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Saffiyah Edoo

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We often underestimate the power of fear. In our humanly trait of being egoistical, we believe that we can overcome fear easily. That is even more apparent when someone expresses a state of fear and we secretly gloat that had we been in that particular situation, we would have been so courageous, that fear would have beaten a retreat. And yet, it’s only when faced with same that we realise the power of fear. This four-letter word (same in French) may be small in writing but extremely potent when experienced. And this potency has exploded in the local public sphere recently. What had been a latent feeling, talked in hushed tones, shared with only trusted ones, has been mightily propelled with the feeling being expressed, and acted upon, by movers and shakers from various walks of life.

Fear is a great tool in the hands of ruling powers. In his article, “Fear – A Dictator’s Tool”*, David Crane states: “…a frightened populace will allow their government to take drastic measures to protect them without protest, usually from perceived evil that threatens their society or country externally.” He explains the notion further: “In a perverse way they tell their frightened citizens “We may have to take away your liberties, even kill some of you, to protect you from that boogeyman”. Never have our thinking and discerning powers and mindsets been so solicited than today, in the age of (mis)information. It has become all the more important to take any information we are presented with, examine it with multifaceted lenses and try to see beyond face value.

Fear is insidious. It starts creeping when we see others being suspiciously sanctioned for speaking out, for emitting criticisms. At this stage, we feel caution, we tell ourselves that we will have to be careful. But when things start getting more serious, with harsher “punishments” thrown in, the scare becomes real. A feeling of dread begins to spread at a point where full-blown fear constricts the whole being. We begin to think twice, thrice even about posting a statement, an opinion, or writing, which constitute a means of expressing ourselves, therefore exercising a liberty. But when liberty is being taken away in the subtlest manner, the sentiment of being caged becomes overwhelming.

It is a pity that we have come to such a state of affairs in what is supposed to be democracy. The state has changed, in all but name. And we are all well aware of it. If journalists and lawyers, liberals at heart, today fear for their freedoms, what of the laypersons or the citizens who take to social media or newspapers to express themselves? Many have to think hard before doing what used to be second nature because possible repercussions need now be considered, not necessarily on the poster/writer but rather on immediate loved ones. It becomes very easy to get smothered by fear perpetuated stealthily by those who do, thus giving fear and the powers the upper hand. It is a mental game of dangerous proportions. While efforts are being concentrated on quelling any disruption, disapproval or denunciation, the effects that these have on mental health cannot be disregarded. The sentiment of being detained in one’s own homeland is overwhelming and can easily lead to fearful obedience. So, what needs to be done? The impetuous would say to throw all cautions to the wind and defy fear. But the cautious would be inspired by Nelson Mandela** and would try to conquer fear. However, this is easier said than done and requires a great deal of support, critical thinking and wise writing, all the more decreasing now given the dwindling level of the education system, which the most cynical might consider a tool used to dumb down future generations, to perpetuate obedience and sheep mentality.

The first step would be to acknowledge that there is an issue, that there are intimidation tactics in play, especially since the majority of key institutions is far from being independently run, let’s not even talk about integrity. Secondly, once acknowledged, there needs to be a safe space for expression, support groups, filled with like-minded people, where trust and freedom reign, so that people can vent out. Thirdly, and most importantly, people need to build their confidence, to speak out, when needs be and do so wisely, which entails a sound knowledge of one’s rights and liberties and stand to defend those. Lastly, if the powers that be are true to their word of “serving the people”, they should respect the people and stop using institutions to do their dirty jobs.

We have reached a dangerous crossroad where what this country has amounted to in terms of progress is threatened. Progress is not infrastructure, tram lines, or hospitals only; progress is also progress in mindset, progress in ways of thinking, and the ability to break chains of practices that have become obsolete. It is upon whoever feels concerned to sit up and take stock of what is going on and decide on the way forward, whether we want to be Big Brothered or whether we want another way of life.

*David M. Crane, Fear – A Dictator’s Tool, JURIST – Academic Commentary, Jan. 29, 2019, http://jurist.org/forum/2019/01/crane-fear-dictators-tool/

**“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” – Nelson Mandela


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