Today, with news of a tragic terrorist attack shaking the city of Istanbul and the country of Turkey, I had scheduled a fun, lighthearted post about my first impressions of this beautiful city. I also had scheduled to post a series of pictures from the mosques, streets, and waters of this striking and romantic setting.
I have decided to delay them temporarily to observe the developing situation in Istanbul, and to keep the social media stream clear of my pre-written auto-posts—which seem somehow tasteless in the midst of a developing crisis.
Not that I endorse a message of general fear to travel, far from it! Large-scale tragedy has become a common visitor in our Western news streams, but it is by no means a newcomer to our world. Violence can happen anywhere, at any time. Travelers should exercise caution and common sense in planning, but without the sort of ignorant fear pushed and heralded by both international terrorist groups and Western bigots.
While preparing for our recent visit to Istanbul, we watched the news carefully—and admittedly with some apprehension—as tensions grew in Turkey and Greece. In the months after we booked the trip, the refugee “situation” became a full-blown “international humanitarian crisis,” Kurdish rebel groups claimed responsibility for attacks in Turkey, and Syrian militant influence spread farther and farther west.
Eventually, we were faced with a choice: take the trip, or stay home. Had we huddled in our home over the holiday, we would have missed out on an incredible experience—engaging with different people, exploring a city of incalculable historical significance to both the East and the West, and leaving with a better understanding of the moderate Muslim world.
And that understanding of different people and firsthand experience with different places is the real benefit of world travel; it’s much easier to be scared of places you’ve never seen and hate people you’ve never met. The people who wish to create isolationist, ignorant societies—whether they be masked terrorists or misguided politicians—depend on this xenophobic Fear of the Unknown to further their cause.
Do I mourn the people injured and killed in this and other violent tragedies? Of course, we all do. But I also mourn the death of peace, the death of understanding, the death of freedom and friendship that follows every such attack—further eroding already tenuous feelings of trust and security.
From today, every Westerner who is forced to cancel their trip to Istanbul—or reconsider their long-term travel plans to “that part of the world” as a result of violence—will not only have missed out on a once-in-a-lifetime travel opportunity, but may be one fewer informed voice in the crowd: one fewer voice who can feel real empathy for the local communities affected by violent tragedies in their neighborhoods; one fewer voice who will question ignorant, hard-line political ultimatums like “we don’t want any of those people in our country!”
It is my ultimate hope that someday, Turkey—and the rest of today’s turbulent world—will be safe and welcoming to visitors of all nations. Until then, I can only hope that we can see beyond the tragedy and embrace peace, understanding, and tolerance in a time when a shortsighted and violent few seek to create a world of fear, ignorance, and pain.