"I tell Western tourists, come to Tunisia, the first democracy in the Arab world, to share this historic moment and support a democratic transition and also enjoy its sun, beaches, desert and culture." said Tunisian tourism minister Amel Karboul on February 26th, 2014.
Just over a year later, in June 2015, British Prime Minster David Cameron urged all British tourists to immediately vacate Tunisia after a terrorist massacred tourists, leaving 30 Britons dead.
The statements of Amel Karboul and David Cameron show two very different sides of the world we live in, one that is seemingly balanced between tranquility and chaos. This unknown variable has led many people to wonder if terrorism should stop you from seeing the world, or if the world is just far too dangerous to explore. The answer, of course, is no.
The Threat of Terrorism
Although Tunisia has had two violent terrorist attacks this year – one at a museum that killed 26 people, and another at a resort that killed 38 – the statistics of being killed in that country by terrorism is very low. In 2014, Tunisia saw an influx of over seven million tourists. 2015 would probably have had similar if not higher numbers. If we pretend tourism into Tunisia ends after July 2nd (the middle of the year), and we assume the tourism numbers would have been the same, we can say about three and a half million people visited Tunisia in 2015. Of these three and a half million people, terrorists have killed 62, or 0.0018% of all tourists. In comparison, the United Kingdom had sixty-seven million people in 2012, and had 8,367 alcohol related deaths, killing 0.0137% of the population. This means alcohol kills just under ten times as many people in Britain as terrorists do in Tunisia.
A similar comparison can be made in the United States. While Tunisia is considered dangerous to visit, America is considered safe. In reality, however, it is the opposite. In 2010, four of the five most visited states in the America (California, Texas, Florida and New York) had the highest gun related deaths in the country. 0.0034% of Californians died of gun violence, 0.0032% of Texans died of gun violence, 0.0034% of Floridians died of gun violence and 0.0027% of New Yorkers died of gun violence. All of these numbers are much higher than the terrorist related deaths in Tunisia of 0.0018%, yet nobody is boycotting tourists from visiting America.
What Is Terrorism?
The thing about terrorism that scares people so much isn't its violence, but its unpredictability. Terrorism can be compared to a spark in a dry forest. Eventually that forest will catch fire and burn, but where and when that spark will ignite is the question. Anti-terror laws are similar to anti-campfire laws; they can only hinder, not prevent, a forest fire. Unfortunately, these precautions can often lead to more fires, not less.
This can be seen in the United States during the 1990s. On April 19th, 1995, Oklahoma City was rocked when a massive explosion occurred in its heart, killing almost 170 people, injuring nearly 700 and damaged or destroyed 324 buildings. The Oklahoma City Bombing is seen as the second worst terrorist attack on American soil, only to be surpassed by 9/11. The terrorist was Timothy McVeigh, a Gulf War veteran who wanted retaliation against the United States government for their actions in Waco and Ruby Ridge that lefts dozens dead, including women and children. Both incidents are considered some of America's most violent moments towards its own citizens, especially in regards to Ruby Ridge which had an entire family killed just because their father, Randy Weaver, had missed his court date (knowing perviously that the court had made a mistake and provided him with the wrong date).
McVeigh believed the system in America had become corrupted, and had a moral obligation as a solider to defend his country from its biggest threat; itself. He justified his actions in Oklahoma by pointing to the horrors America had inflicted upon the world, such as the fire bombings of Dresden, the nuclear bombings of Japan, the napalm bombings in Vietnam, and the then current bombings of Baghdad.
He would later say in 1998: "If Saddam is such a demon, and people are calling for war crimes charges and trials against him and his nation, why do we not hear the same cry for blood directed at those responsible for even greater amounts of 'mass destruction' — like those responsible and involved in dropping bombs on the cities [mentioned above]?"
The bombings and sanctions against Iraq would come back to haunt America six years later in 2001 when al Qaeda declared war on America by crashing two airplanes into the World Trade Center, one airplane into the Pentagon and attempting to crash one into the Whitehouse. Their reason was to strike back at America for what they had done to their country and their people, claiming the sanctions and bombings were, according to Osama bin Laden, "the greatest mass slaughter of children mankind has ever known".
Today, fourteen years after 9/11, "terrorism" has become a subjective term. To be a "terrorist" one doesn't have to actually commit a violent act, but simply has to think of committing an act. Often times, any form of criticism against the government is portrayed as terrorism. This can even be put to the extreme with green activists being called "environmental terrorists" although they are trying to save the environment, not destroy it.
The term can also be used by a country during a civil war, like Ireland, Ukraine or Syria. While the governments under attack call the perpetrators "terrorists", countries abroad refer to them as "revolutionaries" or "freedom fighters". The same could be said with the Parliamentarians during the English Revolution, the Bolsheviks during the Russian Revolution, the Patriots during the American Revolution and Jacobins and Girondins during the French Revolution.
The Islamic State (IS or ISIS) appeared in Iraq and Syria in 2014, born from the instability of the Arab Spring and the rebuilding of Iraq. With no stable government or military force in the area, ISIS quickly spread and received international attention. A year later, ISIS still exists, but the borders of the countries around it have changed, specifically that of Kurdistan, a culture who lost their country with the redrawing of the Middle East after World War I. The Kurdish army (PKK) is seen by the media as a savior to the area, as it is the only organization that seems to make any progress against ISIS. The PKK has liberated several cities and communities that was overrun by ISIS, and has welcomed thousands of refugees.
However, with its once claimed territory swallowed up by Turkey, Iraq and Syria, the PKK has often fought against Turkey and is responsible for several bombings within the country. The PKK wishes to have independence, and is fighting for their own right to be a self-governing body. These actions have labeled these "saviors" as also being a terrorist organization by the United Nations. Because of this, although the United Nations is working alongside the PKK, they cannot provide the PKK with weapons or else they would be guilty of supporting a terrorist organization. This is contrary to the Free Syrian Army, who the United Nations could arm to overthrow the Syrian government as they were seen as revolutionaries, not terrorists (although they would later splinter and become ISIS).
Kurdistan, although technically run by terrorists, was left unharmed by the War of Terror in Iraq. Seen as a separate entity of Iraq, Kurdistan is a prosperous, peaceful nation that is growing alongside the West. In 2012, Kurdistan had over two million tourists, which although low, was during the War on Terror and the Arab Spring. The war against ISIS has lowered tourism as travel advisors say to avoid the area, but people who do visit claim it as a wonderful country and say it's very safe – much like Tunisia. G Adventures even offers trips to "Van" a Turkish province in the disputed Kurdish territory.
The Reality of Terrorism
While it may seem like the peace of our world is fraying due to terrorism, historians tell us differently. In fact, the world is on the edge of one of the most peaceful periods in recorded history. Very few countries are a war with another, and many counties prefer diplomatic discussions to solve disputes. This is contrary to a hundred years ago when Europe was ravaged by World War I and over 100 countries were pinned against each other, as today there are only a handful of countries at war.
Traveling can be invigorating and exciting, and it offers a whole new way of looking at the world around us. It helps us understand how we got to where we are today, and where we are headed. It teaches us lessons, tells us stories and helps us understand ourselves better. Through traveling we learn the workings of the world around us, the culture, the language and the religion. We can even understand why countries dislike each other and why terrorism exists.
Should terrorism stop you from traveling? No, but it should be taken into consideration. Traveling into areas where there are revolutions or wars is never wise, but at the same time, such events are often isolated into small pockets of chaos. I follow several other bloggers that travel through areas that have had problems with terrorism, like Kenya or Israel, and while they have been close to several attacks, they have never been affected. There's always a chance of being a victim of a terrorist attack, but knowing where you are going, what the situation is like there and what to watch out for is one of the things that makes traveling so exciting.
Although the world is safe, and there are many laws, precautions and sanctions in place, it only takes a small conflict to grow into an inferno. Using the metaphor of a forest fire, hikers know this and take every precaution before entering wooded areas. They know how to get out if things go wrong, and how to prevent their own actions from causing destruction. However, the inevitable possibility of a forest fire does not stop a hiker from entering the woods, and neither should terrorism stop you from traveling the word. Terrorism is part of our history, and while it's terrifying and destructive, history shows beauty always grows from its ashes, and that the journey will always be worth the risk.
Earlier this year I did a presentation at The Artesian about the Spanish Influenza. It was the first time I had ever done a presentation like this and I was nervous about the number of people that might attend. I told my mother I would be thrilled if five people came that night, but forty people showed up instead. For a topic that very few people know anything about, I was excited to see so many people interested.
But one person in the audience was so interested that several months later she reached out to me to see if I wanted to do my presentation again. Instead of doing it in Regina, she asked for me to travel to Craik, Saskatchewan to tell the Craik Museum and Oral History Society about what I had learned.
For knowing so much about a topic nobody ever asks me about, I was super excited to talk about it. The organiser reached out to Craik School to ask if the students would be interested in attending the lecture too. The teacher said they wouldn't be able to make the time slot work but asked if I could speak to the students about being a blogger at a different time.
As I stood in the courtyard of Fort Henry, I heard screams emanating from within. Fort Henry was constructed to protect the Kingston Royal Dockyard from the invading American forces during the War of 1812. The threat was so real that the capital of Canada – which was then Kingston – was moved to Quebec to protect it. The docks are all that stood between the United States and the St. Lawrence River and both countries were all too familiar with how easily it would turn the tides of battle.
As the screams from inside Fort Henry faded, I turned to the man beside me. He had come with his family. We got talking, trying to calm our nerves as bloodied clowns and undead mimes began wandering out from inside the fort.
Imagine the bustling streets of New York, then times it by ten. Add a dash of Chinese culture, a wallop of nature and half dozen fish balls that don’t actually contain any fish, and you have the beautiful city that is Hong Kong.
At 7.2 million people, Hong Kong is a dynamic city with an incredible history, towering skyscrapers and a unique mix of English and Chinese that can’t be found anywhere else in the world. While Hong Kong has existed for a millennium, it was officially founded in 1842 to solidify a truce between Great Britain and the Qing dynasty of China during the First Opium War. A decade after the British took control of Hong Kong, the Black Death swept into China, killing hundreds of thousands of people. It would remain part of Hong Kong’s life for a century.
During World War II, Hong Kong was captured by the Japanese. For three years and eight months the British-Chinese culture of the city was destroyed, replaced with Japanese text, language and art. The booming city of 1.6 million people was slashed to only 600,000. Japanese occupation was incredibly harsh for the Hongkongese, being the darkest part of their history. Japan ceased occupation on August 6th, 1945, in response to the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. For forty-two more years, Hong Kong was controlled by the British, with the reunification between Hong Kong and mainland China finally occurring in 1997.