Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

Street Fear by Hatto Fischer

Street Fear

In this context of cultural capital cities coming together to honor culture as a special form of governance,

whereby governance is understood as dialog, as dance of the imagination, as chance given to everyone to participate, to open up doors and to extend horizons into the future,

so that culture can be sung about as imagined reason for our self understanding,


We acknowledge that such culture depends upon people being not merely productive as to when they build more cars and especially jeeps to crowd the streets but upon them becoming creative when answering questions of life. After all cultural governance is a non violent way of people living and working together and rather than seeking revenge or victories they speak with one another on the basis of equality.

Consequently, in view of the need for cultural governance of cities, one decisive question has to be posed due to what people experience in cities of today:

Why street fear?

Meant is not the fear of parents for their children when playing amidst cars making streets unsafe, nor what makes women afraid to walk home alone at night, or us being fearful when not finding our way in a strange neighborhood deemed unsafe by everyone,

for despite all this mingling and rushing of people through the streets everyday, people of different colors, backgrounds, odd ways of dressing and walking, when coming our way, alone or in groups, no, they do not make us afraid even if they challenge us in our own identities, but why then ‘street fear’ in this 21st century?

There was that shout of a pedestrian in New York when he saw that plane fly into one of the Two Twin Towers as if he could not believe his own eyes: “o holy shit!”

Street fear was not buried then in the debris when those two towers collapsed but arises, so to speak, out of the ashes like the sphinx. It has marked us ever since as witnesses. By now we know too many faces covered in dust all these bomb explosions leave behind.  People come out of such situations changed. The woman with the white mask after the London bombing communicated on that day to everyone watching ‘breaking news’ on television street fear exists now permanently in our numbed souls.

Street fear tells us what we can expect, namely that the next bomb shall go off unexpectedly. When it happens, there will be drawn again a coincidental dividing line amongst innocent by-standers by suicide bombers. The division is between those ripped out of daily life as victims and those who were only brushed by death but lucky enough to escape this time. Everyone knows he or she could have been easily on the other side of that fine dividing line. There is the sad story of that London girl who left the underground to take the bus only to be blown up then. She may have thought to have picked a safer route.

Street fear as metaphor says we no longer find refuge in cities against violence, something Derrida still thought to be possible provided cities respond immediately to violence by creating new laws to ensure that non violence prevails. Such laws should let everyone become creative and not suppress the other out of fear. Instead we experience a kind of lawlessness or disregard for civil liberties and human rights especially by those justifying war over peace. No wonder we have problems drawing our mental maps when trying to find our way. It is because the war zone shifts all the time in this global war against terrorism. Terror cannot be contained solely to the streets of Baghdad if lack of respect for human life dictates lawlessness everywhere.

The Irish poet Brendan Kennelly expresses in a poem called ‘Nails’ an outcome of his contemplation about ‘poetry and violence’. Here then a poetic interlude in dedication to all innocent bystanders and victims:



The black van exploded

Fifty yards from the hotel entrance.

Two men, one black-haired, the other red,

Had parked it there as though for a few moments

While they walked around the corner

Not noticing, it seemed, the children

In single file behind their perky leader,

And certainly not seeing the van

Explode into the children’s bodies.

Nails, nine inches long, lodged

In chest, ankle, thigh, buttock, shoulder, face.

The quickly gathered crowd was outraged and shocked.

Some children were whole, others bits and pieces.

These blasted cruxifixions are commonplace.


The poem asks simply if there is no other way to react than to be outraged and shocked while left alone with street fear? Some suggested after the 7th of July bombing in London citizens should be allowed to search the bags of others in case of appearing suspicious. A white man tried to do so some day after while taking the Northern Line. He started shaking hands with everyone as sign of trust. When one black guy refused, he immediately started to curse. It was pure panic with racial undertones. But what terrible consequence of street fear, if people would start controlling each other as if the police? Clearly if we do not come to terms with street fear, we risk being without trust and cultural tolerance.

After the bomb blasts in London July 7th people started to eye each other with suspicion, but what happens to cities once public trust in open spaces is gone? The timing could not have been worse. London had just been awarded the previous day the Olympics for 2012 due to being a model of the future. That model stands for a multi-culturalism which allows different people to live together. It was damaged then. It left many more people outraged over multi culturalism than thinking about the need for education to integrate people. Nor do they seem to take note that once cities are designed only for consumption, they are not open for other people with different models of existence in mind.

Still, between defiance as many British people showed in the London aftermaths and Bali people taking rice and holy water to their Gods in order to blow away evil spirits, there must be a way to bridge cultural differences when it comes to respond to human tragedy. It is not what police investigations and military actions can answer, for the important question of street fear is not what will separate, but unite people? Salmun Rushdie declared he is no longer afraid for his life alone for ‘we all are targets’. However, as one taxi driver in London pointed out one day after July 7th, the common people forced to take the underground are vulnerable and that differs greatly from the well off ones who are protected!

Clearly street fear says divisions in society can deepen especially if we fail to act in solidarity with the vulnerable ones: children, women and men of all walks of life. Solidarity cannot be shown when at war unleashing only destructive forces. Rather violence must be halted in a non violent way and not by throwing people out of jobs when trying to improve the economy. Solidarity amongst people exists when violence cannot be used against any single human being. That includes structural violence overriding human rights. It is culture that needs creative and free individuals.

As to the asymmetrical warfare being conducted in Iraq where the best equipped and organized army in the world fights ‘invisible’ insurgents, it is not terror which is being defeated but ever more people who feel threatened in their freedom. As the American poet Sam Hamill points out, the US government has yet to realize that an army cannot defeat terrorism since it is a tactic. As long as this is not understood civilians suffer.

Bush speaks about the battle for the hearts and minds of people. Well, they are civilians. However, when it came to Falluja, people had to flee. Those who did not make it out in time, were caught in between the two sides. While insurgents fought back traumatized people became prisoners in their own homes. And once street fear becomes too intense, people want to leave the city deemed now unsafe. Again it is the vulnerable people who are in need of walking every day through the streets. These are the arteries bringing life into the cities. Without people in streets cities are nothing.

Street fear can be aptly described as the emotional response of people to being targets of arbitrary attacks. Too many innocent people have lost already their lives in a warfare that does not know where to draw the line. The war against terrorism over extends itself for those in power fear to appear weak and vulnerable like every human being in the street. It is this lack of identification with the other as human being that makes violence possible in a combination of both war and terrorism.

Cultural Capital Cities should recognize ‘street fear’ as a humane way of questioning the politics of this war. People do not want to be treated as mere passive victims, and they need culture to understand not in rage, but in a civilized way, how to advance non violence as prerequisite of peace. If the world is to get out of the vicious cycle of violence in which the war against terrorism has entangled everyone in, we need to listen to what ‘street fear’ tries to tell us. Rather than give in to a war in permanence, people wish an end to this war. Here Cultural Capital Cities of Europe have a task to fulfill: to make such an end through cultural governance possible. Otherwise things will go terribly wrong.


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