Western democracies are in a bit of a muddle these days. To the extent that, at times, they border on the verge of panic. It seems that they are still reeling from the knock-on effects of the 9/11 terrorist attacks that seemingly came out of nowhere. Almost inevitably, the US response was as chaotic as it was immediate. Buoyed by the military might at its disposal Washington wasted no time in intervening in the then Taliban-ruled Afghanistan, where Osama Bin Laden was said to be enjoying the latter’s hospitality. America believed it had prevailed, with both the Taliban and Al Qaeda going on the run.Yet even as that country was still burning, the US looked elsewhere in the search for expanded conspiracies. Thus the Americans cast their eyes around until they came to rest upon Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. A spurious connection to Al Qaeda and the erroneous certainty of WMDs was all it took for another US military intervention. The Bush administration had wanted to control the Middle East and position itself as the region’s hegemony. Iraq was to be made the example; a strong warning as to what would happen to those standing in Washington’s way. Yet this didn’t go quite according to plan. Today, the region is still in flames.It is this ongoing turmoil that represents one aspect of the terrorist threat. Another is the political impact of this upon western societies, many of which have sought to pass legislation to curtail citizen freedom as a means of confronting terrorism. The question here is not whether such measures are intrinsic to creating the right balance between security and freedom. That is for each country to decide for itself. But it is to point out that this does yield a cumulative effect: in short, a growing sense of fear and insecurity; the notion that there could be a terrorist lurking around every corner. The so-called ‘lone wolf’ phenomenon only adds to this, while rendering many Muslims automatic suspects.The world financial crisis led to the disintegration of the traditional global capitalist system, thereby upending the economic security of many people in the West. Against the backdrop of a growing trust deficit between the majority and the governing elites — the latter turned to populism as the next quick-fixWhile terrorism for the West appears, at times, to be an all-consuming concern — it exists not outside a political vacuum. Meaning that it is largely linked to the recent upheaval in the Middle East. The Arab Spring, which had once been so full of hope, has descended into a bloodbath that appears to have neither solution nor end; especially in Yemen and Syria.This is to say nothing of the entry of ISIS into the Middle Eastern theatre of war. Thus the US-led coalition to hunt down Al Qaeda has left in its wake a more bloodthirsty and brutal terrorist outfit; and one that is out to control and consume the region’s natural resources. Sadly, therefore, the military successes against ISIS in its self-declared caliphate have brought with it little if any viable victories.This war on terror has been waged for the last 16 years. Today we are no closer to seeing any end in sight. But there has been one tangible result: namely, the damaging impact on western economies. For even as these were grappling with the political, economic and security challenges unleashed by the Iraqi misadventure — the global financial crisis of 2007-08 struck. It was considered the worst hit of its kind since the Great Depression of the 1930s, which had been provoked by unregulated and rampant capitalism. Until recently, this version of capitalism was touted as the only model able to ensure international economic development. Yet the disintegration of this system upended the economic security of many peoples in the West. Thus increased unemployment, stagnant or falling living standards as well as a growing sense of frustration and disillusionment with their institutions became part and parcel of daily life for many.What happened next was a growing trust deficit between the majority and the governing elites, which are viewed by the latter as self-serving, untrustworthy and in no way interested in working for the collective good. Thus many ordinary citizens are gripped by the very real fear that they have lost control of their own destiny as well as that of their country. Resultantly, they have come to view globalisation as no longer a force for good but one that is responsible for destroying jobs in the manufacturing sector, with western companies opting to set up in, particularly, China, where they can take advantage of cheap labour as well as a lackadaisical regard for labour laws and trade unions.The global financial crisis led many to turn to populism as the next quick-fix. Brexit is primary example of this, with the Brits voting to wrest control of their affairs by voting to quit the European Union. One fallout of this has been the fear of the ‘other’; of immigrants and refugees. And when the latter happen to come from Muslim countries — anxieties linked to terrorism are added to this already volatile mix.Thus while Britain continues to wrestle with Brexit and as Theresa May’s grip on power become increasingly shaky with each passing day — the story across the pond is no more reassuring. In other words, Donald Trump is busy doing his bit to stir up populist passions against those whom he has decided are hostile to the US, both inside and outside the country. Thus neither Muslims nor Mexicans have been spared; nor has nuclear-armed North Korea. This is to say nothing of the looming prospect of a US trade war with China.This has inevitably brought racism back to the fore. The latest example being the backlash against those footballers who had defied custom by kneeling — not standing — during the national anthem. This was a legitimate and peaceful protest against attacks on African-Americans, their marginalisation from the mainstream and denial of justice.Sadly, with so many in Europe and the US turning inwards — the world appears to be a more dangerous place than perhaps ever before. Yet given that most of the prevailing fear and insecurity have global dimensions we need to find global solutions. And fast. The writer is a senior journalist and academic based in Sydney, Australia Published in Daily Times, October 13th 2017.