So. Another city bombed. What do we do now?
Terrorists would not be terrorists if they warned everyone beforehand of
their targets. There is nothing for it: This is the new normal. And it
isn't particularly "new;" gunmen later identified as Muslim anti-Israel
extremists turned Leonardo da Vinci Airport, in Rome, and Schwechat, in
Vienna, into shooting galleries back in 1985. The Brussels attack followed
that blueprint, a check-in desk is guaranteed a huge crowd, and thus huge
So where do we go? Where is safe? From a travel writer's perspective, the
best advice I can give is to travel-nuts either not travel ever again,
travel only by your own personal automobile, or go to places so off the
radar that they simply don't have the high profile to be a nice, juicy,
fear-inducing, story-generating, paranoia-fueling, finger-pointing,
blame-flinging, cause-appropriating, ass-covering target. While I am sure
you will have a lovely stay in Guyana, the Cook Islands, or Togo, it is
naive to think that even those places are immune to attack simply because
they haven't yet been attacked, and every place as its own set of security
problems, imported or otherwise.
And now let's talk practicality. No offense to Guyana, but Paris is more of
a draw and will be for years to come. Oh, sure: there will be a dip in
travel numbers; there is already speculation that the Summer 2016 travel
season will be a dismal one (at least, with regards to air travel), the same thing happened after
9-11. But dips rebound. Maybe memory fades, maybe people get used to the
"new normal." Or maybe people simply aren't going to be terrorised. Paris
and Brussels will recover. Not right away, but they will.
There is no "maybe," however, in that Belgian law enforcement bungled this
just enough to give ISIS an edge. When Turkey deported
one of the bombers, IDed as Ibrahim el Bakraoui, in 2015 to the
Netherlands, warnings were sent along with him, warnings that seem now to
have gone unheard. Belgium, whose Flemish and Walloon halves are
disdainfully gridlocked up and down the political spectrum, has an internal
security now so layered with red tape, distrust, discommunication, and
mind-numbing bureaucracy that it may as well not be there at all.
Authorities in France, whose anti-terrorism measures are fairly up to
snuff, were little surprised the Paris bombings were planned in Brussels,
and Belgium is now being roundly slammed for this critical blind eye. In the wake of the Brussels bombing, it is now
becoming clear that Belgium, and not perennially-blamed bugaboos like
Bosnia, is the terrorist gateway to Europe. This places the entire European
Union in danger; haul out a map and see just how close the country is to
Paris, London, or Amsterdam.
The Belgians will learn from this, now that it has finally happened to
them. Unfortunately, terrorism, even in this day and age, is still largely
seen as somebody else's problem, which ignores the plain fact that we are
all somebody else to somebody else. America's security was lax before 9-11,
Japan's was before Aum Shinrikyo, Spain's was before the 2004 Madrid train
bombing. As Lady Gaga sings, "...'til it happens to you..."
Say What? Do What?
In the meantime, travelers are urged to "exercise vigilance"
when they hit the road. It's a maddeningly catch-all phrase, but what it
comes down to is this: don't make yourself a target. When it comes to
airports, ports, or train stations, get in and out as fast as possible.
There are dozens of electronic check-in options to make things faster once
you arrive, and even something as basic as only going with carry-on can get
you through security in a jiffy (pack for a week, it will last you a year).
The quicker you can get to a secure area, wherever it is, the better. Not
dilly-dallying is good advice, anyway.
It also means to keep an eye out. "Us vs. Them" thinking is a slippery
slope, and few threats look the same every time around. The only thing
amiss about the Brussel's bombers were that two of them wore one glove
each. It was a simple ruse that, some officials now believe,
hid detonation devices. But it is these subtle clues that we now need to
watch out for.
And the US State Department has the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program
(STEP), a free service to allow U.S.
citizens and nationals traveling abroad to enroll their trip with the
nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate, should anything go south once you are
actively traveling. If such a misfortune does happen, American officials
will know beforehand you are in the danger zone and can sweep in fairly
quickly, be it anything from a terrorist attack to a tsunami.
And in the meantime, we have to keep on enjoying the beauty and wonder that
the world has despite the actions of a few individuals. The issue of
terrorism like what happened in Brussels is not going to be solved over
night, nor will it end overnight. But I am not going to lock myself into my
room thinking that is the only way to stay safe. I am not going to be
scared by anyone. I am not going to imprison myself because of anyone. I'll
admit that I am saddened by a terrorist act, and perhaps more cynical. But
scared, nay, terrorised? No.