News of yet another terror attack in both my home country, Britain, and my adopted country, Egypt. Every time this happens, it strikes fear and sorrow in my heart. And in the echo chamber of Facebook, I see my pain and fear reflected in many people I know and love.
There is nothing original in saying that the only possible goal of such attacks is to keep people the world over living in ever-greater fear. Fearful people are easy to manipulate. It’s so much easier to perpetuate an “us versus them” narrative when people are afraid of what a frightening place the world has become, when we have become accustomed to seeing danger around every corner.
I do believe the world has become a more frightening place. And the frequency of attacks designed to provoke chaos, and that blind, visceral jolt that is the essence of the word terror is part of that, of course. Each person who died or has been injured in such attacks will have or have had loved ones, and plans, and a life ahead of them. Each one of them could be any of us. The idea that this raw violence can penetrate even our safe spaces — whether these be pop concerts for teenagers or ice-cream shops for children celebrating Ramadan — cuts to the quick. It makes our stomachs contract and our hearts beat painfully faster.
And that’s the point.
But the slow drip of fear that grips us in our daily lives as a result of the narratives fueling these attacks is more insidious. Hate crimes, incendiary speech, racism, isolation, insularity — the greater the fear, the more readily narrow worldviews and vicious, divisive rhetoric spread and become normalized.
The world has become a more frightening place, not because startling inequality and monstrously unbalanced power dynamics exist now where they did not before, but because the fear that we are living with every single day makes it harder and harder to see beyond our own perspective.
And meanwhile, slow-moving tragedies are unfolding under our noses. Climate change will make large parts of the planet uninhabitable within our lifetimes; Syria and Yemen are burning; brave people get stabbed on trains because they challenge the xenophobia that is becoming louder and louder in communities and in countries that have long prided themselves on holding values of diversity and tolerance paramount.
We have to find a way to not let fear be the lens through which we view the world.
I don’t believe it has to be this way. Even within my circles, I am remotely connected with people who offer extraordinary examples of how it is possible to remain clear-headed and compassionate, and to fight fiercely for the values of a decent society against this climate of fear. Brendan Cox, husband of murdered British MP Jo Cox, is one example of someone speaking out against division and vitriol with immense strength and dignity. Palestinian-American activist Linda Sarsour is a lioness, battling bigotry in multiple forms. Egyptian writer and activist Ahdaf Soueif fights to ensure the stories of people imprisoned and marginalized are heard, illuminating our common humanity even as she protests injustice. These people speak with intelligence, nuance and compassion. I wish their voices, and others like them, were amplified in the English-speaking media.
Britain goes to the polls on Thursday. A surprise general election called by Prime Minister Theresa May sees her ruling Conservative party pitted against Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour opposition. Two radically different leaders, both polarizing; two utterly different visions for which direction the country should move in. A lead that seems to be shrinking by the day. And dominating the campaign of each, existential issues that will fundamentally alter our identity as a nation: Brexit, the future of the NHS, state surveillance, Scottish independence.
The stakes are as high as our emotions. And again, that is the point. We will be voting on what we want our country to become.
Nothing I am saying here is new, but I feel compelled to utter something more than my usual generic, if heartfelt, expressions of sorrow and increasing despair.
Because one way or another, we have to change the narrative. We have to find a way to not let fear be the lens through which we view the world and our place within it in relation to others — whether those others are sitting beside us on the bus, living somewhere on the other side of the world or just images we see through a computer screen.