Terrorism Watch: Where Not to Go in 2015

Spain is as dangerous as Tunisia, where some 38 tourists recently were killed in a beach massacre.

Chew on that and know this is according to the UK’s Foreign & Commonwealth Office which recently issued a global map of terror hotspots along with pointers to destinations that are more tranquil.

Here’s the map and it is mindblowing.  The FCO said that low threat destinations include Iceland, Bolivia, Ecuador, Poland, the Czech Republic, Switzerland, Hungary, Vietnam and Japan. That list is short.  And that because much of the rest of the world is a vastly more dangerous place, per the FCO.

France is no go. So is Australia.

Will I use the map to chart my 2015 travels?

Understand, I spent many nights in Northern Ireland in the height of “The Troubles” – everywhere from Belfast to Derry and even small towns like Omagh. I never felt unsafe. (Perhaps I should have. In 1998, long after the IRA-British ceasefire, a rogue group set off bombs in wee Omagh, killing 29, mainly Spanish school children. It blew up a hotel where I in fact had stayed maybe eight years earlier.)

Even so, here’s my credo: Keep your eyes open, trust nobody, and you very probably will keep yourself safe even in fraught surroundings.

And then there is the terrorist impulse which is to cause consternation by striking in the unexpected place.

That is what makes the world a scarier place and, very probably, rationality alone won’t keep you safe in it. You need luck. And quite possibly the FCO map.

The FCO divides the world into four areas: places where the threat of terrorism is high, where it is general, where it is underlying, and where it is low.

Many, many places win FCO’s highest threat label, including the United Kingdom, Northern Ireland, Russia, France, Spain, Turkey, India, just about all of North Africa (Morocco wins a “general threat” label), Australia, Indonesia, Pakistan.

The US and Canada are in the “general threat” bucket.

You are right, the list is so exhaustive the obvious options are to ignore it or to crawl back under one’s covers.

A third way may be to use one’s head.

When I stayed in Belfast, in the bad years, I never stayed at the Europa, a four-star hotel in the city center but it also was one that had won notoriety as “the most bombed hotel in Europe.” It was bombed 28 times during the Troubles.  I usually stayed at tiny guest houses near Queens University, an area that the terrorists on all sides had decreed a DMZ.  Never had a problem, tho I did stay in odd accommodations with tiny beds, often a shared bath, and sometimes feeble heat. But better a little uncomfortable than blown up.

The unsettling suggestion found in the FCO map is that tourist hotspots may become terror hotspots.  Terrorists know the handful of must see spots in Paris, for instance, and so are you at risk at, say, the Eiffel Tower?

The FCO implication is, yep.

In Manhattan I often saw heavily armed NYPD in and around Times Square.  Can’t say I ever saw them in Washington Sq Park, the East Village, or East Harlem.  Presumably they were where their intel told them to be.

So what is a tourist to do in these times of global tension where terror is seen by many as the answer and that means they are willing to sacrifice – indeed want to sacrifice – large numbers of civilians.

I will not tell you what to do, that’s your call.

But I can say that, for me, there are places I deem too high risk, low reward to warrant visiting such as Tunisia to pick on an easy target.

Would I go to Turkey, also on the FCO most dangerous list? Yes, but I have been there and I was dazzled by Ephesus and Istanbul, straddling east and west, is as alluring a city as I can conjure.

I would also go to France, Spain (still want to walk the 500 mile Camino), the United Kingdom, and Northern Ireland, all high risk per FCO.  I very much like them all and that is good enough for me.

Would I go to Russia? No, but my problem is more with the state than its enemies.  There just is not enough to compel me to want to go there.
In other words: go where you want to go. Don’t let terrorists bully you.  Don’t be ignorant, either. Know the risks. But very definitely go exactly where you please. That’s the only way we don’t lose.

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