Hi Frugalistas. This is a different post for me. As I start to write I’m not actually sure where I’m even heading with it. Most readers would be familiar with events over the past few weeks, with Sydney, Istanbul and Paris being rocked by separate terrorist attacks. Adding to that, I was in Athens with some dear Ottawa friends when they suffered their own terror attack in October. Somehow my world is…..well “different”. My three favourite cities in the world are shocked, and grieving.
15 December 2014, Sydney
Sydney is the city I choose to live in. It is a beautiful, friendly city, with a relaxed vibe. “Things like that” just don’t happen in Sydney. We are used to our media reporting on police making terror-related arrests and foiling plots without anything actually happening. On 15 December 2014 all that changed.
Automatic rifles, hostages and calling on the name of The Prophet came to the centre of our city. Although the perpetrator was clearly disturbed, rather than a jihadist or “terrorist”, it made us feel sickened, vulnerable.
Muslim women were afraid to catch public transport. The city bonded together. Women bonded together – standing up to support their hijab-wearing sisters, protecting them from insults on public transport with #Illridewithyou their battle cry of peace and tolerance.
Martin Place became a place of homage, rather than a drab pedestrian corridor in the Central Business District. People left flowers. People cried. People hugged. A beautiful, young Muslim bride left her wedding bouquet as a tribute, and the gathered crowd applauded. Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, Muslims and atheists prayed. Together, Sydney was a grieving, but somehow more beautiful place to be.
6 January 2015, Istanbul
Earlier this week I woke to the news of a suicide bomber in the Sultanahmet district of Istanbul. Attacking a police station, she killed one officer and injured a second. A far-Left Wing plot it was declared – domestic terrorism.
I know that police station. It is right near Hagia Sophia. It is a tourist area and well away from the usual demonstration/confrontation site around Taksim Square and Istiklal St. If you walk around Istiklal St and around Taksim the security is very visible. Armoured personnel carriers and water cannons lurk in alley ways. Police in full riot gear with automatic rifles watch the never-ending parade of demonstrations that seem to always inhabit Istiklal St.
As a visitor I find it interesting. But do I find it scary or confronting? Maybe – it’s certainly not what I’m used to at home. Do I feel in danger? Absolutely not. How do I feel about the suicide bombing in Sultanahmet this week? Well, that’s complicated……
I feel sad that there are people in the world who consider themselves so “unheard” or desperate that they feel violence is their only option. I feel so saddened that any man, woman or child could be brainwashed into believing that a suicide bombing is an appropriate political act.
I hate the fact that there will be tourists who will cancel their plans for Istanbul. They will be too frightened to go there. They will miss the sublime Blue Mosque, the glorious Hagia Sophia and the indulgence of the Topkapi Palace. The pleasure of feeling the wind in their hair, out on the Bosphorus will be something they don’t get to experience. The simple joy of a Turkish ice-cream, wandering along the Hippodrome will go unknown. The kindness, generosity and friendliness of Istanbulis is something they will never experience. They will not know what they have missed……..
7 January 2015, Paris
Then Paris. My spiritual home. The place outside Australia where I’ve spent more time anywhere else in the world. The city I adore.
Getting up on Thursday morning to the hideous news of 12 murdered at Charlie Hebdo I quickly dashed off an Instagram post, expressing my sadness – in French. I hadn’t had the chance to hit social media, so wasn’t aware of the #NousSommesTousCharlie or #JeSuisCharlie hashtags. I didn’t use them – my own Instagram post was just a genuine and sincere reaction and message.
During the day I received a beautiful private message on Instagram from a Parisian follower. He thanked me for my message of support from Sydney – telling me he had family in Sydney and visited us often. He was particularly touched that I had chosen to write my message of support in French. Two people who didn’t know each other had a connection and something in common. For one moment I felt just a little bit French – #NousSommesTousCharlie – we are indeed all Charlie.
What can we learn and do as travellers?
Let’s try to understand and put these acts in perspective.
Undoubtably all three are unspeakably horrible and without excuse. All three have been perpetrated by people who wanted to draw attention to their cause and who felt the only way to do it was by lashing out at innocents, going about their day, minding their own business.
Was the motive to create fear? We will never know. But were tourists and visitors the target? I don’t think so. Without wanting to trivialise or excuse the inexcusable, what has occurred could easily have been targeted at tourists – probably with more symbolic effect.
The Lindt Café happens to be in central Sydney, but it is not in the heart of the tourist’s Sydney. An act at The Rocks, Circular Quay or the Opera House would have been far more, ahem, “effective”. Similarly a suicide bomber in the queue to enter Hagia Sophia itself would have sent a very different message. It’s clear the shocking events at Charlie Hebdo were targeted at them specifically – otherwise, why not target the Metro or the queue at the Eiffel Tower?
As travellers we need to exercise appropriate caution, but we must not let fear guide our decisions. Should we be going to Syria, Iraq or Sierra Leone at the moment? Of course not. But if I could get on a plane to Paris or Istanbul tomorrow I would. I would ride the Paris Metro, I would walk and enjoy the streets, and eat delicious food in the cafes. I’d be more worried about bag snatchers than fanatics with guns. Similarly in Istanbul I would go to Sultanahmet and eat that ice-cream. I’d find the persistent carpet salesman and ticket touts more of a worry.
We can’t let our fears rule our lives, including travel decisions. Otherwise the bad guys win. The world and the people in it are generous, kind and good. People of all faiths (and of no faith) are generous, kind and good. As we saw in Sydney and has we have seen in Paris and around Europe people have demonstrated that. French expats held a vigil in Sydney last night in solidarity with the rest of their country – where did they hold it? In Martin Place of course – they saw it as a place of unity and peace. We can either use these incidents to build a bridge or to tear us apart. The choice is ours.
Stephane Charbonnier, the murdered Editor of Charlie Hebdo, eerily said it best:
I’d prefer to die standing than live on my knees.
Let’s keep getting on those planes, riding those Metros and eating that ice-cream. I won’t be letting the bad guys win.
Who’s going to join me?