This weekend, I did something that may seem crazy.
I celebrated Easter in Brussels.
It just so happens that Belgium is the perfect meeting point between Paris, where I live, and Holland, where my boyfriend lives, and I bought the trip weeks ago, before the tragic reports came in.
But even after I read the news, I knew that I couldn’t cancel my trip. As long as the city was still welcoming tourists, and the dust had settled a little from Tuesday’s events, I was going to travel to Belgium as I’d planned.
To some this may sound foolish, and to my friends and family it will probably be terrifying, but there are two big reasons I decided to keep my travel itinerary, in spite of the news.
Europe is no more dangerous than the U.S.A.
The first reason I stuck with my travel plans to Brussels was that I don’t want to live in fear.
Sadly, if we take a look at the U.S, we will see that it is just as risky a travel destination as Europe—even when it comes to terrorism. PBS dubbed 2015 the “year of mass shootings
” in the U.S., and according to multiple sources the States saw more mass shootings than days of the year (if a mass shooting is defined as injuring or killing four or more people). Americans are so used to seeing headlines of killings that we’ve stopped seeing these attacks as particularly unique or outrageous. But many of these shootings are acts of terrorism like the ones in Brussels and Lahore. The gunmen often targeted particular groups of people such as Muslims, African-Americans, Christians, and others—what is this if not terrorism?
For disturbing reasons, explosions capture Americans’ attention more than the every day violence that has been killing U.S. citizens at such a high rate. This is not to say Americans should be living in fear. Both of these types of violence must be stopped. But would an American tell a European not to come to the States because of gun violence? I doubt it. Just like Europeans, we know that we must continue our lives and can’t cancel our plans after every tragedy. Even after so many horrific events, most Americans choose to stay in the United States. We choose to keep on living, not run away from any and every risk.
|“Redemption Song,” Vincent Anderlucci / flickr
Staying home is exactly what terrorists want
The second big reason we shouldn’t stay home is that traveling is one thing terrorists absolutely hate.
When someone decides to go to a new country genuinely wanting to engage with that culture, she’s making a choice. She’s recognizing that her own country does not have the monopoly on culture.
The editor of the magazine Travel and Leisure put it this way:
Travel fosters human understanding, and empathy for people whose lives are unlike your own; it opens your eyes to otherness, including other cultures and religions … Travelers are, ultimately, the enemies of terrorists, and what they believe works against terrorists’ aims, person by person and little by little.
The men who planned these attacks do not want this kind of cultural exchange: they want an all-out culture war. By continuing to travel, rather than staying home in hiding, we are resisting this agenda that wants us to keep our values to ourselves.
My own life has been so enriched these past three years because I’ve been able to spend time in Prague, Paris and so many other wonderful cities. The world has only expanded, becoming bigger and more beautiful than I could have imagined. I’ve seen some of the values that tie us together as members of the human race, and I’ve seen some of what makes each culture and individual distinctive. This sharing of values is something I could never give up.
Keep on traveling
I admit it sounds dismissive for me to say that we shouldn’t be terrorized by these events. What kind of authority am I on travel safety?
Rick Steves, a European travel expert, shares my view in a beautiful Facebook post:
Brussels — and the rest of Europe — are, if anything, safer today than before yesterday’s attacks. Security everywhere will be on high alert. But, unfortunately, many Americans will cancel their trips to Europe. As a result, ironically, they’ll be staying home in a country that loses dozens of people each day to gun violence.
Our thoughts and prayers go out to the people of Brussels, the victims, and their loved ones. As for me, I’m flying to Lisbon in ten days. And later this summer, I’m booked to fly out of the same Brussels airport that today is a shrine of grief and tragic bloodshed. Am I allowing myself to be terrorized by the terrorists? Hell no. It all comes back to my firmly held belief that the best way for Americans to fight terrorism is to keep on traveling.
Following Steves’s advice, I didn’t cancel my trip. I decided to go anyway and to not be terrorized.
And what I saw this weekend in Brussels impressed me. Rather than staying at home in fear, men and women were continuing their lives. Most Belgians seemed at ease, while others were clearly stressed. But in so many of them I saw a beautiful resilience.
Experiencing this resilience first-hand affirmed to me how much these atrocities have to be stopped. And it also reminded of something else: that we can’t give up our openness, curiosity, and love, three beautiful human qualities that are often expressed when we explore other cultures.
So here’s my advice to you, which I’ll certainly continue to follow myself.
Keep on traveling.
Featured image: Vincent Brassinne / flickr