F is for Fear

I heard Advices & queries 33 read in meeting for worship recently:

Are you alert to practices here and throughout the world which discriminate against people on the basis of who or what they are or because of their beliefs? Bear witness to the humanity of all people, including those who break society’s conventions or its laws. Try to discern new growing points in social and economic life. Seek to understand the causes of injustice, social unrest and fear. Are you working to bring about a just and compassionate society which allows everyone to develop their capacities and fosters the desire to serve?

There is so much to do here that I went back to the introduction to Advices and queries, part of which reads:

Advices and queries are not a call to increased activity by each individual Friend but a reminder of the insights of the Society. Within the community there is a diversity of gifts. We are all therefore asked to consider how far the advices and queries affect us personally and where our own service lies.

Something that spoke to me personally was ‘Seek to understand the causes of … fear.’

In particular I have been thinking recently about Islamophobia, terrorism and fear. I attended a course ‘Understanding Islam, Challenging Islamophobia’.

I don’t watch television news, it is too graphic for me, and I increasingly don’t listen to the radio. I used to listen while I washed up, cooked and cleaned, but I have been working on just doing what I’m doing. Being aware that I am preparing vegetables, washing up, sweeping – whatever it may be. The downside of this generally helpful spiritual practice is that I am somewhat isolated from what many people are hearing and seeing in the media reports.

The course made me look at recent newspaper headlines, gave me opportunities to meet some people directly affected by islamophobic attitudes and helped me to think about government policies.

Terrorists seek to influence the world by creating a climate of fear – so that is one cause of fear.

Many of our newspapers report events (terrorist attacks and other totally unconnected events) in a way that increases fear – another cause. Other media especially radio and television behave similarly. Social media are clearly a factor – my feeling is that they can work both ways especially as different people use them in very different ways.

Many government policies and announcements also increase fear, while apparently seeking to reduce it. I was amazed to hear last autumn a government pronouncement that Russian bombing in Syria would increase fear and lead to increased radicalisation and violence, only to be told a few days later that American bombing in Syria (supported by Britain) would reassure the Syrians and reduce those wanting to join ISIS or similar organisations.

The PREVENT strategy, as currently implemented in at least some parts of the UK, is increasing fear levels especially among minority groups.

So is there anything I can do to help reduce these levels of fear? In the specific context of islamophobia another factor is fear of the unknown. People who have no contact with Muslims are more likely to be affected by media images. I live and work in a multi-ethnic, culturally and religiously rich part of a town with a population that mostly gets along well together. It seems really important to help more people to a better understanding of Islam, and to just meeting Muslims socially and in normal daily interactions at work and in the shops to build understanding that we are all just people with largely the same concerns. My Muslim colleagues report that they are subject to nasty looks and some unpleasant verbal insults, but don’t, in this town, fear physical assault. They are, however, worried about others in their families who need to travel into, for instance, central London, for work. Most parents from all backgrounds would have a similar concern, although it doesn’t lead any of us to avoid such travel, despite some recent terrorist attacks on public transport venues.

So I’ll talk to people, circulate reports of the course, and, particularly important I feel, continue the work I’m doing with others in the Watford Interfaith Association. No drama, but some positive action that is within my present capabilities.

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