I was in Japan in the back of a shuttle when I heard the news about the Paris attacks.
“Did you see this in Paris?” a colleague of mine sitting ahead of me asked. “Attacks across the city. Hundreds confirmed dead.”
A confused, “Really?” was all I could muster. I’ve never been one to take that kind of news lightly. So many can quickly pause the tragedy and immediately go into quarterbacking mode, hypothesizing — usually without much basis — about the causes, culprits and fallout. Instead all I could feel was the knot in my throat.
“Paris? The City of Light? Again?’
Stephen Colbert’s initial reaction at the end of taping Friday night’s show pretty much summed up my own.
Then there was news that Beirut, in many ways an equally celebrated cultural hub, suffered a terrorist attack that left over 40 dead.
The best I can do is connect it all to what I know — travel. These attacks inevitably make the world seem more dangerous and people more afraid of it. Terrorist attacks, disasters both natural and manmade send tourism numbers plummeting. I’m almost certain I will hear these attacks referenced as to why I should avoid the Middle East entirely.
Of course I won’t let some ideological dullards with the intellectual capacity of a fifth century cretin stop me from traveling. Fear can never win. Besides, what’s the alternative? Should we stay hunkered down in our perceived safety nets, never challenging ourselves to see another side?
Rick Steves touched on this in his response to the Paris attacks.
“I’m sure that many Americans will cancel their trips to Paris (a city of 2 million people) or the rest of Europe (a continent of 500 million people), because of an event that killed about 150. As a result, ironically, they’ll be staying home in a country of 320 million people that loses over 30,000 people a year (close to 100 people a day) to gun violence.”
Not to mention another 30,000 to automobile crashes.
Travel changes our perception of the world, almost always for the better. I learned more about Latin America living and traveling there than I ever would have watching U.S. news, which seems to only to other corners of the world when it involves violence. I suspect I’ll learn more about the Middle East by traveling there just as I have anywhere else I’ve traveled. I won’t let tragic events exclusively shape my worldview. I won’t let fear be confused with actual risk.
I agree with Steves that “the best way for Americans to fight terrorism is to keep on traveling.”
With that in mind, I hope those who can will keep Paris and Beirut in their travel plans so you can let their indescribably important and profound cultures touch your lives. For me, they remain firmly at the top of my list.
A note on the photo; it’s not connected to either Paris or Beirut. But it’s images like the above from hiking in Japan that won’t allow terrorists to dictate my travel plans.