In threatened social orders, actions undertaken by those who appear to be in power often have consequences that are not planned or intended. The Bush administration’s initial intention, for instance, was to form a broad alliance that would not exclude anyone except the terrorists and those who associated with them. But the aggressive rhetoric deemed necessary to achieve that goal developed its own momentum. The description of terrorists as lower animals, and the ambivalent actions of the government, ultimately stained the image of peaceful Muslims in the USA. The handling of prisoners in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo are emblematic of the results.
History is rich on examples in which threats are established with language and individual groups are stigmatized. Such actions are also often associated with violence. One such case is illustrated by the performance of a play titled “The Jewish Messiah” in the 15th century. At the time, Jews were depicted as a threat to Christian society in many forms, here as a Carnival play. Such depictions could drive an increase in societal narratives in which Jews were perceived to be a real threat to the Christian majority.
This illustrates the extent to which diffuse fears impact the actions of people in threatened social orders. In Nuremberg where the play was performed, Jews were forcefully expelled from the city just a few years later. The majority society believed it was a plausible strategy for coping with the threat – with terrible consequences for the Jewish population.