28 July 2005

Wednesday July 27, 2005

Globalisation of fear


When we hear the word “globalisation”, we think immediately of McDonald’s and Starbucks, and moan the fact that it seems to go only one way. True globalisation will probably only exist when people can buy nasi lemak at corner stalls in New York.

But one aspect of globalisation hardly ever merits a mention. And that is the globalisation of fear, grief and rage. In the past 10 years I have had to feel this globalisation of emotions, particularly fear and grief, four times. Two were for natural disasters, the Kobe earthquake in 1995 and the recent tsunami, and two others were for man-made tragedies – the Sept 11 events in the United States and the recent July 7 bombings in London.

In all four events, I feared for friends in all the affected areas and started working the phones and e-mails trying to find them. I found my friend Sunita from Kobe safe and sound after one week. During the recent tsunami I had friends in Phuket and Sri Lanka whom I nervously waited for news for several days. All were safe, though some had narrow escapes.

When Sept 11 happened, I immediately thought of friends who lived in Lower Manhattan and my cousin who lives in Washington DC. It took many long distance phone calls, frantic e-mails and unnerving days of waiting before I received confirmation that they were all fine. (One who was not fine was an uncle who suffered a heart attack and passed away after watching the dreadful events in his hotel room in Chicago.)

On July 7, I got the news just as I was packing to leave for Europe. It felt like a nightmare all over again. Having studied in Britain, I have some very close friends in London. One of them, Dharshi, a Sri Lankan, commutes to London every day from Cambridge, arriving at King’s Cross station, to go to work. I called their handphones and their homes and there was no response. A few agonising hours later, one SMS came back: We are OK. But not from the most vulnerable of them all, Dharshi.

When I got to Europe, I kept calling and SMS-ing. With every non-response, my stomach got even more tied up in knots. It was not until some 36 hours after the bombing happened that I finally got news of Dharshi. She had actually come into King’s Cross station during the evacuation alert and had decided to take the Northern Line underground to go to work. This was the subway line that it is speculated the alleged bomber on the bus was supposed to have taken but somehow did not. It was lucky for Dharshi; not so lucky for 16 other people on the bus.

I found my other friend Chris the next morning. The feeling of relief that all my friends were safe was intense. I’m sure that was the same for everyone else in London and elsewhere who had to search for their friends and loved ones. But it must be nothing compared to the grief of those who learnt that theirs were no more.

It might seem elitist to actually have friends in so many countries abroad to worry over. But the world gets smaller every day with easier travel and communications, so this globalisation of fear and grief is going to affect more and more people. While we don’t have to have friends in these affected places to empathise and sympathise, knowing someone makes it even more real and chilling.

And even while you can make intelligent guesses as to what motivates these things, it doesn’t dissipate the pain at seeing so many needless deaths and injuries. And what is worse, feeling that lingering pain of once more being lumped together with violent destructive people just because, on the surface of things, we have a common faith.

Having felt such fear and grief for events so far away, today I felt a total rage when reading that the father of one of the alleged pilots of the Sept 11 planes actually praised the London bombings and called for more! (On July 21, there were more, albeit less deadly.) We have to wonder what lost moral compass such a person has to call for more deaths, including those of Muslims.

He even said that the Muslims who condemned the bombings should be declared traitors to the faith. What a perfect way to project Islam! It only confirms that it is not a peaceful non-violent religion to those who are prejudiced, and to those who have suffered at the hands of these bombers.

Looking at reactions to all this violence, I am convinced that violence by all parties begets nothing but more violence. Violence is physical and structural. It is not limited to bombs; it also means repression of people by the state or those powerful enough to act as a state.

Invading other people’s countries is an act of violence; therefore it should be no surprise that people react violently. Killing people on public transport is also an act of violence and invites more. As we feel more insecure, people spend more on “security” but it makes us only feel more oppressed because we always lose our freedom. Let us never be fooled that violent acts will give us peace, freedom and democracy.