I traveled to France instead of Turkey because of potential danger from terrorist attacks. But, with attacks occurring in both countries, I began to discover how dangerous terrorism really is.
By Samuel Aslaner
This summer, I had planned to travel to North Eastern Turkey and work on a farm, with the purpose of both improving my Turkish and experiencing life in rural Turkey. My grandfather grew up in rural Turkey and I hoped the experience would bring me closer to my roots; however, with only a few days before my departure I had to abandon my summer plans. On June 28 I learned of the terrorist attacks that had tragically occurred in the Istanbul airport, the same airport I was scheduled to be leaving for in 24 hours. During my moments of excitement and anticipation on the eve of my summer adventure, the mood had drastically changed. For me and my family it had become a time to mourn the victims of the attack and to hope for the future stability of Turkey. My family in the U.S. and in Turkey have been seriously worried about the safety of the country for a while as there have been 15 separate attacks in Turkey this year carried out by either Kurdish or Islamic extremists. It took this attack in Istanbul, at the heart of Turkey’s travel industry and in the center of the nation’s gateway to the rest of the world to push my family over the edge. Together, we concluded that I should abandon my trip to Turkey because it is not safe.
So, within a matter of hours, I had to figure out what I would be doing with my summer, and when remembering that my layover was in Paris, I had an idea. I decided to get off the plane at Charles De Gaulle airport and enter France instead of boarding my flight to Istanbul. Within those few hours before my flight I contacted some farms in the Alps asking for work using a combination of English and Google translated French. And suddenly, I was on my way to France after months of planning for my stay in Turkey. Unfortunately, France is a country with which I have little familiarity. I don’t know the language, I’m not accustomed to the culture, and upon leaving I had no idea who I was going to live with for the next 7 weeks. As I waited at my gate in Detroit, I began to comprehend the absurdity of my situation and wondered whether travelling to France, a country filled with unknown possibilities and growing threats of terrorism, is safer than Turkey, a country where I have family and friends and feel very comfortable. So I started to contemplate what it actually means to be unsafe. Is Turkey really a country that can be considered not suitable for travel when compared to France or the United States?
With the rise of terrorism in the past two decades, and the way the media depicts violence in other countries, Americans should feel reluctant to travel abroad. However, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce more than 68 million Americans travelled abroad in 2014: a record number that was up 10 percent from the previous year. This is the first time in decades that the number of Americans to travel abroad has increased by a double digit percentage. Keep in mind that it was also in this same year, 2014, when the Islamic State formally declared war on the West, and Boko Haram caused Nigeria to witness the largest increase in terrorist related deaths ever recorded by any country (over 300%). The Islamic State has replaced Al-Quaeda as being the biggest threat for attacks in the West through lone wolf tactics causing civilian casualties to become more frequent. Although, attacks are becoming more common in Europe and America, people clearly continue to travel. But really how much more dangerous has it become to travel abroad because of terrorist attacks? In fact, if you take into account all Americans who travel and even the entire population of the world, terrorist attacks have a much smaller tangible affect than you would think.
Out of the 68 million American travelers in 2014 only eight of them died as a result of international terrorism whereas 19 died as a result of domestic terrorism. To put this number in perspective we see that in that same year 29 Americans died after being struck by lightning. CNN reporter Fareed Zakaria wrote in the Washington Post in April of 2013 that “since 9/11, foreign-inspired terrorism has claimed about two dozen lives in the United States. Meanwhile more than 100,000 have been killed in gun homicides and more than 400,000 in motor vehicle accidents.” It is clear that the threat of terrorism is not as great as many other problems that endanger America and certainly there has developed a fear of terrorism that is not proportionate with the reality of terrorism statistics.
However, it is true that these terrorism statistics only include American citizens who mostly travel to popular and safe tourist destinations and aren’t likely to travel to more dangerous areas where attacks occur more often such as Palestine, Nigeria, Somalia and even Turkey. Well, even if you take into account the entire population of the world including people who live in more violent areas, about 1 and 20 million civilians die from terrorist related activities each year. This is about 13 times less than the number of global homicides a year. These statistics are in no way an attempt to lighten the deplorable atrocities of terrorism and absolutely do not deny the fact that terrorism is a growing problem but simply convey the current reality of how unlikely it is to be harmed in an attack.
On the evening of one of the most celebrated days in France, Bastille Day, a terrorist attack occurred on the promenade in Nice that killed at least 84. In the Alps just north of Nice while crowded around an old TV in a farmhouse with other French farm workers, I watched various French news channels unravel the story. Many of these men had family in Nice and were frantically calling to check on their loved ones. The fear on their faces and the panic in their voices were unforgettable. Although, I came to France instead of Turkey to avoid potentially dangerous situations, it is clear that terrorism is a real threat to anyone anywhere in the world. After analyzing the statistics of terrorism it’s easy to conclude that whether living in France or Turkey terrorism causes an equally miniscule risk in everyday life and there are many other dangers to be more concerned with. But, after speaking with my distraught French coworkers who had lost friends in Nice it became clear to me that terrorism is not just a statistic, it has a profound and unexpected aftermath on the individuals, the society, and the government of a country. A country’s political stability is critical in fostering a beneficial response to terrorism, and realistically the Turkish government vastly differs from the French government in this regard. Amid political chaos, with Iraq and Syria on its southern border and a Kurdish Civil war occurring in the Southeast, Turkey is a country with a very unpredictable future.
Samuel “Sam” Aslaner is a rising sophomore in Calhoun College and Modern Middle Eastern Studies major. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.