This weekend, while the world was celebrating the achievements of athletes in the Rio Olympics, Turkey went through another horrid terror attack on its civilians in the southeastern city of Gaziantep. What used to be a relatively stable stronghold in the region is sadly becoming a hotbed of terror activities, with a string of attacks one bloodier than the other. Many lives have been lost. The Turkish tourism industry has suffered a hard blow, down forty percent this year according to some estimates.
This is our new reality. Terrorism has entered into our everyday lingo and is probably here to stay. We can fear it, we can ignore it, or we can try to defy it, but it is not going away. So let’s examine how we can carry on in the face of this 21st century threat.
The next day after the Istanbul attacks this March and months before the tumultuous summer events that followed, I wrote to Beril. Beril lives in a flat minutes away from İstiklal Caddesi, a major tourist street where the March attack had happened. Beril’s flat was also going to be my place of residence for the next few months.
I wrote to Beril because I was worried for her. She was thankfully fine. She offered to cancel my upcoming Airbnb reservation, because as she put it: “It’s understandable if you don’t want to come now.” As I was responding to her, I learned of another attack, this time in Brussels. This avalanche of terror just within days of each other caused me to pause for a moment. Should I continue my travels or should I retreat to the relatively safe haven of the United States?
Here is why I will not stop traveling because of terrorism.
Like any tragedy, terrorism is well... terrible, but what makes it even more fearsome is that it’s unpredictable. You can choose not to live in Chile or China where earthquakes are common, but you cannot get inside ISIS cell members’ minds to predict the location of the next attack. It’s the volatile unpredictable nature of terrorism that raises the hair on our skin.
The irony is that there are far, far more frequent tragedies that don’t get the same attention that terrorism does. In fact, according to this op-ed by the Boston Globe (supported by other sources), I am more likely to a) get hit by a falling object, b) die from a lightning strike, or c) become a victim of gun violence than I am to fall to the hands of terrorists. Yet it is the latter that occupies our imagination most vividly. Why is it so?
I believe there are two main reasons we are afraid of terrorism. Because our world is hyper connected, we get almost instantaneous access to any attack and its details. The terrorists took a taxi just before blowing themselves up. One of them had a brother who lives in Boston. They are Belgian citizens. All of these details make an attack feel more tangible than what it should be to the news-watching world. Our twenty-four hour news cycle adds to the grievance as stories get recycled many times over, spreading not only on social media but also into our minds and the collective subconsciousness. Data suggests, however, that, with respect to terrorist attacks, we are living in the safest decade yet both in the United States and in Western Europe.
The other reason terrorism occupies our minds is that as humans, we are naturally drawn to stories and narratives. When natural disaster strikes, it is just that — a natural disaster. There isn’t a plot or a grand design at work (I will ignore the effects of global warming here as it is not the subject of this article). With terror, there’s always a story. For better or for worse, there’s a narrative out there about radical movements fighting the rest of the world and we are drawn to that narrative, sometimes against our best intentions.
So what is an individual to do when faced with a decision to go or not to go somewhere? Consider the risks, of course, and travel smart, but please continue to travel, I implore you. Because if you, and I, and all of our friends and loved ones stop traveling, then they — the terrorists — have already won.
The goal of terrorists is to spread terror, fear, and division among those they’re opposing. Coincidentally, the best antidote against terror, fear, and division is travel. When we travel, we become more humane. We see that people on the other side of the globe, while different from us in their customs, beliefs, and cultures, are fundamentally the same. They have the same needs as we do for food, shelter, love, affection, friendship, and well-being. The decision to go somewhere is a life-altering decision, not only for a traveler but also for those he or she is encountering along the way, because traveling opens doors and builds bridges that terrorists want to blow up.
So I will not stop coming to Istanbul. I will not cancel my plans for Greece and I will someday visit Brussels. I will not stop dreaming about London or Paris and I will continue planning my trip to Africa. I am not naive and I know that bad things can — and do — happen. But I am hopeful that our collective response to this — to continue choosing light over darkness — is bound to eventually make a difference.
In the poignant words of Antoine Leiris, a Parisian who has lost his wife in the 2015 Bataclan attack and has written an open letter to terrorists, “I don’t have any more time to devote to you, I have to join Melvil who is waking up from his nap. He is barely 17-months-old. He will eat his meals as usual, and then we are going to play as usual, and for his whole life this little boy will threaten you by being happy and free. Because no, you will not have his hatred either.”
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I’m a travel writer, photographer, and a wanderpreneur. My work appears in Lonely Planet 2016 Literary Anthology, Upward Magazine, Matador Network & others. Learn more about me here and follow my journey on Instagram @insearchofperfect.