Once upon a time – so we are told – the world was a place of peace. Birds sang, rivers ran, there were caverns measureless to man (because man did not exist). Then that man arrived and he brought other men with him. The world changed. People huddled inside their nation states, worrying about what other people huddled in other nation states were planning to do to them.
Fear grew, at first because no one knew what the fuck was going on outside their village, and then because it was ramped up by media outlets to the point where today, in 2013, the dark, semi-fathomable evils in this world come in so many different shapes, sizes and hues. (Though at present it's normally in the “Islamic, bearded” hue, if you happen not to be of that particular hue.)
With this in mind, here’s our annual Global Fear League. It tells you which countries will be held up by our media as bastions of terror this year – the year the world finally gives in and surrenders itself to the delicious prospect of all-out war.
Disclaimer: I have at least one friend from each of these countries, so you can’t accuse me of bias/racism. Secondary disclaimer: Every single friend I have from these countries is a biased racist.
The situation: Bashar al-Assad continues to not die, like a stubborn cockroach hiding beneath the fridge with some well-armed and well-moneyed friends. The Syrian National Council, which has been formed by anti-regimists who want to crush Bashar, has basically been put together in exile in Turkey and no one in it seems to have given much thought to what they will do if they ever come to power. Also, they have a cleric for a leader. No one inspires fear like a cleric; they combine hook-handed pantomime villainy with the ability to do paperwork quickly and diligently.
Don’t forget the Kurds, either. The Kurds are always involved, with their naïve dreams for an autonomous state and their laughable desire not to be systematically slaughtered.
Islam factor: Off the scale high. This is some two-tribes-go-to-war/two-houses-both-alike-in-dignity shit. The opposition are Sunni and Assad’s lads are Shia. So far, so “keeping it in the family”, but once Assad is brought down, the West will start to freak out about Jihadists/Islamists, etc. Also: the Kurds.
Danger rating: Pretty high if you're a journalist looking for that career-defining, book-deal-securing story: kidnappings of media types are on the rise because everyone needs the cash. On a less specific note, everything is bound to go wrong in every conceivable way. And won’t somebody please think of the Kurds?
The situation: Given that they are from Africa's wild north and have links to al-Qaeda, the terror group Boko Haram manage to bring a bit of that Game of Thrones vibe to the world of regional, Islamist violence. (Which is, y'know, nice. Refreshing.) The government claim their scorched earth policy has left Boko mortally wounded. Boko claim their leaders haven’t “fled” to Mali and Somalia, they’ve just gone there to hang out and it’s all NBD. Regardless, in the north-east the army and police are just as feared, and unrest on the streets is growing.
Then there’s High Chief Government Expemupolo, still the best-named man in the warlord game, still scaring the crap out of everyone in the Niger Delta with his rebels, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta – proud bearers of the SCOPE-style acronym MEND.
Islam factor: An idea some people have is that, despite all the seriously extremist connections, Boko Haram are really more into nihilistic acts of violence than they are Muhammad. Another idea is that, as with so many other parts of the world, they're just very into both.
Danger rating: Have you seen that picture of the Nigerian circus guy with the Hyena? If that’s what the circus guys look like, imagine how dangerous the dangerous guys are.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
The situation: Noble defenders of traditional American values who want to be able to bring automatic weaponry into churches might have to settle for only being allowed to bring them everywhere else they go. White people are very upset about Romney losing, so expect a backlash to be carried out “in the name of freedom”.
Islam factor: Our old friend, Barack HUSSEIN Obama, will surely be mentioned by the Republicans and their pals at FOX. As will the inevitability of the whole world descending into hummus-eating, Allah-loving, big-car-and-NFL-hating hell if Obama is allowed to enact some actually quite conservative pieces of legislation that the American public misinterprets as some Stalinist Politburo purge.
Danger rating: When you live in the home of the free and the land of the brave, the price is constant vigilance. Other people are always trying to take these things away from you because they are jealous.
The situation: Something, something – impenetrable quasi-Soviet state – something, something – Kim Jong-un – something, something – nuclear weapons – something, something – “I’m so Ronery”.
Islam factor: God has no place here. God is a CCTV camera attached to a crumbling Communist-era tower block.
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 it might be.
The situation: It used to be all Damon Albarn and singing blues round a campfire in the desert. Now it’s all beleaguered presidents resigning, Captain Amadou Haya Sanogo leading murderous coups and AQIM. Jihadists control the north of the country and it’s going to take an international force to get rid of them. While this force is mulled over in glass-walled offices, Sanogo's extremist boys are planning on taking the fight to France, the old colonial oppressor.
Islam factor: The Islam factor used to be a nice Cat Stevens and Richard Thompson Sufi kinda vibe that the West could pat on the back and put on its coffee table. You put AQIM on your coffee table, you get killed in your sleep.
Danger rating: There’s a strong chance bands are going to have to look elsewhere for their cultural appropriation kicks.
The situation: Every year is the year Israel will attack, or the year Iran will nuke everyone, or the year there’ll be some kind of Facebook-led revolution of the people. There are presidential elections this year, so I guess something might happen. Otherwise, it’s just a bunch of guys grooming their massive beards, occasionally sending soldiers out into the streets to slaughter people who want to watch Friends and listen to "Born to Run".
Islam factor: These guys invented the “Islam factor”. Well, I guess Muhammad did, but Iran's pretty keen on abiding by what he said (or what they pretend he said).
Danger rating: With the Soviet Union still – lamentably – not around, and North Korea seemingly keen to be a bit more normal, Iran is going to have to step up its game as the mysterious home of dark forces that torment the minds of suburban families in Banbury.
The situation: As long as no one reverses time and un-colonises the world without severing it up into an endless number of discordant, senseless states – each one threatening the existence of the last – then we might just be safe from Britain’s historical bloodthirstiness.
Islam factor: Continues to confuse and scare British politicians.
Danger rating: British danger has been on a depressing downward slope since the Battle of Waterloo. Maybe Cameron will try and ramp up the Falklands discussion to keep things spicy.
The situation: Benjamin Netanyahu, a man who only ever appears with a large Israeli flag behind him, continues to pander to the Right. The government obsessively monitors its beloved walls and hands down crushing punishments to any who manage to get beyond them. The elections set to take place early in the year are unlikely to crown anyone other than an automatic weapon-wielding titan of authoritarianism. Israel continues to angrily flirt with Iran like a bar room drunk unsure whether he wants to fight or fuck.
Islam factor: Being fought against by a new kid on the terror block: Judaism factor.
Danger rating: With sexy new entries like Mali shaking things up, it seems like Israel is yesterday’s man. This isn’t a Pavement reunion show Israel; you have to keep it fresh!
The situation: Having previously being thought of as really fucking suspicious, the Burmese government has recently been lauded for its new-found commitment to peace and democracy. Pretty awk, considering Christians in the remote Kachin State are being attacked by the 400,000-strong Burmese army.
Islam factor: In these parts, it's Buddhism factor. Who knew the Dalai Lama’s people could be so mean?
Danger rating: If we don’t stop this now, the Dalai Lama will join his Buddhist comrades in Burma and march on the Tower of London. Queen Elizabeth herself will not be safe.
The situation: Chavez has severe pneumonia, but is meant to be inaugurated on the 10th of January. Who will make all that coke money once he’s gone?
Islam factor: Mate, come on – this is South America, are you kidding? Muslims are barely even allowed in as tourists.
Danger rating: Zombie Chavez and zombie Castro to plague the shit out of the world before the year’s out.
Follow Oscar on Twitter: @oscarrickettnow