How should you respond to the attacks in Brussels and Ankara? For one, if you can, travel to Brussels and Ankara.
I’ve yet to have the good fortune to visit Turkey, though it remains high on my list. Who wouldn’t want to go to the cultural mecca that is Istanbul, for one?
I have, however, been fortunate enough to travel to Belgium when I rode the 2014 Tour Of Flanders cyclo with BMC Switzerland. Since that trip, I’ve traveled extensively across the Americas, Europe, a bit of Asia, and words cannot articulate just how impressed I continue to be with Belgium’s cycling infrastructure. Truly, it’s world-class and I’m ready to go back as soon as the opportunity presents itself.
Unfortunately, many won’t join me because of these terrorist attacks.
Personally, I’m tired of letting the terror narrative win when these tragic attacks are in the minority compared to perfectly peaceful visits wherein positive cultural exchanges are the norm. Yet terrorists routinely seem successful in achieving their goal of painting the world as a dark and dangerous place. After the Paris attacks of November 2015, for example, travelers were reluctant to continue with their travel plans to France.
Really, people? France? We’re going to let a mob of armed, cultural neanderthals stop us from going to one of the world’s capitals of culture? Allow me to give a resounding, “fuck off” to that sentiment, and I said as much on a podcast following those attacks in Beirut and Paris.
Now we’re going through a similar cycle of fear with the attacks in Brussels leaving 34 dead as of this writing. We’ve already let the terror narrative eclipse Turkey, which is the only explanation I can give for the media pretty much ignoring an attack in Ankara two days prior to Brussels that left 36 dead.
As a result, I’ve been told I’m naive for believing these tragic events are in the minority, not the majority. I’d be insane to travel to these places, especially anywhere in the Middle East.
You know who would be thrilled to hear all of this? Daesh, the very mother-fuckers who don’t want people traveling across cultural boundaries to better understand one another. They’re perfectly content with you staying home, fomenting narratives that the West hates and is terrified of Muslims.
I mean, what the Hell do you think their goal was in bombing Brussels or anywhere else they’ve hit? They want you to stay home! They want you to blame all Muslims for these heinous attacks, so they can put out their recruitment videos that say, “Hey, look! We were right! Americans are patrolling mosques with guns and presidential candidates of a major political party are calling for an end to Muslim immigration. The West hates Muslims, so join us!”
I’m not a parent, but I know that when a child turns into a screaming demon, demanding this or that, the answer isn’t to give into their demands. You put a stop to that insolent nonsense and go about your business.
Okay, comparing a bratty child to a terrorist is an admitted exaggeration. But refusing to engage with certain countries and cultures because of Daesh, a group that requires dressing in black sweats like a bad ninja Halloween costume, is an exaggerated response to these terrorist attacks.
Reality versus narrative
Contrary to the popular narrative, it’s incredibly naive to accept these attacks as a likely outcome rather than the rare, tragic event that they are. Terrorism killed 32,658 people in 2014. Yes, that is an alarming 80 percent increase from 18,111 in 2013. But let’s compare that number to American traffic fatalities and gun deaths. 2013 saw 33,636 gun deaths, which has been about the average since 2001. The Trace has even more troubling stats on domestic gun fatalities.
How about auto-related fatalities? 32,675 in 2014 and early estimates pointed to a 14 percent increase in 2015. This doesn’t even figure into the conversation the health diseases and segregation wrought by vehicles and American car culture in general.
Now let’s turn our attention back to travel. Do you know how many U.S. Americans were killed whilst overseas as a result of terrorism between 2001 and 2013? Go on, take a stab. I bet you have a big, scary number in mind. Or perhaps you can sense that this is a trick question and you’re aiming small.
Well, congrats if you’re in the latter group!
“According to the U.S. State Department, the number of U.S. citizens killed overseas as a result of incidents of terrorism from 2001 to 2013 was 350,” reported Julia Jones and Eve Bower of CNN.
I know what you’re thinking, Señor defensive contrarian.
“There are more Americans in the United States than abroad, thus we’re more likely to kill each other than terrorists abroad!”
Yes, we have proven remarkably capable of killing ourselves, and it’s true there are not 330 million Americans currently overseas for terrorists to go attack. Still, traveling overseas is incredibly popular with Americans.
“More than 68 million Americans traveled abroad in 2014, a record number that was up 10 percent from the previous year,” wrote Ismat Sarah Mangla of International Business Times.
Allow me some rough math. The U.S. Department of State says 16 Americans died as a result of incidents of terrorism in 2013. If 68 million Americans traveling abroad in 2014 was a 10 percent increase from the previous year, that means 61.2 million Americans traveled abroad in 2013. With those numbers in mind, my calculator tells me that Americans had a 0.00026% chance of getting killed as a result of terrorism in 2013. (I know there are neater, mathematical ways to write this number, but I wanted you to see all the zeroes.)
“But… Middle East!”
Okay, I admittedly cannot quickly find hard numbers on U.S. tourists traveling to the Middle East (the UN World Tourism Organization estimates 52 million international visitors in 2013 and 2014), but allow me to turn it over to Anthony Roman, president of Roman & Associates Global Investigations & Risk Management to chime in with a quote he gave following a deadly shooting at a popular Tunisian museum in 2015.
“I think people should travel robustly or the fundamentalist groups and terror groups win.”
Therein lies my point, folks. We cannot let a group of terrorists dressed like a bad 80’s rap group tell us where we can and cannot travel, because travel eliminates barriers between cultures and foments peace. Americans meeting Iranians (and vice verse), for instance, allows us to see that we’re all just people, people who want to live our lives, see family and friends, and travel a bit without being too annoyed by the every day nuisances of life, such as cretins who play loud music on the train or try to pet your shy dog in the middle of a walk.
Some areas demand higher precaution, as Roman also notes, but that’s not limited to the Middle East or popular Western Europe destinations.
Responding to fear
Turning back to Istanbul for a moment, I’d like to share this poignant and timely video essay from PBS NewsHour featuring Elliot Ackerman, a United States veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan and now lives in Instanbul.
My favorite line?
“The longer I stay in Istanbul, the more I realize that the education I’m giving my children is not so much as cultural, but moral. It’s about teaching them to live without fear.” (I added the emphasis.)
But it’s not just about living without fear, it’s how we respond as a global society to events that seek to divide us through fear. With that in mind, I’ll leave you all with this quote from Alexander von Humboldt, a 19th Century scientist and explorer.
“I am more and more convinced that our happiness or unhappiness depends more on the way we meet the events of life than on the nature of those events themselves.”
How will we meet the events of Paris, Beirut, Ankara and Brussels? I for one am fresh off a trip to England, on my way to Honduras in April and Jordan in May.