Monday Moanin’: So what is it that we are all so afraid of?

By Jeff Salisbury

What are we all so afraid of?

“I’m not afraid
To take a stand
Come take my hand
We’ll walk this road together, through the storm
Whatever weather, cold or warm
Just letting you know that you’re not alone”

— “Not Afraid” by Marshal Mather (Eminem)

A “wolfpack” survives fourteen years in captivity

Last momister journalism2nth Penny and I watched a compelling and thought-provoking segment on ABC’s 20/20 about The Wolfpack, a 2015 documentary film about a family who home schooled and because the parents were so afraid of the outside world that they raised their seven children in the confinement of their apartment in the Lower East Side of New York City. The film, directed by Crystal Moselle, premiered on January 25, 2015, at the Sundance Film Festival, where it won the U.S. Documentary Grand Jury Prize.

The documentary tells the story of the Angulo family’s seven children — six brothers named Mukunda, Narayana, Govinda, Bhagavan, Krisna (Glenn), and Jagadesh (Eddie), and their sister Visnu— who were kept locked away 14 years, where they learned about the world only through watching thousands and thousands of popular movies. They were home schooled by their mother who actually grew up in Burr Oak, Mich. Their father, Oscar, so fearful of the outside world that he prohibited the kids and their mother, Susanne, from leaving the apartment except for a few strictly-monitored trips, because he had the only key. Susanne met Oscar Angulo, a Hare Krishna devotee, when she traveled to Peru in 1989.

Everything changed for them when 15-year-old Mukunda decided to walk around the neighborhood in January 2010, against their father’s instruction to remain inside. The brothers, one-by-one and in small groups, decide to explore Manhattan by re-enacting scenes from their favorite movies. (Wikipedia) Locally, the documentary is running at the Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts (downtown Grand Rapids) from June 26 through July 16.

Guess I won’t take the elevator after all

I had my own first-hand experience with fearfulness. I was already thinking about the documentary and what would compel someone to be so fearful to nearly imprison their children.

After parking my car in the ramp above the UICA, I approached the nearby elevator just ahead of a woman who, just after pressing the call button, looked over her shoulder – and just as I smiled and nodded – but before I could even say, “Hello” – she turned quickly to her left and stepped quickly for the stairs. No sooner had the stairway door closed behind her than the elevator opened. I ended up arriving at the first floor the same time the woman did and she bolted through the exit door and onto the Division Avenue sidewalk.

I sort of chuckled to myself and wonder just how, in my polo shirt, tan khaki slacks and suspenders with my jacket over my shoulder and my Anna Maria Island souvenir cap, I would pose a threat to anyone. I thought to myself, “Gosh, she looked like someone who comes downtown more often than I do – which is pretty much never – can’t recall the last time I was downtown – and certainly not without Penny – where’s a mirror? I must see if I look like a suspicious character instead of a Grampa headed for the art center.”

I’m afraid and I just don’t believe you!

Then, keeping in the same vein, I listened to a National Public Radio program, “On Being” hosted by Krista Tippett. Today’s program was a lengthy but fascinating interview with Rami Nashashibi, who founded the Inner-City Muslim Action Network (IMAN) in Chicago in 1996 and has since become one of the leading Muslim charity organizations in the US. Nashashibi uses graffiti, calligraphy and hip-hop in his work as a healing force on the South Side of Chicago.

A Palestinian-American, he started his activism with at-risk urban Muslim families, especially youth, while he was still a college student. He has a PhD in sociology from the University of Chicago and has been an adjunct professor at various colleges and universities across the Chicagoland area, where he has taught a range of sociology, anthropology, and other social science courses and he is a fascinating example who, despite Homeland Security threat levels, and new stories everywhere about terrorists, has become a leading voice about the Muslim-American Dream flourishing against the odds in post-9/11 America.

Here’s portion of the transcript pertinent to the subject of fear.

“I spoke not too far from here, I think, in a university a couple of years ago. And often in my Q&A and maybe even in this conversation, I really beg, I need my students to be very honest and very politically incorrect if that’s what they’re thinking. And I had one woman who, God bless her soul, who took me up on that [laughs]. After 35 minutes of this talk about human rights and Muslims, she got up and said, “Everything you said sounds so beautiful, but I just honestly want to say, I don’t believe you.” And then the exchange that she and I had both publicly and after the forum, really I ended — I mean, she ended with hugging and kissing me [laughs] and asking me to run for office…

  1. TIPPETT (chuckling): Untrustworthy as you were.
  2. NASHASHIBI: …And we had a great conversation, but the reality is that there’s still vast parts of the people in this country where a lot of Americans have not had honest, real conversations with Muslims. And I think that can go a long way in assuaging some of those anxieties. But those anxieties are there. And there’s an anxiety for me even about when to kind of be OK with talking about the very basics and when to say, “Hey, damn it, we’ve been here.” We’ve been doing great things. We shouldn’t have to convince you that we are part and parcel of the American experience. And so I sometimes vacillate between those two feelings.”

Why do we have so many fears these days? Are we living in exceptionally dangerous times?

The Culture of Fear was written in 1999 by Barry Glassner, a sociology professor at the University of Southern California. The book is all about why America is a country that is engrossed with fear. Glassner examines and exposes the people and organizations that manipulate Americans’ perceptions and profit from the resulting anxiety. The politicians, advocacy groups, and TV newsmagazines are “peddlers of fear,” according to Glassner, who weigh people down with needless worries and waste billions of dollars in the process.

According to Glassner, three out of four Americans say they feel more fearful today than they did 20 years ago. He explores such questions as: Why do we have so many fears these days? Are we living in exceptionally dangerous times? What he uncovers is that it is our perception of danger than has increased, not our actual level of risk. There are people and organizations in America that actually profit from these fears and so they create them, but there are prices we pay for social panics, including money that is wasted on unnecessary programs and products as well as time and energy spent worrying about these fears. ( )

Since I don’t believe much in coincidences, I guess the Universe or Spirit is telling me that I shouldn’t be afraid to head to the library and find that book.

How about you? What are you so afraid of?

“Once upon a time, there were these people in Europe called ‘pilgrims’ and they were afraid of being persecuted. So they all got in a boat and sailed to the New World where they wouldn’t have to be scared ever again.”

From the cartoon “A brief History of the United States of America” which appeared in the documentary “Bowling for Columbine.”

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