Travel and Terrorism

A couple of days ago I booked a last minute flight to Paris for this next weekend. My plan was to visit the Christmas markets in eastern France and make my way down the Rhine River to visit the Christmas markets. The day after I booked my ticket almost 150 people were brutally murdered in Paris by Islamic terrorists. My friends  have been calling me and asking me if I’m canceling my trip. I’m still going. Many people think I’m crazy. Am I?

Terrorists are about scaring people. There’s a reason they cut off people’s heads and blow themselves up in public places. That’s a scary way to die. They know that if they gave people sleeping pills or smothered them with pillows it wouldn’t be that scary. Feeding on people’s emotions and making us afraid of them is what they’re all about.  You don’t hear a lot about people dying in normal ways, but cut off a journalist’s head in some city that you would probably never ever go to anyway and you’ve got news. The extremists are trying to make headlines and get  control over us through our fears. If we stay in our homes and don’t go anywhere, they’ve succeeded.

Your chances of being killed by a terrorist are 1 in 20 million. You’re 4 times more likely to be struck by lightning, 120 times more likely to be shot in the United States, and 4,000 times more likely to die from alcohol abuse than to be killed by a terrorist. So what do you do? Don’t drink alcohol, go inside as soon as it starts raining and don’t talk to children. There’s more people killed every year by kids accidentally firing a gun at someone than American lives claimed by terrorists. The fact is that alcohol disease doesn’t usually make headlines and someone dying in their sleep probably won’t be on CNN anytime soon. Who wants  to see a movie about someone passing away in the middle of the night? No one. Put a bomb on a plane though and you’ve got a blockbuster.

Islam terrorist groups seem to be everywhere according to the media. When I tell people that I’m going to Turkey or Oman or any other place in the Middle East, often several will give me strict warnings or even try to talk me out of it. It might surprise you to know that these are some of the safest places you can go. I know people who have left their purse at a restaurant or a wallet on the table while traveling in the Middle East and were amazed to find it still there when they came back. See how long your stuff would stay secure in Chicago or New York City. The Arab people I’ve met traveling have usually offered me tea and have never ever tried to convert me to Islam. However there seems to be a growing number of Middle Eastern hoodlums who have banded together, killed people in the name of Allah and created a very negative image for the people of Islam. Christian people have calmed down a lot since the Crusades, but these radical groups seem to be intent on getting that centuries-old conflict started again and ramming their cause down everyone’s throats through violence. They’re not likely to change anyone’s mind about the interpretation of the Koran through senseless violence. It seems that they might just be looking for an excuse to be murderers.

I’m not saying there aren’t dangerous places in the world. If you go to Somalia or Iraq, there’s a good chance something bad might happen to you. War zones and lawlessness do exist in parts of the world and even if you’re not a target, you might just be close to something or someone that is. There’s bad people everywhere. As a rule tourists are safe in most places, but if you’re careless about where you go and you’re dripping with valuables, you’ve put out the bait to find those bad people. The best way to travel is to blend in with the locals whenever possible and don’t carry things that you don’t need. Don’t flash around money, notice what’s going on around you, and stay in populated areas.

But wait a minute! These terrorist attacks happened in populated areas though, didn’t they? That’s what makes it even scarier. People were eating, being entertained, having a nice evening out like Parisians do and no one saw these attacks coming. It was a random killing spree like a tsunami or a hurricane, except at least one gets a little warning from natural disasters. A small group of crazies senselessly took a lot of lives of people who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. That’s scary.

Have you ever wondered why zombie movies are so popular these days? Monsters have always been based on our fears during  certain eras. In the 60s when everyone was afraid of The Cold War and effects of nuclear annihilation, there were countless monsters that came from mutated radioactive origins. In the seventies, Watergate and 3 Mile Island were responsible for dozens of disaster films. What are we afraid of now? Terrorism, or a repackaging of terrorists called zombies. They’re a mindless horde of people who kind of look like us but that we have nothing in common with us, don’t speak our language and are just intent on killing us. They’re not afraid of being hurt nor do they feel pain. Sound familiar? Of course very few people really believe in zombies, but it’s our way of dealing with our other fears through an unrealistic medium.

I went to Egypt a month after the 911 attacks. I had booked a tour, which is rare for me, but there were supposed to be about 100 American tourists on this tour. Guess how many showed up? Two. My traveling partner and I had the country to ourselves because a lot of Americans were afraid of anybody who spoke Arabic or lived “over there”. In the aftermath of this senseless Parisian terrorism I feel that the best thing we can do is not let these crazies keep us from living our lives and traveling where we want. Paris depends on tourism and needs our support, now more than ever. Being afraid helps no one. Putting our head in a hole doesn’t make the baddies go away. Taking away the power that they have over us does.

Next weekend I’m going to visit the French Christmas markets, take pictures of the Eiffel tower and have a coffee across from the Moulin Rouge. No one’s going to take that away.

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