Why I will not stop coming to Istanbul.
I am standing in a departure lane at Rome’s Fiumicino airport waiting to board for Istanbul, the city I passionately love. It is Friday, a regular day just like any other, but something is different. People around me seem to be slightly on edge; we take careful looks at each other and at our belongings, as if questioning: “Are you a terrorist? Are you?”
This is our new reality. Terrorism has entered our everyday life and lingo and is probably here to stay. We can fear it, we can ignore it, or we can try to defy it, but it’s not going away. So let’s examine how we are to carry on in the face of this 21st century threat.
The next day after March 19th Istanbul attacks that took the lives of five people and injured thirty six others, I wrote to Beril. Beril lives in a flat ten minutes away from Istiklal Caddesi, a major tourist street where the attack had happened. Beril’s flat is also my place of residence for the next thirty days.
I wrote to Beril because I was worried for her; she was thankfully fine. She had offered me to cancel the upcoming Airbnb reservation, because as she put it, “it’s understandable if you don’t want to come now.” As I was responding to her, I learned of another attack, this time in Brussels. This avalanche of terror just within days of each other caused me to pause for a moment. Should I continue my travels or should I retreat to the relatively safe haven of the United States?
Here is why I will not stop coming to Istanbul.
Terrorism is terrible like any tragedy is, but what makes it even more scary is that it’s unpredictable. You can choose not to live in Chile or Pakistan where earthquakes are common, but you cannot get inside ISIS cell members’ minds to predict the location of the next attack. It’s the volatile unpredictable nature of terrorism that raises the hair on our collective skins.
The irony is that there are far, far more frequent tragedies that don’t get the same attention that terrorism does. In fact, according to this data reported by Boston Globe, I am more likely to a) get hit by a falling object, b) die from a lightning strike, or c) become a victim of gun violence than I am to fall to the hands of terrorists. Yet it is the latter that occupies our imagination most vividly. What gives?
I believe there are two main reasons we are so afraid of terrorism. Because our world is hyper connected now, we get almost instantaneous access to an attack and its details. The terrorists took an Uber just before blowing themselves up. One of them had a brother who lives in Boston. They are Belgian citizens. All of these details make an attack more tangible to someone sitting in Idaho than what it really should be. Our twenty-four hour news cycle adds to the grievance as stories get regurgitated hundred times over, spreading not only through social media but also into our minds and collective subconsciousness.
The other reason terrorism occupies our minds is that as humans, we are naturally drawn to stories and narratives. When natural disaster strikes, it is just that — a natural disaster. There isn’t a plot or a grand design at work (I will ignore the effects of global warming here as it is not today’s subject). With terror, there’s always a story. For better or for worse, there’s a narrative out there about radicalism fighting the world and we are drawn to that narrative, sometimes against our best wishes.
So what is an individual to do when faced with a decision to go or not to go somewhere? Consider the risks, of course, and travel smart, but please continue to travel, I implore you. Because if you, and I, and all of our friends and loved ones stop traveling, then they — the terrorists — have already won.
You see, the goal of terrorists is to spread terror, fear, and division among those they’re opposing. Coincidentally, the best antidote against terror, fear, and division is travel. When we travel, we become more humane. We see that people on the other side of the globe, while different from us in their customs, beliefs, and cultures, are fundamentally the same. They have the same needs as you do for food, shelter, love, affection, friendship, and well-being. The decision to go somewhere is a life-altering decision, not only for a traveler but also for those he or she is visiting, because travelers open doors and build bridges that terrorists want to blow up.
So I will not stop coming to Istanbul. I will not cancel my plans for Greece and I will, someday, visit Brussels. I will not stop dreaming about London, or Paris, or abort planning my trip to Africa in 2017. I am not naive and I know that bad things can — and do — happen. But I am hopeful that our collective response to this — to continue spreading light versus darkness — is bound to eventually make a difference.
In the poignant words of Antoine Leiris, a Parisian who has lost his wife in the 2015 Bataclan attack and has written an open letter to terrorists, “I don’t have any more time to devote to you, I have to join Melvil who is waking up from his nap. He is barely 17-months-old. He will eat his meals as usual, and then we are going to play as usual, and for his whole life this little boy will threaten you by being happy and free. Because no, you will not have his hatred either.”
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I’m a travel writer, photographer, and a wanderpreneur. My work appears in Lonely Planet 2016 Literary Anthology, Upward Magazine, Matador Network & others. Learn more about me here