People react in different ways to terrorism. Some panic. Some lash out at what they think are those responsible (Muslims, people with head coverings, places of worship). Some take it all in stride – Keep calm and carry on – aware of the fact that terrorism, irrespective of what media images tell us, remains a rare event even in this IS-AQ-Boko Haram world.
And some go to great lengths to protect themselves from the future possibility of finding themselves in the midst of an attack by cancelling travel plans.
We humans are odd. We have a very primitive system of assessing risk. Perhaps that stems from our days on the African savannah where it paid to over-react to potential danger. If you perceived a movement in the grass as a predator who wanted you for lunch and bolted it was a win-win scenario for you. If the danger turned out to be illusory at least you are still alive. Had you chosen to stay a while longer and the danger were real, your contribution to the gene pool ended.
We are no longer semi-erect apes on the savannah however. Our brains have gotten bigger and we have built complex societies and interactions and some of those interactions once in a while involve terrorism. And yet we still don’t seem able to make the proper calculus about risk.
In the wake of the terrorist attacks in Paris last November an Edmonton school board put international travel on hold. Not just travel to Paris, or France, or Western Europe, but ALL travel. While I am sure there were legal and insurance reasons for the decision, am I the only one who thinks that nixing a trip to Antarctica over terrorism fears is a tad rash?
In this light I was thrilled to see that 9 out of 10 Swedes have no intention of cancelling their trips because of terrorism. Are these tall blonde Scandinavians naive or foolhardy? Is it because Sweden hasn’t been hit by the types of terrorism violence that have befallen Belgium and France and Germany? I have no idea why the Swedes are still keen to travel but I am glad to see their gumption.
It is of course not a great idea to organise a vacation these days in places like Raqqa, Mogadishu, Kandahar or the southern Philippines. After all, there is being brave and there is being stupid. The risk of a terrorist incident in those venues is real and it is certainly higher than in many other places around the world.
But Europe? Despite the rash of attacks and the likelihood that more will arise in the aftermath of the collapse of IS, the continent remains preeminently safe. The chances of an attack in a given place on a given day are for all intents and purposes nil. Ditching a long-planned vacation to the south of France on the off chance you’ll get killed by an Islamist extremist is actually an irrational decision.
Besides, and this sounds crass, but you will not find a safer place on the planet than a city the day after an attack. Soldiers and police are everywhere as the State seeks to calm the fears of its citizenry and show that it is doing something. It would take a brain-dead terrorist to think that hitting Brussels in the days following the airport attack last March would have any percentage of success.
There is a much more important reason to pack your suntan lotion and Speedo though. Continuing to visit far-flung places not only puts much needed cash into the hands of local communities which in some cases rely on tourist dollars but it flips the bird to the terrorists. They are trying to get us to change who we are, what we stand for, and how we live our daily lives. Giving in to irrational fears hurts us and helps them. They want to see us paralysed with dread. They want us to vote for people like Nigel Farage and Geert Wilders and Donald Trump because they know it is men like these that will put in place policies driven by fear that will make things much worse and far from better (and will not “Make America great again”). Do we want to do what IS wants us to do?
So hats off to those indomitable Swedes! The world needs more Sweden anyway. Here’s hoping that more people ge the hint and follow their lead.