If you dream of travel, don’t let terrorism stop you
Istanbul, Paris, London, Las Vegas, Buenos Aires, Charlottesville, Barcelona, Bangkok, Manchester, St Petersburg. This is a list of places that have suffered terrorist attacks or mass shootings in 2017. Sometimes it feels as if the world is not a safe place to travel anymore. But that allows the people committing these atrocities to win, and it’s just plain wrong.
The world has never been a safer place. Globally, deaths because of conflict are at their lowest since before World War II, while there are fewer wars taking place since the sixties, according to the UN.
What has changed since then is our ability to communicate and move. Geography is nothing when a person in Tokyo can chat with someone in London instantly, and make the journey there in half a day. But that means a bombing in Beirut can cause almost as much as distress across the world as one in New York.
Then you have the need for the media to get eyeballs on screens. The nature of advertising has changed so much in the past few years that in order for papers to earn any money every tragedy is the worst that has ever happened.
Ten perfectly SEOd articles are produced in half an hour and thrown at Facebook in the hope that someone will click. Then there’s reams and reams devoted to analysing the reaction, and the reaction to the reaction. Add pundits offering wild explanations on Twitter before any official information is released and you have a merry jamboree of fear on your feed.
So when a driver loses control outside the Natural History Museum in London, injuring 11, we are like Pavlov’s Dog hearing its bell ring. We are programmed to believe that Daesh have struck again and are ramraiding their way through the streets, when really it’s just an unfortunate accident.
I grew up in a country that had been blighted by what some called a war and others called terrorism for almost twenty-five years. In my first thirteen years, my home town was blown up twice, there were regular bomb scares at school, the army on the streets, checkpoints and searches.
And then peace. But an unstable peace.
As a cub reporter, I was on the scene of pipe bombs and riots. At one, I was standing behind the water cannon dousing a burning BMW and line of riot police when some kid ran out with a handgun and unloaded the whole clip.
After I studied, I went to Jordan to work on the refugee crisis. One day, I made a mistake and accidentally entered an army base. The clack of an AK-47 being aimed at your chest is a surreal, terrifying experience.
I visited Beirut as Daesh were carrying out a campaign of explosions. I was in Almaty when a terrorist hijacked a car and rampaged through the streets with a machine gun.
I write this not to boast about just how hardcore I am, but to show that from my own experience I know that even if you (stupidly) put yourself in dangerous situations there is still little chance of something bad happening.
It was the families I interviewed in Jordan that affected me more. These were people forced from the shell of their homes by the state’s, rebel’s and Daesh’s bombs and guns. They left their husbands lying under mounds of rubble, or buried their children by the roadside.
Two-thirds of my life have been spent living under the threat of terrorism and nothing has ever happened to me. My parents and grandparents have lived even longer at risk. My family and I are lucky. There were thousands killed in the Troubles, and tens of thousands injured.
Without wanting to be glib or to minimise the pain of those who have lost someone, the chance of being affected by horrific violence of this kind during your life is exceptionally slim. Terror is most likely to affect you at home, as part of a concerted campaign of violence. Otherwise, it is almost completely random.
According to Business Insider, the chances of an American being killed by a foreign-born terrorist is one in 45,808, by a refugee terrorist is one in 46,192,893, and by an illegal immigrant terrorist is one in 138,324,873.
Murder has a chance of one in 249, and that’s most likely to be by someone you know. Death by motor vehicle is one in 113. Clearly, if you are going to stop travelling out of fear of terrorism, then you must find a hermetically sealed tank, fill it with cotton wool, climb in and never leave.
Being afraid is fine, good even, but having the courage to overcome it and chase your dreams shows those who wish to hurt us that we may never be defeated.
So we have a choice – we can visit Paris and have the trip of a lifetime, or we can stay at home out of fear of the unpredictable and let them win. I know which one I will choose. As the great actor Carrie Fisher said: “Stay afraid, but do it anyway.”