A disaster — like Friday’s terrorist attacks in Paris — is always met with an emotional response stoked by lots of media. Watching the news unfold on Friday night, I decided to quickly write and post my thoughts on Facebook. Over the weekend, millions of people read my essay and thousands commented with thoughts of their own. Reading through these comments late Sunday night, I couldn’t resist responding to some. This morning, I read over our dialogue and wished that more people could see it. So I compiled and edited this selection of a few of the more notable back-and-forths. (For the full and unvarnished version, just click through the comments on my “Don’t be terrorized” post.) My hope is not to rehash petty disagreements, but to continue what I hope can be a constructive conversation about Friday’s attacks and how we should respond.
Comment: Our travel days in Europe are over. I do not have faith in the ability of the police to protect my family. We are in a World War. These so-called isolated incidents will increase and become more sophisticated.
My Response: You’re watching too much commercial news. Calm down and get a grip. In spite of the hysteria caused by entertainment masquerading as news, we are living in the safest times in history. There are a billion of us relatively wealthy First World Westerners (who leave a pretty deep footprint on our world). And not many of us are being killed.
Comment: As someone who specializes in International Affairs and International Security I can tell you for a fact that the next 6 to 12 months, Paris will be one of the safest places to visit.
My Response: That makes perfect sense. But I think even considering that kind of analysis is giving the risk too much respect. Twelve million Americans go to Europe every year. Last Friday, as far as we know, one was murdered. Yes, that’s tragic. But scores of Americans have been murdered in our own country in the two days since then.
Comment: Thoughtful and well-written post, but I think it’s the wrong time to rant about U.S. gun control, as if all gun deaths (street crime, domestic violence, suicide, and accidental) are comparable to terrorism.
My Response: I am struggling with the feeling that 80 deaths in a concert hall in Paris are no more tragic than 80 deaths by gunfire on the streets of our cities, or 80 deaths by a mistaken drone strike, or 80 deaths in a terrorist attack in Kenya or Iraq, or 80 deaths that could have been avoided if health care were more affordable. I’m struggling with the randomness of hearts being broken and prayers being sent. Each of those 80s is the tip of a different iceberg of grief.
Comment: Rick, I think you’re being a bit flippant about the 150 deaths. I see your overall point, but please do not minimize the tragedy for these 150 families who have lost their precious ones.
My Response: I didn’t mean to sound flip. I am just concerned that overreacting will lead to more tragic deaths. So far this year, 300 people have been murdered on the streets of Baltimore, USA. And that’s not even the most dangerous city in America. Sometimes, for the love of potential future victims, the emotional needs to take a back seat to the cerebral.
Comment: You have GOT to be kidding. Minimizing this terrorist act in Paris by saying it only claimed 150 lives out of a total population of 500 million on the continent is unbelievably naive. Those 150 people went out to have a fun time on this particular Friday night in Paris. They never made it home, and their families & loved ones lives have been changed forever. Those who survived were mercilessly terrorized, and the rest of the civilized world has been traumatized. You just keep on travelin’, Rick, because it’s apparently all about you and the industry you are financially vested in.
My Response: Thinking my stance is motived by my business needs reflects poorly on you more than me. More often, my political stances cause people who see things like you to marvel that I would say things that hurt my business. In this case, my belief that the world is better off when Americans keep on traveling does help my business. That’s just a nice coincidence.
Comment: Which has taken more victims: terrorism in western countries, or war and other conflicts in third world and developing countries (where conflicts are created or sustained to some extent due the western countries’ foreign policy)? Everyone is talking about terrorist attacks–but what about the foreign policy and influence in those war conflicts? Media is always on the side of the more powerful!
My Response: It is interesting that you’re the first person among all these comments to share this broad perspective on the issue. Bravo and thanks.
Comment: Rick, I’m a fan. But you just trivialized the death of 100s of people because it was what? Not big enough? “…because of an event that killed 150.” The context being: oh it’s just 150, what’s that statistically or in the grand scheme? You could have left it that we can’t be terrorized. Keep traveling. You didn’t need to editorialize or politicize this event even. Shame on you.
My Response: I trivialized nothing. I am making the same point I made after 9/11. We need to keep things in perspective, not let our emotions override our reason, not confuse fear with risk, and understand that if the terrorists terrorize us, they win and we lose.
Comment: I went with a group to Italy, 9/25/01. We prayed about going and everyone went. I thanked the flight attendants, and they cried. Guns everywhere. But the people were lovely and we remained unafraid. We are planning a trip to Paris in the fall. Be not afraid.
My Response: I was in Europe on 9/11 (Italy). While many people were rattled, to me there was nothing brave about that. Emotionally, Paris might be a challenge today. But logically, there’s no reason for fear there. 130 people out of 2 million died. Tragic, of course. But we need to keep things in perspective.
Comment: I totally agree with Mr. Steves! In 1985, my friend and I, along with our children, had booked a getaway tour to Europe with TWA. We were so excited and looked forward to this dream-come-true vacation. Two weeks before our departure, there was a TWA flight hijacked in Athens. We decided to go through with the trip. Had we decided not to go, we may never have seen Paris and be at the top of the Eiffel Tower and the rest of magical Europe!!!
My Response: I’ve been traveling since terrorists killed 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympics in Munich. I’ve been teaching travel since shortly after that. And over those years and many tragic acts of international terror, I’ve never heard anyone say they resisted letting fear of terrorism abort their travels…and regretted it. When you refuse to confuse fear and risk, and travel in the wake of a tragic event like what happened in Paris, you’ll be thankful you did. And, furthermore, you’ll feel empowered and good that, in your own little way, you stood up to the terrorists.
Comment: This doesn’t make sense to me: “the best way for Americans to fight terrorism is to keep on traveling.” I think better wording is “the best way for Americans to fight being terrorized by terrorism is to keep on traveling.” Fighting terrorism is fighting the terrorists. If I see a hornet, I look for the hornet’s nest and I take out the entire nest before it becomes a swarm. That’s fighting terrorism.
My Response: I think terrorism is a symptom of a deep problem. You can kill the criminals who commit acts of terror. But to “win the war on terror,” I believe we also need to consider its root causes. I know, this is too liberal a stance for conservatives. But, even though liberal, it could be correct. Just try imagining a conservative asking, “What makes these people so hateful and angry?”
Comment: Many people commented saying we should identify our enemy and simply kill them…boots on the ground, more bombing, and so on. Others expressed great fear that ISIS forces could overwhelm us if we don’t do something and fast.
My Response: I wish it was so simple. Terrorism is a symptom–not a bunch of banditos to be gunned down by some military force. The big challenge (along with maintaining our safety): how to treat the symptom. By the way, last Friday, ISIS lost eight of its most committed fighters and took 130 innocent people with them, killing about 15 people for each of their suicides. Assuming that our reacting with fear and terror doesn’t help them recruit many more fighters, they’ll never sustain these rates of casualties. Sadly, that’s a very big assumption.
Comment: Just remember when people throw the “30,000 gun deaths” number around: It’s 11,208 deaths by homicide (3.5 per 100,000), and 21,175 by suicide with a firearm. Increase firearm safety, handling and knowledge. Increase mental health. More stable minded people need to conceal carry. Thwart these attacks by being able to react–fight terrorism with professionalism–be a patriot.
My Response: Thank you. I’ve heard both figures. I’ll stick with 11,000 homicides by firearms a year in the USA. Still, that’s an enormous number.
Comment: I’m in agreement with not allowing ourselves to react with fear, but I don’t understand how this can be characterized as an isolated incident. Not only is it happening more & more frequently all over this planet, but this is the second such attack in Paris within a year!! Fear is not the answer. Knowledge & information are the answers!!!!!
My Response: Thank you. I agree “isolated incident” was a poor choice of words. Thankfully–even with so much freedom and so many soft targets and so many angry people–with the excellent security in Europe and the USA, these events are very rare.
Comment: We were in Egypt in November of 2011.We were docked there for 2 days on a cruise ship. We were not allowed out of a secured area without an armed guard. One man defied this rule and walked out of the gate. He was shortly after robbed and beaten. There was a museum tour that was cancelled because the building next to the museum was set on fire during a riot. We were able to travel to the Pyramids. We rode camels through the desert and toured many sites…all in a convoy of busses with armed guards. I enjoyed the trip VERY much. However I cannot say that I was safe, or felt safe. We are supposed to go to Italy this February. It will be our 4th trip to Europe ,so we know what it is usually like. Based on what I have read and seen on the news, I am considering cancelling. I don’t want to witness first hand what I have seen on the news! I felt safe walking around Venice at night. We walked all over Rome and Florence without ever feeling uncomfortable. This Muslim invasion is a game changer. I love you, Rick Steves, but I think you are wrong on this.
My Response: Happily, I think you are wrong on this. Egypt and Europe are two radically different tourist destinations. I was booked to travel to Egypt last month to shoot two new TV episodes and cancelled for the reasons you describe. But Europe is safe. In fact, it is safer than the USA. We took over 20,000 people on our bus tours through Europe this year. All came home safe and sound. I believe if an American who’s motivated only by physical safety understood the relative risks of being here or there, and if he cared about his loved ones, he take them to Europe tomorrow.
Comment: We plan to keep traveling to Europe (for now), but the fact is that gun violence here usually isn’t random and is primarily a gang/drug or domestic issue. The terror attacks can happen at any time and any place where large number of people congregate. The culture and face of Europe is rapidly changing, and you might want to ask some of the European locals how they feel about the mass immigration issue. It’s changing their lives and not in a good way.
My Response: It seems to me that the “mass killings” so routine in the USA these days are perfectly and intentionally random. Europe will be fine.
Comment: Rick, you may be right, but the landscape of Europe is rapidly changing with the influx of Mideast and African refugees. Unless Europe as a whole gets a grip on this, these types of attacks will only increase.
My Response: Europe is a geriatric continent with a growing need for young workers. I’m confident 500 million Europeans can absorb a couple million people looking for a new start. Apart from giving these people a compassionate welcome and being ever smarter with security, it’s important that we in the West not contribute to the instability of the Middle East, but actually find a way to help make it more stable.
Comment: We are in Paris for a week. Had a fantastic visit to Versailles yesterday and a lovely Parisienne dinner at a sweet brasserie last night. Paris is wonderful! We have four more days to wrap our arms around this city. We’ll do just as you say Rick, and keep traveling!
My Response: That’s wonderful to hear. I’d love to wrap my arms around my favorite city with you.
Comment: I’m headed to Europe on Wednesday and Paris is last city before we head back home.
My Response: I wish I could walk through the streets of Paris today as normalcy returns to the City of Light.
Comment: Exactly my sentiments, Steve. Security will be heightened, and to avoid traveling will be giving in to the terror they are trying to impose. I will still be traveling to Paris next month, despite my family’s insistence that I cancel my travel plans. I told them that if I died, at least I died doing what I love–traveling.
My Response: Ask your family to wish you “bon voyage,” like we used to before the age of 24/7 commercial news replaced that with the new and jittery “safe travels” sendoff of our generation.