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 was going on outside their village, and then because it was ramped up by media outlets/governments/your parents to the point where today, in 2015, 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 fictional and which of them are real.
What that in mind, here's our annual Global Fear League – a guide to which countries everyone in the UK should be petrified of this year.
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: Who is the good guy? Who is the bad guy? Is it just bad guys and more bad guys? Won't somebody please think of the Hollywood scriptwriters? I mean, Islamic State (IS) have to be the bad guys because of all the awful things they do and because they look like health goth pirates. But then the Syrian government's indiscriminate barrel bombing campaign won't let up and Coalition airstrikes on IS positions are killing innocent Syrian civilians.
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 IS?
Danger rating: Luckily for those of us dribbling into our iPhones thousands of miles away from Syria, this is a pitiless war that shows no signs of ending, but whose victims are dying in their homes, languishing in refugee camps or drowning at sea. So, thanks in large part to Europe's ever-stronger borders, there aren't any Syrians over here taking our jobs and shoving their attempts to make a slow recovery from PTSD in our faces.
The situation: The perpetual war for perpetual peace project continues abroad while, at home, a nation becomes more and more removed from its military, like a proud child who'd rather not think about what his father's been up to when he stumbles in smelling of booze after going AWOL for six days. Meanwhile, a cop's right to shoot who he likes – a right enshrined in the constitution – is under attack.
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: The Ebola outbreak means that Sierra Leone is the latest country to simply be referred to as "Africa", less a nation state and more a waking nightmare written by Joseph Conrad featuring death, disease, an absence of rivers, an ignorance of Christmas and a compelling desire to see you vomit worms until you die.
Danger rating: If we don't shut Africa Airport, we'll all catch Ebola and die.
The situation: Say what you want about the tenets of Soviet Socialism, at least it was an ethos. Today's Russia, with its fondness for annexation, super-rich elites and macho posturing… well, maybe nothing much has changed. At home, the population is terrified by the FSB and a bewildering array of groups that all turn out to be sponsored by Putin.
On the international stage, expensively educated civilian leaders like David Cameron and Barack Obama wonder if it's a good idea trying to stand up to Putin when he may, in fact, be willing to order their killing.
Danger rating: Is anyone ever not afraid of Russians? They eat cake made out of herring voluntarily; imagine what else they're capable of.
The situation: Russia just offered Argentina some fighter jets in exchange for food.
Danger rating: THIS MEANS THEY WANT THE FALKLANDS BACK!
The situation: It's beginning to look a lot like 1990, 1991, 1995-96, 1998 and also 2003-2011. IS now controls about a third of the country; millions of Iraqis have been internally displaced since the summer; the government's army has essentially collapsed since the fall of Mosul to IS; and the government itself appears to now be relying on Shia militias to do much of its fighting. These militias are kicking Sunnis out of their homes. I guess Iraq just can't govern itself, after all. Time for the US to bomb it some more. Perhaps then it'll finally understand democracy.
Danger rating: US military advisors are already on the ground and Special Forces are thought to already be operating there again. Mind you, people talk wistfully of the Ottoman Empire – the last big proper Sunni Islamic state – these days, so perhaps it's got to get incredibly, horrifically bad before it gets better.
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. After calls for democratic reform swept the Arab world a few years ago, 2015 will be the year of the "British Spring".
Danger rating: In a few months the population will choose which new leaders it wants and nothing will change.
The situation: Benjamin Netanyahu, a man who only ever appears with a large Israeli flag behind him, has managed to see his regime's crackdown in Gaza get forgotten amid all this IS hype. Of course, everything's fine in Gaza now: the kids can play happily with the debris from airstrikes.
Danger rating: With all the fresh new horror erupting in nearby Syria and Iraq, the Israel-Palestine conflict is beginning to come across like Tom Cruise: no one has the heart to tell it that it's yesterday's man – and anyway, it'll all be over soon.
The situation: Allied forces are leaving Afghanistan, which must mean the war has been won and that Afghanistan is now a safe and prosperous country untroubled by the Taliban, corruption or weak leadership. That means Pakistan, its larger, edgier neighbour, is the fear factory to focus on. It's got terrorists, drones, a hatred of India and Imran Khan.
Danger rating: How could drones be dangerous when some of them have been designed to look like ladybirds?
The situation: Something, something – impenetrable quasi-Soviet state – something, something – Kim Jong-un – something, something – nuclear weapons – something, something – James Franco.
Danger rating: High, if you're a North Korean with an anti-authoritarian streak. For the rest of the world – well, let's be honest, not that high. But people like to imagine it might be.
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