The Humanity of Fear

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Are we ignoring the fact that even just for a moment we feared the fate of our city and our loved ones, then and also in the future? Could this attitude breed ignorance?

On the morning of January 14, 2016, Jakarta’s Sarinah complex at the center of the city was hit by a copycat style assault similar to the Islamic State (IS) attacks on Paris in November 2015.

Several small bombs were detonated around Sarinah and there managed to be a short gunfight between policemen and the alleged terrorists afterwards. Carried out allegedly by IS sympathizers or even members, the attack however failed to generate the destructive and traumatic impact of Paris, but it did succeed in killing 2 civilians (one foreigner) and destroyed a well-known Starbucks in the middle of the city.

Remarkably, the attack on Sarinah only lasted 4 hours. The scenes of the attack in Jakarta were extraordinary, due to the fact that Indonesians’ primal curiosities lead many civilians to actually go down to the area of gunfire and witness it on the sidelines.

Partly because of this, social media posts boasted about this alleged “bravery” of the Jakartans, spurring the hashtag #KamiTidakTakut”, meaning “Jakarta is Not Afraid”.

The images shared on social media ranged from sate vendors and food hawkers still carrying out their regular duties as the atrocities went on, with some photographed even serving the fighting police force. Many even applauded the curious civilian crowd who went down into the active scene to watch. These scenes were widely celebrated by Indonesians online.

However, the #KamiTidakTakut hashtag carries with it a boastful wind and could dangerously lead some people into ignorance and complacency. By bragging that they do not fear terrorism, they feel like there is no need to do anything to prevent it.

First of all in a crisis such as that, I wouldn’t think there was anybody, especially those within the vicinity of the attack, who was NOT scared when the event first began. Those located far away from the commotion even received worrying questions from friends and family asking you where you were, and whether they were okay. Parents panicked about the situation in the vicinity of their children.

The latter message though is an important and a significant one that aimed to gather solidarity in the city and to seemingly quell any panic on that day. #KamiTidakTakut was great in that sense.

But to say that one wasn’t scared when it happened? On the contrary, within those four hours, fear travelled faster than lightning did.

Hours into the attacks, hoax reports of other blasts in various areas of the city emerged and people, within their panic, spread that through the internet without any prior confirmation. The hoaxes, presented like chopped up chain letters, were born due to pure assumption.

Other rumors that sprung up included reports that three terrorists were on the run after the gunfight in Sarinah, carrying AK-47s with them on motorbikes, heading to the busy thoroughfare of Semanggi planning to shoot any civilian on sight. Bombs also reportedly detonated outside the Pakistan and Turkish embassies for some reason, bla bla bla.

The fear of more terror drove people to create, spread and believe these rumors.

Media outlets too, (mainly TV) they broadcasted these chain messages as fact, which made them the true catalysts of the panic. The false reports even struck the webpages of international news agencies such as the Guardian and Reuters. They were feeding off this false information that circulated due to citizen and media panic.

You couldn’t blame them though. And in a way you couldn’t blame the citizens from spreading this information either. They were afraid, and for a moment they let that fear control them.

At 9pm that night, reports of more blast sounds taking place in Sarinah emerged, spurring many news spreads and panic on social media as well. Everyone was relieved that the blast ended up “only” being a truck’s blown tire.

Did that incident symbolize the attitude behind the #KamiTidakTakut hashtag? Were we really not scared that there could have been additional attacks that night, and feared more bloodshed?

If we really were not scared when the attacks took place, we wouldn’t have asked where our loved ones are and whether or not they were okay, nor will we be spreading unconfirmed news reports as if they are the solid fact.

Of course terrorism scares us. We need to just merely accept that fact, and carry on regardless. There’s no shame in admitting that one has fear. What we shouldn’t do is to let this existing fear control us.

A good friend of mine suggested that the appropriate hashtag that should have circulated was #SafetyCheckJKT, at least before #KamiTidakTakut. It doesn’t have to be through that Facebook feature. People could merely use that hashtag to assure others that they are safe, because there is no fear greater than the thought of losing a loved one.

But I realize #SafetyCheckJKT doesn’t have the kind of global and solidifying appeal as #KamiTidakTakut or #PrayForJakarta. Does it matter though?

What makes Indonesians remarkable in their response is the way they are able to mask their fears with humor. The humor that came out following the attacks gave the city comic relief and actually helped extinguish any further panic. Even the unimportant and puke-worthy campaigns to find hot policemen were relatively helpful.

It was probably the best way to water down further hoaxes and also boost the morale of the city.

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What can be done now? To prevent any other attacks from popping up again, the government must begin to consider the behavior patterns and psychology behind IS’s foreign terror campaigns.

Nobody in Paris ever thought that they would be struck twice by them in 2015. Nobody in Tunisia or Turkey saw attacks in the heart of their safety zones coming as well. Jakarta didn’t see it coming too.

However, I have a fear that unless swift measures by the government and anti-terror operations are quickly and effectively carried out, with the help of meticulous intelligence operations too, IS will definitely attempt to strike again in Indonesia.

IS are rarely known as one trick ponies. If their attacks did not deliver the carnage they aimed for, they will try again. They succeeded in delivering heartbreak in that one Tunisian resort attack, and they succeeded in shaking the Russian populace by blowing up that passenger jet in Egypt. They got their message across in these events.

Charlie Hebdo’s assault in Paris on January 2015 was more or less an attack on Western journalism, but the impact did not envelop the entire French society as much as the November attack did.

Even though Indonesian affiliates had failed to deliver this time, there is no guarantee that they will not try again.

And when that time comes, which I hope never will, can you really say that you are not afraid?

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