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Fearmongers are us: The Worldwide Caution

Fearmongering hysteria on the State Department website serves to distract from the fact that the US prefers to spend its money on wars

Earlier this month, the US State Department announced that it was “updating the Worldwide Caution to provide information on the continuing threat of terrorist actions and violence against US citizens and interests throughout the world.”

The update appeared in the “Travel Alerts & Warnings” section of the department’s website, which regularly advises Americans of possible international existential perils ranging from jihadist militants to pernicious diseases to severe weather patterns.

The website specifies that the new warning has been issued in replacement of the Worldwide Caution of April 2014 - after all, God forbid US citizens be permitted to go for more than six months without being reminded that the whole world is out to get them.

The threats are arranged geographically (Europe, Africa, Central Asia, and so on), and - as you might expect - consist primarily of Islamic extremist groups, with some non-extremist ones and pirates thrown in, as well.

Americans in Iraq, for example, are said to “remain at high risk for kidnapping and terrorist violence,” while India plays host to “terrorist and insurgent activities which may affect US citizens directly or indirectly.”

But beyond the numerous locations that have been singled out for mention, the upshot is that nowhere is safe. The introduction to the Caution lists potential terrorist targets that span international boundaries: “high-profile sporting events, residential areas, business offices, hotels, clubs, restaurants, places of worship, schools, public areas, shopping malls, and other tourist destinations both in the United States and abroad where US citizens gather in large numbers, including during holidays.”

Lest citizens start thinking they’ll simply hide from the apocalypse in the subway, the Caution goes on to “remind… of potential for terrorists to attack public transportation systems and other tourist infrastructure.”

Don’t connect the dots

The only clue as to why there might be such animosity towards the US appears in a paragraph explaining that on 22 September of this year, “the United States and regional partners commenced military action against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL)” - also known as ISIS or IS.

According to “authorities,” we are told, there is thus an “increased likelihood of reprisal attacks,” although the Caution fails to mention the prominent role the US & partners played in creating ISIL in the first place or the fact that collaborative military action translates into one hell of a terrorist recruitment campaign, inevitably boosting support for the organisation.

There is, of course, a more profound cause and effect relationship at play here, studiously ignored by the Cautioners - namely, that the US penchant for bloody military campaigns and other forms of human torment has succeeded in engendering a fair bit of international ill will.

The devastation unleashed on Iraq and Afghanistan - plus subtler operations like the slaughter-by-drone of Pakistani and Yemeni civilians - provides pretty compelling evidence that, were select nations to compile their own lists of threats to citizens’ safety, the US would probably be well-represented.

But the refusal to connect the historical dots that is the American government’s modus operandi is particularly helpful in cultivating an uninformed public that is willing to throw its support behind bellicose endeavours.

There’s meanwhile little chance that citizens traumatised by the thought of vindictive Muslims lurking behind every rock will be venturing out into the world to connect the dots themselves. This can only lead to the reinforcement of an anti-reality characterised by increased insularity, xenophobia, and dehumanisation of the “Other.”

Making the world safe for weapons

According to another country-specific example included in the Worldwide Caution, “the potential for death or injury in Lebanon exists because of periodic terrorist bombing attacks throughout the country.”

Never mind that the potential for death or injury by traffic accident in the US also exists - and is quite high. Certain threats take priority.

Unsurprisingly, the Caution contains not a peep about one of the primary perpetrators of terroristic bombing attacks on Lebanese territory: the state of Israel, which over the course of 34 days in 2006 eliminated approximately 1200 persons in Lebanon, most of them civilians.

During this particular series of massacres, which saw US weapons rush-shipped to the Israelis, the US government initially attempted to charge US citizens in Lebanon for the luxury of evacuation out from under the bombardment - once again calling into question said government’s supposed concern for its people.

The absence of concern should long have been glaringly apparent given the fact that the state prefers to spend its money on wars rather than health care, education, or other useful things for the domestic population.

While fearmongering hysteria on the State Department website may serve to distract from such negligence, however, imperial war doesn’t make the world safer for anyone but the arms industry.

The Worldwide Caution requests that citizens “take appropriate steps to increase their security awareness.” Step number one should be to trash the document itself.

- Belen Fernandez is the author of The Imperial Messenger: Thomas Friedman at Work, published by Verso. She is a contributing editor at Jacobin magazine.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Photo: US Secretary of State John Kerry addresses members of the Diplomatic Corps about the spread of Ebola at the State Department in Washington, DC on 17 October