TRAVEL IN AN AGE OF TERRORISM by RJ Furth (January, 2016)
Sandy and I have been planning a trip to Istanbul for March, which is why the news of the recent suicide bombing near the Blue Mosque a few days ago caught our attention. Ten German tourists were killed in one of the prime tourist locations that Sandy and I are sure to visit. We had talked for the past couple of years about going on a safari in Tanzania, and had recently dropped the idea after a series of kidnappings and mass killings in East Africa. Should we do the same with our trip to Istanbul? Is it time to avoid all Muslim countries, particularly those dealing with hostilities as Turkey had been doing for quite a while? Should we limit ourselves to traveling to ‘safe’ places like Chicago and London? Of course not.
I used “An Age of Terrorism” in this essay’s title because it is not ‘the’ age of terrorism, merely yet another period of terrorism. A glance at any period of history on every continent reveals past acts of terrorism. Terrorism is not new and it is not limited to Muslims and Muslim countries, contrary to what Donald Trump may believe. The vast majority of mass murders in the United States have been committed by young, white, Christian men. I substituted at Columbine High School years before the school killings of 1999, and I didn’t quit teaching out of fear. Goldenberg’s deli in Paris was the scene of a ghastly terrorist attack in 1982, yet we continued to visit Paris and have even eaten at Goldenberg’s since the attack. The King David Hotel in Jerusalem was bombed in 1946. The Red Brigade, a Marxist-Leninist group terrorized Italy in the 70s and 80s while Shining Path, a Maoist organization, did the same to Peru in the 80s.
As recent attacks in Paris, Istanbul and San Bernardino, California, illustrate, no country or city is safe from terrorism. Statistically, though, an individual’s chances of being a victim of a terrorist attack are slim. There’s a greater chance of being bitten by a shark or being injured in an auto accident, yet we still swim in the ocean and still drive our cars. Sure, it’s possible to reduce the chances of being a victim. Sandy and I taught at the American School of Japan when the United States entered the first Gulf War to stop Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait. The U.S. embassy in Tokyo sent guidelines to our school on how to remain safe in a time of high tension. Our students were advised not to wear anything that would identify them as Americans or students of the American school. They were urged to travel in small groups and not to act brashly or speak too loudly. (I’ve always tried to stay under the radar when I travel, not an easy thing to do when you’re a six foot tall white guy with an American accent traveling in Cambodia or India or Venezuela.) The ASIJ logos on the side of the school buses were whited out. It’s smart to take precautions; it would be a shame to stop traveling entirely.
I’m still planning on traveling to Istanbul in March, though Sandy is away on a business trip and we have yet to discuss the latest development. I just turned 65 and I have grown more cautious with age. I no longer ski, fearful of sustaining an injury. We chose not to travel to East Africa because the entire region seems more dangerous. The precarious situation in Turkey (war in Syria, decades-long battle against the Kurds, ISIS threats) could quickly deteriorate, leading us to forego any future trips to the country. For now, though, we won’t be deterred by acts of terrorism. We’ll return to Paris in spite of the series of attacks during the past year that have frightened away many tourists. There is always an element of risk when you walk out of your house and the risks increase the more your travel and the further you travel. Seeing the world, experiencing new things, eating new food and meeting new people is worth the risk. We will not allow fear to trump reason.

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