A new year means it’s time for a new appraisal of fear. What countries are going to haunt your nightmares this year? We told you in 2010 and 2011 and we were entirely correct about every single one. Why would 2012 be any different? TAIWAN
The situation: Chinese and American fleets facing each other down in a narrow strip of water. It’ll be like the old days of piracy except with nuclear submarines and three button suits instead of galleons and parrots on shoulders.
God factor: God has no place in these advanced military games, except maybe as a weird form of motivation for a committed but slightly unhinged American Admiral (played by Tommy Lee Jones or Gene Hackman) who will die before he sees the world overrun by Godless little men from the Orient. Danger rating: The sound of your hopes and dreams evaporating is actually the sound of the planet melting from all the nuclear partying that Earth’s two superpowers are about to do. THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
The situation: Two groups of politicians from one country swarm across their nation inflaming public opinion, throwing around wild accusations and offering a long stream of banalities for the confused voters. It’s election year in the land of the free. God factor: On the one hand it’s time to welcome back Barack HUSSEIN Obama, who’s taking meetings daily with Abu Hamza, Mullah Omar and Imam Forkbeard al Taliban. On the other, it’s time to see if Americans really do have a great big hard-on for the kind of politicians who break down in hysterical fits of crying rage every time they think of a world in which God is not number one and gays are allowed to go around sodomizing each other. Danger rating: Can I get a round of “grassy knoll” anyone?
The situation: The military dictatorship is gone. Long live the new military dictatorship! God factor: There’s a big Allah factor here. On the one hand, the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafist groups want to be nice and extreme (Niqabs all around). On the other, the liberal, young, educated crew wants to be, like, not really that Muslim. (Drinking, some light sexiness, and “The One Where Ross and Rachel Take a Break” all around.) As for the military guys, they just hate everyone. Danger rating: Pretty much the same as this time last year.
The situation: The next Greece. No money, flagging industry, one-time European leaders (you know, when they had Columbus and some ships). God factor: You’ll get a lot of rolling, 24-hour news footage of inexplicably small old women covered in thick black wool, standing in the burning sun holding their crosses up to the light as they shout magic spells in Latin. Also, on the Allah front, you’ve got the West African beachfront Rolex salesmen. Maybe they’ll start an economic revival. Danger rating: Cork farmers (screw top bottles are ruining Southern Portugal’s cork industry,) impoverished Peri Peri merchants, and men with excessively gelled hair will be hitting the streets to show those Greeks the real meaning of economically-inspired rioting.
THE UNITED KINGDOM
The situation: 205 groups of athletes from 205 different countries are descending on London to play the game of unpopular sports. There’ll be confusion, riots, and an outpouring of disappointment in “Team GB.” God factor: In Ancient Greece, the Olympics were a sacred event and participating them was a form of worship. Today, it’s mainly about plugging your sponsors, so instead of doing it for Zeus, Hermes, and Nike, you’re doing it for adidas, McDonald’s and Nike. Danger rating: There’s a high risk. A high risk things will get dangerously mediocre that is!
The situation: Guess who’s still interested in a certain rocky little Atlantic outcrop occupied by oddly-accented British folk and potentially surrounded by a load of sweet, bubbling oil? That’s right, the Falklands are back to distract Argentine voters from domestic problems. God factor: Whoever gets their hands on this South Atlantic oil bonanza will spend a lot less time pretending to be really into the Qu’ran to impress the Saudi royal family into selling them a small amount of black gold for billions of dollars. Danger rating: President Cristina Kirchner is looking to honor her late husband with the capture of the jewel in dear Blighty’s crown. There’ll be blood on the sheep farms before this is over.
The situation: Still the “real” home of Islamic fundamentalist terrorism and the key player in the war on terror. What, you think it's Afghanistan? That's cute. God factor: Very high, very confusing. The ISI, Pakistan’s secret service, funds the Taliban in Afghanistan while also fighting it (up to a point) in Pakistan. It supports fundamentalist terrorists in gay, Hindu-ridden India, while simultaneously trying to make sure they don’t do anything too insensitive at home. Meanwhile, fundamentalist madrasas (schools, not curries) in Pakistan teach illiterate children to hate the West. Not a hard sell in a place where America is best known for using drones to bomb impoverished rural areas. Danger rating: Remember that time you wandered into the back of that restaurant in Bed Stuy and got the impression you really weren’t that welcome there? Yeah, it’ll be like that except it’ll go on for years and it’ll be on a global scale. GERMANY
The situation: A market crash, rising unemployment, and high rates of immigration… Is it 1931 or 2011? And is the fact that this time round Germany has to constantly bale everyone out going to make them more or less mad? Did someone say “Beer hall putsch”? God factor: Not that high. What “Jew factor” was to the 1930s “being really angry with irresponsible southern Europeans” is to the 2010s. Danger rating: Did you not watch The World at War? SYRIA
The situation: Western-educated guy with “charming” wife rules abusively until local population can no longer stand it. But we’re not here to talk about David Cameron; we’re here to talk about Bashar al-Assad. God factor: One brand of Islam (Alawi) is dominating all other brands of Islam. Danger rating: Arab Spring rolls on etc, etc. Voice of the people finally heard on Twitter, YouTube, Google+, Facebook, Friends Reunited, and through playlists on Spotify and Grooveshark. Triumph for freedom of thought to be hard won on social networking sites after it has been won via the death of thousands on the streets. SENEGAL
The situation: Incumbent president, possible Freemason, and designer of 160-foot statues Abdoulaye Wade was expecting to sleepwalk his way to a third election victory. Then along came “7 Seconds Away” singer and all around conscious good guy Youssou N’Dour, who is standing against Wade. God factor: Wade’s love of massive statues has offended Muslims and Christians alike. N’Dour is an ultra relaxed, bare feet and singing for everyone kind of Muslim. Danger rating: It’ll be West Africa’s answer to the culture wars of the American 1960s. Wade is the old military guy who’ll whip you for smoking the pot; N’Dour is the acid dropping hippie who just wants to organize a sit-in on the Berkeley campus.