I had just booked into a chalet near Millau in the Aveyron region of the Midi-Pyrénées in the South of France and was feeling pretty good. Switching on the television the first sickening reports of the bomb blast and shooting in Norway were being broadcast. I sat on the bed and watched in horrified silence as the whole story began to unfold.
The initial reports were perhaps predictably suggesting an Islamic extremist group as the possible protagonists, especially considering the Norwegian forces involvement in Afghanistan. As evidence was gathered and eye witnesses recounted the shooting in particular however it became clear that this was not the case and it was actually a single person who was responsible. A Norwegian in fact with extreme right-wing views, it seemed almost inconceivable that this beautiful and peaceful nation could be the target of such a shocking, cowardly and very deliberate attack.
Over the next few days of course this was almost the sole topic of news, despite the passing of pop idol Amy Winehouse. The death toll continued to rise well above the initial estimates and it soon became apparent this was the worst tragedy the Norwegians had experienced since World War II.
Cafe Argana, Marrakech
In February I enjoyed a fantastic trip to Marrakech and spent quite a few hours chilling out and drinking copious amounts of coffee in Cafe Argana. Several weeks after my return a friend that I had met there posted on the social media site Twitter informing the World that the cafe had been bombed.
Switching on a news channel in a few minutes the first bulletins began to trickle through and subsequent reports listed several dead and many injured.
During the time of my visit the first stirrings of unrest were being muted, Tunisia had already undergone some turmoil and Egypt was in the middle of its own revolution. On my return from the country the Foreign Office put out a warning regarding public protestations in Moroccan cities. These were refuted by people living there when I queried this, they declared it was an overstatement, and then of course the dreadful bomb attack occurred.
Neither of these countries are not normally considered ‘high risk’ areas, anybody travelling to a known ‘hotspot’ such as Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo or currently Syria accepts there is a degree of risk involved.
Are there any truly ‘safe’ locations to travel to in the modern World, global terrorism seems to be on the rise? There does not seem to be a day go by that there is not some incident somewhere. Many are in areas that savvy, vigilant travellers anticipate possible problems and can make some necessary preparations for certain potential risks.
The challenge now of course is that there are these type of incidents cannot possibly be prepared for regardless of experience and now these risks are equally appropriate in any destination we may travel to.
The issue now is will it prevent any of us from travelling, or change the manner in which many of us travel? I hope it will not! This does not appear dissimilar to any incidence where bullying and those that employ terror tactics to impose their beliefs and opinions upon others. When we bow to their intimidation and allow them to prevent us from making our own choices and limit where we travel to they have won and terror will prevail.
It is merely another way of allowing others to limit what we do; ultimately however it is a matter of personal choice. Travelling to areas of high risk is obviously not suited to all but personally if the opportunity arises I will travel to even these. I certainly will not allow the modern ‘axis of evil’ which is terrorism prevent me from visiting places which interest me; it is not in my nature to bow to bullying of any kind, something my father instilled in me.
An awful realisation
The other frightening truth is that deciding not to travel cannot actually guarantee safety. The recent incident in Norway involved a bomb blast in Oslo and the shooting took place on a nearby holiday island. The vast majority of people that died there were Norwegian youngsters enjoying a holiday weekend; in effect a camping staycation.
We all need to make our own decisions what we feel is best for ourselves, our families and friends, that is what is worth fighting for, that is what is worth standing up for; our freedom to choose, our loved ones and our own beliefs.
Most of us are unable to be involved directly with the fight against terrorism, we are not members of the Armed or Security Forces and it would be unwise to think otherwise. Making a stand in our own manner and on our own terms is the only way we can genuinely play our part. Normal people continuing to live our lives in a normal manner and refusing to allow intimidation to dominate our lives is how terrorism will eventually be defeated.
I will continue to travel to the places that attract me, not because they are safe, and not specifically because they pose a potential risk, but because they are there and I want to visit them. I am sure many of you feel the same, it would be great to continue to bump into one or two of you during my travels.
Postscript: These were my thoughts several years ago, before the recent horrors of the probable aircraft explosion over Egypt and the recent atrocities in Paris. The shock, the revulsion have not diminished, but neither has the determination to not allow the tactics of terror to win.
In the light of the attacks in Paris in particular it seems certain somethings will change. The open borders of mainland Europe in line with the Schengen agreement may become a thing of the past. Security checks which restrict the freedom of movement of potential terrorists seems inevitable.
There will be those that will decry this as giving in to terrorism, and while I agree it is a small victory for the terrorist, restricting the liberties of law abiding citizens, it is a bigger loss to them. In the long term they will find it more difficult to move throughout mainland Europe.
“The day we change the way we live is the day terrorism wins”
I agree wholeheartedly with the quote above, we cannot allow those that use terror tactics to spoil our quality of life. However, there also needs to be common sense, and anything which although slightly inconvenient to us, but makes the task of the terrorist i.e. taking human lives more difficult has to at least be considered.
Ultimately it is the decisions we make ourselves, continuing to travel, refusing to give in to our fear, renouncing ignorance, bigotry and fanaticism, which are the small, individual victories that make the terrorist obsolete.
We must be unified in our stance against fanaticism, division will not succeed.
“A single voice shouting may not be heard, but thousands of voices whispering can be deafening”
One final thought:
“A ship is safe at harbour, but that is not what ships are for.” William Shedd
This is the philosophy which will see me returning to North African Morocco next week.