Since the advent of the package holiday and the increase of commercial air travel in the mid twentieth century, reasonably cheap yet enjoyable holidays to Europe have become available to an increasing number of families. This in turn has led to the ‘Brits abroad’ stereotype, which includes lobster-like sunburn, a rejection of local cuisine in favour of chips, and shouting loudly in English in lieu of learning any of the local languages.
However, a shift in world politics has cast a shadow over sun-filled escapes. The vicious actions of governments (such as Assad’s regime in Syria) have caused the biggest global refugee crisis since 1945. These events have happened in conjunction with the rise of religious extremist terror groups such as ISIS and Boko Haram. In an astonishingly generous move, politicians such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel implemented an open-door policy where they welcomed millions of migrants into their countries. This has not pleased everyone. Director of Europol Mark Wainwright has said that ‘some IS extremists were using false Syrian passports in a bid to arrive undetected with a small but increasing number posing as refugees.’
Over the past eighteen months, Europe has faced a spate of horrific terror attacks such as the Paris massacre in November 2015, the Tunisian beach shooting, the attacks in Nice, and the Brussels bombing of April this year. Recently, the German police announced that they managed to foil an intended terror attack supposedly perpetrated by a Syrian national in the eastern town of Chemnitz. These events starkly contrast the idyllic views of the stereotypes of European historical beauty and hospitality. As is too often the case, the actions of a few ruin it for the many. Names of provincial towns, instead of being associated with cultural delicacies or architectural wonders, become associated with bloody and horrific atrocities. Google searches pull up news articles detailing these devastating events instead of maps or tourist recommendations.
For the standard British holidaymakers, these attacks will no doubt make them question the safety of the countries they have perceived (up until now) safe and harmless. Personal security is something most people take for granted when travelling abroad, and food poisoning or malaria are probably the extent of their worries. What nobody could predict is the possibility of being faced with a terrorist attack. The biggest question facing potential travellers in the near future is this: are the countries that we know and love so well now too dangerous to choose as a future holiday destination?
The most pressing issue is that the same questions regarding safety and security could also be raised about Britain itself. In August, a newly armed branch of the London Metropolitan Police was unveiled. Given that armed officers are a rare sight in Britain, the fact that Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, Metropolitan Commissioner, brought in quoted 600 such officers and tasked them with patrolling the streets is a sign of how seriously terrorist threats were being taken by the government. The arms they carry are a reminder to citizens that public safety and wellbeing is the number one priority, as well as a deterrent to any potential terrorists. This is a comfort, given that Sir Hogan-Howe is also quoted as having said that a terrorist attack on Britain is ‘a matter of when, not if.’
However, as much of a reassurance as these anti-terrorist measures are, they are also a constant reminder of the dangers that we face every day and that the threat of a terrorist attack is omnipresent. We are faced with no other option than accepting that a similar tragedy could happen at any time in Britain.
As someone who speaks the languages of two of the countries hit badly by terrorism (French and German), as well as living in London, I have asked myself several times in the past few months if I would be put off travelling to Germany or to France or attending central London events for fear of being caught in a similar attack myself. The answer however is still a resounding no.
The attacks carried out by Boko Haram and ISIS receive a heavy amount of media attention. What the media often fails to mention in as much detail, however, is deaths caused in less appalling ways. Only a year ago, the Washington Post ran an article on how one is statistically more likely to be fatally crushed by furniture than killed by a terrorist. Everything in life has a chance and a risk associated with it. If we abandon places that are familiar to us because of past atrocities then we are letting the terrorists win. We are unfortunate enough to live in a time where the threat of terrorism is very real and yet that does not mean we should live our lives in fear of a potential attack. There is no way of predicting when such atrocities could occur, but avoiding living our lives to the full because of a possibility means the terrorists have won. We must show them that we will, in the old phrase ‘Keep calm and carry on.’