On Fear

Eviction of Africa House, Calais, 2011. Photo by

There is a sense of fear in the air in the recent months. Fear of different kinds: some is well-founded, some completely invented, some is spoken about openly and some is pushed deep down, denied and transformed into hate and violence or bravery and compassion.

The most obvious of all fears seems to be the one spread by the securitarian discourse: migrants are a threat and you should fear them. Personally I feel fear connected with the normalisation of such a discourse, as well as by the current rise of the extreme right and its political and grass-root influence. The newly arrived, labeled as "migrants", have good reasons for different types of fears. There is increased structural and police violence: as of the 8th of March, the humanitarian corridor is officially closed down. The recent illegalisation of travel has already caused the first deaths: three people drowned trying to cross a river in Macedonia, just days after the closure of the Greek-Macedonian border. The sense of uncertainty as to what will happen to those who have arrived to the EU in the past several months is frightening too. To be able to stay and qualify for refugee status, asylum procedures oblige people to prove that they face "well-founded fear" persecution in the country of their flight – and if they cannot prove it, well then theirs is the well-founded fear they might face detention or deportation. And of course, there is the increase of racist attacks: in Germany, the arson attack on a lagers, where migrants are accommodated, are a regular occurence. All these fears also affect those who solidarise and support the newly arrived – the supporters often living with the fear that they will be criminalised for helping those, who have been illegalised.

The recent violence, but also solidarity and resistance in the jungle of Calais, which is currently being evicted, reminds me of the eviction I witnessed in the summer of 2011. Eviction after eviction, from the individual squats, to whole sections of the jungle, the violence is constant, increasingly brutal and well-documented, but remains unsanctioned and endorsed by the local and national authorities.

The current eviction of the jungle is much more large scale and even more brutal than the one I witnessed in the summer of 2011. That time it was the French riot police (CRS) that descended on and brutally evicted the "Africa House", a self-organised squat in which we were staying with well over a hundred people from Sudan, Erytrea, Ethiopia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iran. The evening before the eviction was announced, I was paralysed by fear: I was afraid of the police violence, of repression, of what will happen to all my friends who will find themselves homeless. Even though the Africa House, an old, huge derelict building, was slowly falling apart and in many places did not have all four walls intact, even though it was raided by the police a couple of times a week, it was still a space of mutual aid and solidarity, a place where you could gather some strength and know that a comrade is watching for the police raid and that they would wake you up with whistle-blows before the CRS riot cops reach the front gate.

Sitting next to my friend, who was preparing some food and singing quietly to herself, I asked her how come she is not afraid at all about the events of the next day. Her answer stayed with me till today.

"Do you think I am not scared?" she said. "I am terrified, honestly! But there are many other things I feel to. I allow myself to be scared, there's no use in fighting off fear, telling yourself you should not feel it and trying to tame it – firstly, it never works and it just eats up all your energy taming the fear, and secondly, if you are a normal human being, you will feel fear when a squad of riot cops descends upon a building you are staying in. But in the moments when I feel afraid, I try also to listen to other emotions that there are mixed with it and I try to remember what is important to me. I am really passionate about fighting for this house, the space here is hugely important and a temporary home for many. I am also very angry: how can people be 'illegal' and arresting them, beating them up, using tear gas on them is 'legal'? It is all of these other things that make me do what I do and, well, fear is just one thing among many I feel!"

The lesson I took from her words was that it is crucial to identify fear as fear, allow ourselves to feel it fully, but also to think carefully about whether acting out of fear is justified and to listen for other emotions that exist parallel to, or despite the fear. It is a lesson very helpful for me, especially in the recent months, with this sense of fear in the air...

comments powered by Disqus