So where are you off to for the summer break? And how are you feeling as you prepare to leave? Until recently, although really bad stuff was going on in Arabia, Africa and other conflict zones, Brits, being gutsy, carried on planning happy family trips abroad. Now, I sense more trepidation (and anger too) about what could happen at airports, popular seaside spots, shopping malls, quiet villages, bustling capital cities, anywhere pleasurable or exciting. We are staying put in the UK for the first time ever because anything more adventurous seems foolhardy and self-indulgent. Yet previously, in spite of known dangers, we did blithely venture forth.
In 2001, we went to Egypt on holiday with our eight year old daughter. A luxurious, bespoke three week trip cost less than a three day weekend break in Florence. Four years earlier Muslim militants had killed six visitors and three locals outside the antiquities museum in Cairo and 60 tourists had been gunned down in the Valley of the Kings in Luxor.
Local people told us how badly the tourist trade had been affected, how hard they'd been hit. Their kindness was part genuine, part desperate. When I went into the tomb of Tutankhamen, I was alone, except for the old, melancholic man who was guarding the entrance. It was an amazing experience. We thought we were really intrepid and doing such good. Such shameful solipsism. Spoilt, comfortable westerners like us, didn't apprehend then that our playgrounds abroad were becoming perilous places for insiders as well as outsiders. Well we sure do now.
Countless civilians have been dying every day in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and other war-torn lands. Sudden terrorist assaults now happen in the most idyllic, beautiful places. Egypt remains on high alert, so too Tunisia, Morocco, Kenya, India, Philippines, Lebanon, Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Pakistan, Myanmar, Jordan, Cameroon, the Ivory Coast and several others. Beach holidays with warm seas may soon become a distant memory. (We can, instead, go sightseeing to Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic, but maybe after Brexit, the locals may not be very welcoming.) This is from the most recent inventory compiled by our Foreign Office. Over 40 countries, across four continents are deemed hazardous for travellers.
Not only is the number of no-go nations alarmingly high, a good many of them were, until recently, in relatively untroubled zones. Australia, Spain and Belgium are on the danger list because the authorities have become aware of active terrorist cells. In the last few days, violent acts by individual or groups of Muslim men and boys has rocked a small village in Normandy, a town in Bavaria, Munich, Paris and Nice.
Turkey, once a fave destination, is now tense and controlled by an autocrat. Some people are cancelling trips. A chap who runs a high end tour company tells me many his regular clients are really nervous: 'Some are even updating their wills. I think they are looking forward to the end more than the time away. I too am worried and am trying to put together some kind of contingency package. But this is all new for us.'
Beach holidays with warm seas may soon become a distant memory...Forty three countries, across four continents are deemed hazardous for travellers.
The anxieties are understandable. But we need to maybe grow up and come to terms with a disorderly world where much is beyond the control of western governments. Understanding globalisation would be a first step. It can't just be about the maximisation of profits and expanding markets, about cappuccinos in Mumbai and samosas in Manhattan. More people migrate, power struggles move beyond borders, cross cultural battles intensify. Citizens from affluent nations need to be more aware and empathise with those who live hopeless, terrorised lives year after year.
In the last few days, we Britons felt the pain of Germany and France where dreadful, murderous attacks occurred, leaving many dead. But news of 173 Syrian civilians killed last week by US bombers raised little concern. Their lives mattered too. We really should be in it together, make connections. Too often while on holiday abroad, Europeans create a world within a world, shut themselves off from the realities around them. That cannot go on for much longer.
The hardest psychological adjustment we will have to make is this: no place on Earth is now totally safe from terrorism. Money cannot protect us from all perils and situations that now arise without warning. Having become far too risk averse, we now must become risk vigilant and fatalistic.
Fortunately, most humans are resilient and can adjust fast to new circumstances. Religious psychos did terrible damage in London, Madrid, Paris, Nice and elsewhere, but the people carried on. That is the spirit and strength we will need while on holiday too. I now think I was too cowardly. We can and must carry on travelling for pleasure, only with eyes wide open and a global sensibility.