Legend tells us that the world was once a place of peace. Birds sang, rivers ran, there were caverns measureless to man (because man did not exist). Then that man arrived and with him he did bring other men. The world changed. The winds blew. Huddled inside their nation states, humankind worried about what those other people huddled in their own nation states were planning to do to them.
Fear grew, at first because no one knew what was going on outside their village (Dragons?), and then because it was ramped up by media outlets/governments/your parents to the point where today, in 2016, the dark, semi-fathomable evils in this world come in so many different shapes, sizes, and hues that it's almost impossible to say which of them are fact and which of them are fiction.
With that in mind, here's our annual Global Fear League—a guide to which countries everyone should be afraid of this year.
Related: Watch VICE News' documentary 'Inside the Battle: Al Nusra-Al Qaeda in Syria'
The situation: Everyone from Putin to Obama to Hilary Benn wants a piece of the world's most pitiless war. The West scores cheap PR victories bombing easy targets whose significance it over-emphasizes. ISIS continues to plunder, collect tax, and terrorize.
Meanwhile, no one knows who the bad guy is. ISIS? Assad? Putin? Cameron? All of them? The Hollywood scriptwriters are shitting out their ten-dollar frappes in confusion. Is the Assad regime actually the John Wayne hero character because even though it kills innocent children (and everyone else), it's willing to help the West (which must be good?) fight ISIS?
Danger rating: With the 100-year anniversary of the Sykes-Picot agreement—the secret Anglo-French deal that divided the Ottoman lands into British and French spheres—coming up this May, the Middle East, and Syria in particular, is more troubled and torn apart than ever. Europe erects borders while victims of the Syrian war cross seas to find a place of greater safety. The world sends planes full of bombs. ISIS continues to produce relatable video #content.
Iran's foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif. Photo by via Flickr user Max Talbot-Minkin
IRAN AND SAUDI ARABIA
The situation: Since 1979, when the Iranian Shah was overthrown, the Shia state has been scheming against Saudi Arabia, the Sunni kingdom across the Gulf. Saudi Arabia has been returning the scheming favor. Recently, the scheming has got pretty serious.
In fact, a lot of actual things have happened: Saudi Arabia executed Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, led an intervention in Yemen to fight rebels backed by Iran, and withdrew their diplomats after their embassy in Tehran was attacked. The Saudis lobbied hard against the American-led nuclear deal with Iran and are now stamping their oil-filled feet and throwing their armaments out of the pram at the prospect of Russia and China selling all their crap to Iran as an arms embargo is lifted.
Meanwhile, in Tehran, bearded clerics continue their cold war with pro-Western Iranians, who want to watch The Big Bang Theory, wear Taylor Swift T-shirts, and listen to Bruce Springsteen while employing a straightforward Ronald Reagan–style interpretation of the Boss that ignores any criticism of America that may or may not be found in the lyrics.
Danger rating: Things can't be good if the government of Iraq is offering to mediate your titanic beef.
Photo via Twitter
The situation: A super-wealthy, powerful elite rule over a downtrodden populace who are at the point of not being able to take it any more. Their only hope is an old, bearded man known as "Unelectable," whose mild proclamations of kindness are merely a front for his desire to replace "realism" with a Leninist dictatorship. Abroad, Britannia continues to try and prove that it rules something, anything—which is what makes it so dangerous.
Danger rating: With British planes in the air and half the country underwater, the nation's leader jets off to Saudi Arabia to accept the Order of King Abdulaziz "for meritous service to the kingdom." Britain is still the Waylon Smithers of the World.
An MQ-9 Reaper Drone. Photo via Wikimedia
The situation: Abroad, the Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace Project: Drone Edition, continues. At home, the president takes time out from doing podcasts and having coffee with Jerry Seinfeld to tearfully tell Congress that, if they would just stop cashing their gun lobby checks for half a second, they might realize that making it fractionally harder to murder school children is not the equivalent of pissing on George Washington's grave while burning the stars and stripes.
Danger rating: When you live in the home of the free and the land of the brave, the price is constant vigilance. Other people—particularly that socialist bastard Barack HUSSEIN Obama—are always trying to take your guns away from you. But it's OK because I've heard this guy Donald Trump is running for President and he's gonna sort everything out.
An Orthodox Jew waving a Palestinian flag in London. Photo by Henry Langston
ISRAEL AND PALESTINE
The situation: The Israel-Palestine conflict has been going on for so long that it's hard for those not directly affected by it day-to-day to remember that people are still suffering awfully. Nothing changes and people switch the channel. After all, there are newer sexier conflicts raging just next door to Israel. But now there is talk of a third intifada. Recent waves of violence have brought the deaths of 22 Israelis, 150 Palestinians, an American, and an Eritrean. These numbers will probably increase.
Danger rating: Very high. Always fear yesterday's man because it is once he is forgotten that he does most damage.
Teenage gun dealers Tripoli. Photo by Wil Crisp
The situation: Who would have thought that a military intervention backed by a David Cameron-led government and featuring no plan whatsoever for reconstruction would have resulted in a government-less state increasingly ruled by ISIS and a collection of warring groups?
Danger rating: Libya is ISIS's latest oilfield. ISIS + oil = HIGH DANGER.
Mahamadou Issoufou, President of Niger. Photo by Rama
The situation: Previous editions of the Global Fear League have been the only half-satirical, half-serious beginning-of-year danger list to predict dramatic upswings in violence in Syria, Central African Republic, and Nigeria. This year, the outsider vote goes to Niger, officially the world's poorest country, and a nation where the potential for a major jihadist incursion has citizens and international partners deeply worried. The collapse of the government in Libya, the presence of Boko Haram in north-east Nigeria, and the unrest in eastern Mali are all threatening the borders of Niger.
Danger rating: Niger is a "key partner" in the West's fight against Islamic terrorism. That doesn't usually work out well for the partner.
Related: Watch 'The VICE Guide to North Korea'
The situation: Something, something—impenetrable quasi-Soviet state—something, something—"I'm so Ronery."—something, something—Kim Jong-un—something, something—H BOMB H BOMB H BOMB H BOMB!
Danger rating: High—if you're a North Korean with an anti-authoritarian streak, or the idea of people living crushingly soulless lives makes you feel in danger. For the rest of the world—well, let's be honest, not that high. But it's fun to imagine they might Strangelove us all.
The situation: Humans have ruined the planet and climate change is set to take revenge. No longer will we be able to look down on the animals and plants and triumphantly sing, "We are the Champions."
Danger rating: It's all over.
Follow Oscar Rickett on Twitter.