2016: THE AGE OF AGORAPHOBIA?

by Faizal Nor Izham

I kicked off 2016 by … not going out at all.

At first glance, that would not seem completely unusual. Many would prefer to stay indoors than brave the rain, cold, and the above-average bustle of crowds on New Year’s Eve — however this was during a recent holiday spent in London, which hosted some of the most spectacular fireworks displays in the country. Watching the display afterwards online, I couldn’t help but feel a twinge of regret at not being there to see them in real life. Having said that, fireworks are usually the same old spectacle anyway, regardless of the event.

Another factor behind not going out this time was due to mild agoraphobia on my behalf— agoraphobia being the fear of going outdoors and wide open spaces. This, admittedly, was perpetuated recently by the constant bombardment of paranoid news stories from the media on the possibility of more terror attacks. ‘Security will be tight’ some said, with experts speculating even more attacks are to be expected in 2016. No matter how resilient a person thinks they are to all this, feelings of paranoia can eventually get to you.

(Members of the German police stand in the central railway station in Munich © EPA/SVEN HOPPE)

On the other hand, this fear is not exactly unfounded paranoia. In Munich, as a result of warnings of a ‘serious, imminent’ threat to the New Year celebrations, two major railway stations were evacuated. It would appear that the paranoia has infiltrated the authorities as well — after receiving a warning, just hours before the New Year, regarding the terror threat, Bavaria’s Interior Minister Joachim Herrmann admitted ‘that the police were no longer sure whether the plot was real.’

In Brussels, fireworks displays were cancelled shortly before New Year’s Eve after the arrest of two men in connection with an alleged planned attack, while another six people were detained for questioning. In New York, an American convert was arrested on suspicion of plotting a terror-style attack on a Rochester restaurant. Just after the New Year, Tel Aviv was rocked by a shooting at a bar, claiming the lives of two while injuring seven others — the shootings followed, according to the BBC, ‘a wave of Palestinian attacks against Israelis over the past few months’. In Egypt, paranoia initially mounted as three tourists, two Austrians and a Swede, were stabbed at a hotel. However, hotel officials later dispelled all fears by blaming the attack on “drugged young men” and not terrorists.

Worse still, according to a right wing media source, experts claim that terror attacks are speculated to increase even further in 2016. Whether this will translate into reality or not remains to be seen, but the possibility nonetheless exists. This, of course, has been perpetuated even further by an apparent call from ISIS leaders encouraging sleeper cells in Europe to rise, although the contrasting response online by more level-headed Muslims has been reassuring.

But the most pertinent question is: will this so-called fear of wide open spaces prove to be a more common symptom as we move further into 2016? It is crucial that we do not allow ourselves to lose out in this psychological battle. Since 9/11 it can be argued that we have been perpetually living in the age of terror anyway, and that the symptoms of that age to this day are nothing new. So why should we continue to be perturbed by all this constant fear-mongering everywhere we turn? It should never discourage us from living our everyday lives to the fullest.

However, in the back of our minds remains that stark possibility, no matter how remote, that it is best to remain vigilant. Toeing the line between living a free and meaningful life alongside keeping a watchful eye on our surroundings, as well as keeping up to date with the worrisome news in the rest of the world, is proving to be an increasingly arduous task as we make the slow grind into 2016.

 

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