A skeptical look at September 11th: How we can defeat terrorism by reacting to it more rationally
.
posted by raaka at 10:09 PM on August 22, 2004


mmmm, brazil
posted by Satapher at 10:25 PM on August 22, 2004


I'm pretty uncomfortable with the tacit acceptance among posters of this fellow's definition of terrorism thus far. Here are some definitions of terrorism:

From WordIQ Encyclopedia: "a tactic of violence that targets civilians, with the objective of forcing an enemy to favorable terms, by creating fear, demoralization, or political discord in the attacked population."

From the FBI: "the unlawful use of force against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in the furtherance of political or social objectives."
premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents, usually intended to influence an audience.

By these definitions, the USA is one of the biggest terrorists in the world and has been for decades. Israel is a far bigger terrorist than Palestine -- unless you doubt that Israel's actions are intended to "intimidate or coerce ... the civilian population ... in the furtherance of political or social objectives." In fact, most of the states that talk about "fighting terrorism" commit a whole lot more terrorism than they combat. The way most people use the word terrorism is much more in line with the CIA's definition:

premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents....

Of course, the only substantive difference between the CIA's definition and the others is that bit in bold, which says that if it's done by a state, it's not terrorism. Do we really want one word for it when we do it and another when they do it? It's that point of view that infuses the whole article and prevents the author from spending time in a Gaza town, in Najaf, or in Chechnya along with all the places that he did visit. I believe the failure to identify terrorism in a consistent manner is a form of intellectual dishonesty - conscious or not - that is a large part of what prevents us from being far more outraged at many of the actions of our governments.
posted by louigi at 10:36 PM on August 22, 2004


hear hear, louigi.
posted by vorfeed at 10:43 PM on August 22, 2004


the USA is one of the biggest terrorists in the world and has been for decades.

I thought that went without saying.

Me, I didn't read the linked article. *holds out wrists for a slap*
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 10:57 PM on August 22, 2004


Just before I left on this trip, my friend Laura gave me a $5 bill. Laura is a journalist, an expert in affairs of the Middle East, and the daughter of a rabbi. The bill, she told me, was "mitzvah money." When someone is heading off on a possibly dangerous journey, it is a Jewish custom to give him money to give to a beggar at his destination. That turns the journey into a good deed. With luck, God will protect you.

The bill is still in my wallet; I'd completely forgotten about it. At first, I felt ashamed. But sometimes, when you focus too intently on your own situation, you miss the big picture. I'm going outside, right now, to give the five bucks to the first homeless person I see. It's all the same world, you know.


Wonderful article Matt. Thanks for the post.
posted by weston at 12:08 AM on August 23, 2004


i'd beat the fuckers face to a pulp

"Mr. Tomi Sluga, a 32 year old Slovenian, was given a two year probation period because of an e-mail he sent to American President George W. Bush. On May 2001 (one month before the Bush-Putin meeting in Slovenia) he wrote to Bush: ┬╗President George Bush Jr., save the Earth, you asses, we will kill you in Ljubljana. Welcome.┬ź In court Sluga explained that he wrote the message while he was drunk and that he was just joking." (source)
posted by Ljubljana at 5:44 AM on August 23, 2004


I've read about half of the article. It's made more poignant (for me, at least) due to the fact that Gene Weingarten is a humor columnist for the Post. His column is usually the first thing I read every week in Sunday's Washington Post Magazine, and I typically find him very, very funny. There weren't many laughs in this piece, though.
posted by MrMoonPie at 7:20 AM on August 23, 2004


The bus system in Israel is efficient, reliable, and extremely cheap, which makes it the preferred method of travel around the country...however equally the preferred method of shaheed targets for maximum impact. I traveled to Israel during both summers of 1999 and 2000, and relied on the buses tremendously to get around both the country and suburbs. Because of the concentration of youth serving mandatory terms in the IDF, it was almost impossible to be on a bus without seeing at least one of these kids...and when traveling the countryside, large groups would embark with their fatigues and guns. With such a military presence, it was easy to feel safe and protected. Granted, this was all before the recent 2000 intifada.

However, I do know families in Israel who - traveling to the same destination - will scatter themselves on different buses and take different routes. The rationale is that god forbid they get caught on a bus with a homicide bomber, at least the entire family will not perish.
posted by naxosaxur at 9:04 AM on August 23, 2004


Bruce Schneier's "Beyond Fear" is a good read if you're interested in actual security -- what makes us safe, and what's just so much theater.

in case you missed it mp3 interview with Bruce Schneier
posted by nyoki at 9:16 AM on August 23, 2004


Also, big props for Ernest Becker (click on the "about Ernest Becker" link at the bottom of the sidebar) and his book. He was a really interesting teacher (he taught briefly at San Francisco State), and a brilliant writer and synthesizer of thought from diverse fields.

The Denial of Death book affected me profoundly - the article made me want to pick it up and reread it. It's long, but very readable and worthwhile. The ending, in particular was just amazing.
posted by jasper411 at 10:21 AM on August 23, 2004


Washington accused of ignoring nuclear terror threat
posted by homunculus at 11:35 AM on August 23, 2004


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