TOURISM AND TERRORISM: PART II by RJ Furth
A few weeks ago I wrote an essay from Istanbul lamenting the effect terrorism has had on tourism in Turkey. I said, based on research I’d done online, that tourism in Europe didn’t appear to have suffered from a decade of terrorism (Spain, France, England, Belgium) but few people other than fellow Muslims were visiting Turkey, a terrific tourist destination. Sandy and I felt perfectly safe during out five days in Istanbul. Eight days after I posted that essay a bomb exploded on a busy tourist street where Sandy and I had strolled, killing five. Last week Brussels was rocked by an even worse terror attack, one clearly aimed at tourists. This morning on the in the radio in London we heard that Donald Trump warned all Americans against traveling to any part of Europe. (The radio announcer mentioned that Ireland was benefiting as many consider it free of terrorism.)
I would neither encourage nor discourage anybody from visiting Europe. That is a personal choice. I completely understand why people might want to stay away from places that seem prone to terrorist attacks. Statistically, your chance of being a victim of terrorism is slim. As President Obama said, far more Americans die in bathtub accidents every year than from terrorist attacks. It’s also statistically true that Americans have more to fear from young white Christian men than from Muslims: Oklahoma City bombing, Columbine, Sandy Hook elementary, Aurora theater shooting. Those statistics offer little consolation. People are right to avoid places that have become, or threaten to become, more dangerous. Fewer Americans visit Mexico because of narco-terrorists. Few westerners are booking summer trips to Turkey or Jordan or any Muslim country, nor will they be visiting Brussels any time soon. I also heard on the news that bookings to Paris are down. We’re safer than most people think, yet not as safe as we used to be.
Sandy and I got on the tube yesterday to go the National Portrait Gallery to see a special exhibit: 100 Years of Vogue Magazine. (It was excellent.) When we sat down I looked up to see four young ‘Middle Eastern’ guys sitting across from me. Their English was excellent, probably being English born or at least English raised. They looked like typical young men in their early 20s with blue jeans and hipster haircuts. They were chatting and seemed relaxed. One was quiet and seemed lost in thought. For one brief, shocking moment I wondered: Could this man be a radicalized Muslim? I say shocking because I never would have believed that such an idea could have entered my mind. I’m a lifelong liberal. I’ve lived in a Muslim country for six years (Malaysia) and traveled in a dozen more. I’ve known Muslims my entire adult life. Rationally, as I wrote, I know I have far more to fear from gun-toting Americans. The thought of students carrying guns on U.S. college campuses or armed delegates at the Republican convention in Cleveland, as has been proposed, fills me with more dread than the thought of visiting Jordan or Morocco. Yet a seed of doubt has been planted. A tiny bit of fear threatens my core values. It’s a scary world out there, at times. We can’t let it change who we are or what we believe. We can’t let the terrorists win. Sandy and I will keep traveling. We will, sadly, carefully consider our destinations.