I am afraid to fly.
It’s not a rational fear, and although I am fully aware of both statistics and probability calculations, I can’t seem to shake it. I take twelve to sixteen flights a year and I never get any calmer, nor do I feel any safer. If someone tells me that “statistically its much more dangerous to take a bus or even drive a car,” it simply results in a slight increase of fear of that too.
Fear is something I struggle with daily. I do not fear spiders, snakes, or any animal in particular (except maybe cows). “Things I can’t control” is usually a common denominator, such as the plane and security around it, and I’m not talking airport security. My fears also include dentists, heights without safety of some sort, water, other people’s abilities to act safely, or even my own anger if I’m pushed to far. But few things scare me more than other people’s fears. Not the “I’m afraid of snakes, but let me touch it anyway” kind of fear, but the fear fed to them daily by the media and sometimes even by the government. A fear stronger than religion, morals and some times even stronger than family ties. Terrorism.
This summer we had done the usual trip to the families, and the holiday was coming to an end. All of a sudden, the media was overflowing with articles about a rumours about a terror threat on Norway. The Norwegian PST (Police security service) had released a statement to the press about an eminent threat on the country that was predicted to happen within a few days. They linked it to the end of Ramadan and Id, which apparently was “a great day to die”.
There has always been a threat from someone somewhere about something. A video of some alleged terrorist mentioning a bunch of countries, or a statement from some extremist who was out on a rant. So why would they go out and issue a warning now, on this particular event? What did they know? And what good would that warning bring— if any?!
Some episodes came to mind immediately. A terror attack that occurred on July 22, 2011, when a Norwegian, white, Christian male blew up a governmental building and went on to slaughter 69 kids at Utøya. When the news of the car bomb first spread, before the horror at Utøya was discovered, people online and in other media were blaming “terrorists” and harassing the Muslim communities. Facebook statuses said things like “now you see what happens when you let them in to the country” and “throw them all out.” My fingers were actually crossed in “hopes” that it would be some misguided, ill-tempered or even mentally-ill white person because the alternative would be so devastating. The anger and the fear that grew was scaring the shit out of me.
So now the country was on high alert. Police were on every border crossing and in the subway, armed guards were at airports, the royal castle was closed, guards were posted around the governmental buildings, and more. One of the biggest soccer tournaments for kids was starting at that time as well, but people were cancelling their teams entries due to the threat. Mosques around the country had guards around them too. Fear spread. But so did the questions as to what was actually going on, and where the information came from. Was it all a political charade or was it “intelligence” information from some other government?
Millions were spent every day to keep people safe. But the PST and the chief of police wanted everyone to act as if things were normal and go about their every day business.
I did not want to go home. I did not want to set my foot on a train, bus, and especially not a plane. I would rather have just stayed there until the threat either had ended or they lowered the “threat” level again. It was not the threat of some terror event that scared me the most. There might be some trust issues involved here and there but that’s mainly political, and when it comes to those things I have to trust the people in charge to handle it. It was the knowledge that irrational-fear-controlled people were tiptoeing around me everywhere, more obsessed by the fact that a man on their plane looked “foreign” than the fact that they needed to complete security protocol before take-off. I was afraid that a bus might blow up or a car driver would make a bad decision in traffic and cause an accident. Scared that my four-year-old would bear witness so something awful that would haunt her for the rest of her life. Scared to lose a loved-one.
Fear is something we struggle with every day. It’s media-induced, inherited, taught, and sometimes it’s even genetically-programmed. Irrational or not, its still real. Statistics on local violence and crime might be down but people have newer been more afraid. Now you hear about everything, from everywhere, in an instant. A newspaper did the “how to talk to your children about the terror threat” cover. I must admit I considered reading it out of curiosity, but that would have meant spending money on their paper and I didn’t want to do that. How would you explain that there is a man armed to the teeth in front of your child? Knowing that if an incident was to occur he would most likely risk your life and the life of your child to take out a possible and highly likely unknown threat. Even when that threat might just be a woman in a burka struggling to keep her pants on without a belt in security? How do you explain what your child fears? What the world around the child is worrying about, without creating something worse and feeding into the paranoia?
I was happy to read that the threat level was down the day before we had to leave. We still had someone drive us to the airport rather than taking the bus or the train. But that was mostly to eliminate a factor in my head.
Religions control followers by the use of fear whether it’s the fear of some sort of hell or not reaching heaven. Media controls people with headlines of crime, catastrophic events, and crisis. Governments control people with fear. Telling the kids “don’t visit that place,” or “be afraid of strangers,” or even “call me when…” is telling them that we fear that something will happen all the time. People sometimes seem so afraid to lose their life, property, freedom, rights, or whatever, that they forget to live. To quote an epic movie
There’s always an alien battle-cruiser, or a Corillian death ray, or an intergalactic plague that’s about to wipe out life on this miserable planet. The only way that these people get on with their happy lives is they DO NOT know about it.”
Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones), Men In Black
People are now questioning the motives behind the press conference and the reasons for setting the nation in a state of fear the way they did. Was it political play from the Progress Party (btw—that is the most ironic name in the history of parliament!)? Were PST and the police reaching to show that they could control a situation, a way of re-establishing reputation after July 22, 2011? Was there even a threat? Does it matter? Even if nothing ever happened, a loss has been suffered. People are more afraid than ever before. We don’t trust the people we need to trust anymore now, we simply question their motives. After Utøya and the bombing in 2011, the nation rose to the occasion, took care of each other, comforted strangers, and held hands with whomever was there to hold theirs. They suffered an unbearable loss but came out stronger and as conquerors of fear.
So was Agent K right?
Is not knowing better?