As a kid my dentist had a sign outside his office that read in big letters: "Painless Dentist". In little letters underneath, so small you wouldn't notice at first, it read: "upstairs!" To get to his office you entered the building and went down one floor by elevator. It was an old-fashioned elevator that had a window you could see through as the elevator was moving.

Once upon time, for a reason lost to history, my dear anonymous brother was entrusted with delivering me into the custody of our dentist… and it took a long time afterwards to again trust him. We were the only people in the elevator and while between floors – we could see the bottom floor a few feet below – he pressed the red stop-button, stopping the elevator between floors. It was my first encounter with phobia – claustrophobia. However - it was real fear, because as a kid I didn't know what had happened and what would come next. In contrast – a phobia is an irrational and uncontrollable fear. Rationally you know nothing will happen – but rationality during a phobia attack is as helpful a meat-grinder in a vegan's house.

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Years later I actually did have an attack of claustrophobia. I was one of the first in a group of about seventy people crawling through a maze of Bar Kochva tunnels.


Let me back up to explain: the Romans had destroyed Jerusalem in the year 70 and – contrary to common practice – left the city desolate. Fifty years later the emperor Hadrian starts to rebuild the city – but as a pagan, Roman city – erasing the Jewish character of the Holy City. The Jews plan a revolt against the Roman Empire, in an attempt to shake off the European imperialist yoke and purify the Holy City. They planned for about ten years until the revolt broke out in 132 C.E. Part of the preparations included the digging of tunnels for attack or concealment.

Some of the tunnels are so narrow that only one person at a time can crawl forward, no passing. So if the person in front stops – everyone's stopped. If you're in the middle – you can't go either forward or backward. After about half an hour crawling around, we finally reached a large underground water cistern. I then asked the guide – who had never been in that particular tunnel system before – how do we get out. He said the only way out is the way in.

I thought: OMG!! I have to wait until all the seventy get in before I could leave!! That'll take at least an hour!! I'm stuck here!! OMG!!!

Now – I knew that this water cistern had survived for two thousand years, and was likely to survive another hour or so; the cistern was large, with a high ceiling and we had excellent lamps – but all that didn't help. I felt a panic growing in me, an irrational fear, to the point that I quietly told the guide: "I gotta get outta here!!"

Phobia isn't rational. In contrast: in having a rational, well thought out and realistic opinion that sees the negative facets of a particular lifestyle or a certain religion – there is no fear involved. It's not a phobia; it's a rational, thought out opinion.

Not all Muslims are terrorists, or even close to it. But most terrorists and their active or silent supporters take their guidance from Islam. So why do some insist on talking about "violent extremism" and ignore the fact that it comes from a certain understanding of Islam that is not new? Or – why do people fling the "phobia" accusation, Islamophobia?

I guess because they have "realityphobia", fear of reality, and… they want you to shut up! They're convinced of their opinion, but not only that – they don't want discussion. They're "discussionophobic", or possibly allodoxaphobic (fear of opinions) or cenophobic (fear of new ideas). Or – perhaps quite the opposite: they're simply insecure in their opinions and therefore suffer phronemophobia (fear of thinking), sophophobia (fear of learning) or even optophobia (oh - look it up!).

Call things as they really are. Only in recognizing reality can you deal with it, fight evil and make it a better world.
 
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