Currently in Iceland, Indagare founder Melissa Biggs Bradley reflects on traveling during what the
New York Times dubbed "a new era of small terror." Read her reflections and advice.
I was in Paris with my seventeen-year-old daughter when the recent terrorist attacks occurred in Belgium. Within hours, as Americans woke up to the news, we were receiving concerned emails, urging us to be careful, to come home. Already we had seen French police, machine guns slung over their shoulders, in the Marais and around the Élysées palace. And yet, the streets were filled with Parisians, walking their dogs, sitting outside at café tables and in parks where the first crocuses and daffodils were announcing spring. Belgian flags appeared throughout the city, and one night the Eiffel Tower was bathed in yellow, black and red. Cartoons showed a caricature of France with her arm around Belgium, offering support and courage. Another in Charlie Hebdo showed a cloaked figure about to spin a roulette wheel with nine different cities; the headline “Danger Awaits. Everyone Has a Chance.”
“I have struggled with how to explain this new world order to my children,” one French friend said, before revealing that she had actually learned from her twenty-two-year-old son how to respond. One of his friends had been injured in the attacks and as soon as he was released from the hospital, their group of friends celebrated his recovery by going out to a café. “They refuse to be afraid,” she said, “even though their generation was the one targeted in November. It was almost all kids in their 20s and 30s killed.” In fact, France seemed to speak as one after their attacks; they returned to normal life and declared that they would embrace living.
David Brooks in the New York Times has called this new era the Age of Small Terror, a time when “we all live at risk of random terror, whether we are in Paris, San Bernadino or Boston…it’s partly randomness that determines whether you happen to be in the wrong spot at the wrong time.” The Charlie Hebdo cartoon would agree. “I haven’t known a different world,” my daughter said, reminding me that she was three when 9/11 occurred. Even though she doesn’t remember the day itself, its implications have always been part of her consciousness, the backdrop to her days. She and her friends have been planning a trip around Europe after their high school graduation for months. “Of course, I am still going,” she said. “We have to live our lives.” She pointed out that our chances of dying in a car accident are much higher than they are of being in caught in a terrorist act, but fear is not driven by rational thought.
Her friends or their parents may think differently about whether or not they want to travel at this moment to Europe. The U.S. State department has issued an alert advising Americans traveling to “exercise vigilance when in public places or on public transportation” and to avoid crowded places. The same warnings apply to life at home, though, and staying home risks creating a world that is anti-global and anti-integrated. After all, we travel, in part, to experience other cultures and in doing so, we establish a world community—like France with her arm around Belgium. Banding together offers more hope for our world than keeping to our side of the Atlantic. Rather than relegate Europe to a distant state discussed in the media, we must see the world as having a common cause, something that we can unite against and for; that way forward is through community not isolationism.
The next generation must get to know one another and to work together to create change, peace and understanding. Staying home and keeping to ourselves is not going to help us find a solution. I, too, will follow the lead of my daughter and of the French on how to face this new era. I will make my plans to visit Europe as I would at any other time, only knowing now that I do so with a purpose—and a hope—that is larger than myself.
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