#JeSuisCharlie: When 3 Cities You Love Face Terror

Hi Frugalistas.  This is a different post for me.  As I start to write I’m not actually sure where I’m even heading with it.  Most readers would be familiar with events over the past few weeks, with Sydney, Istanbul and Paris being rocked by separate terrorist attacks.  Adding to that, I was in Athens with some  dear Ottawa friends when they suffered their own terror attack in October.  Somehow my world is…..well “different”.  My three favourite cities in the world are shocked, and grieving.

15 December 2014, Sydney

Sydney is the city I choose to live in.  It is a beautiful, friendly city, with a relaxed vibe.  “Things like that” just don’t happen in Sydney.  We are used to our media reporting on police making terror-related arrests and foiling plots without anything actually happening.  On 15 December 2014 all that changed.

Automatic rifles, hostages and calling on the name of The Prophet came to the centre of our city.  Although the perpetrator was clearly disturbed, rather than a jihadist or “terrorist”, it made us feel sickened, vulnerable.

Muslim women were afraid to catch public transport.  The city bonded together.  Women bonded together – standing up to support their hijab-wearing sisters, protecting them from insults on public transport with #Illridewithyou their battle cry of peace and tolerance.

Martin Place became a place of homage, rather than a drab pedestrian corridor in the Central Business District.  People left flowers.  People cried.  People hugged.  A beautiful, young Muslim bride left her wedding bouquet as a tribute, and the gathered crowd applauded.  Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, Muslims and atheists prayed.  Together, Sydney was a grieving, but somehow more beautiful place to be.

6 January 2015, Istanbul

Earlier this week I woke to the news of a suicide bomber in the Sultanahmet district of Istanbul.  Attacking a police station, she killed one officer and injured a second.  A far-Left Wing plot it was declared – domestic terrorism.

I know that police station.  It is right near Hagia Sophia.  It is a tourist area and well away from the usual demonstration/confrontation site around Taksim Square and Istiklal St.  If you walk around Istiklal St and around Taksim the security is very visible.  Armoured personnel carriers and water cannons lurk in alley ways.  Police in full riot gear with automatic rifles watch the never-ending parade of demonstrations that seem to always inhabit Istiklal St.

As a visitor I find it interesting.  But do I find it scary or confronting?  Maybe – it’s certainly not what I’m used to at home.  Do I feel in danger?  Absolutely not.  How do I feel about the suicide bombing in Sultanahmet this week?  Well, that’s complicated……

I feel sad that there are people in the world who consider themselves so “unheard” or desperate that they feel violence is their only option.  I feel so saddened that any man, woman or child could be brainwashed into believing that a suicide bombing is an appropriate political act.

I hate the fact that there will be tourists who will cancel their plans for Istanbul.  They will be too frightened to go there.  They will miss the sublime Blue Mosque, the glorious Hagia Sophia and the indulgence of the Topkapi Palace.  The pleasure of feeling the wind in their hair, out on the Bosphorus will be something they don’t get to experience.  The simple joy of a Turkish ice-cream, wandering along the Hippodrome will go unknown.  The kindness, generosity and friendliness of Istanbulis is something they will never experience.  They will not know what they have missed……..

7 January 2015, Paris

Then Paris.  My spiritual home.  The place outside Australia where I’ve spent more time anywhere else in the world.  The city I adore.

Getting up on Thursday morning to the hideous of 12 murdered at Charlie Hebdo I quickly dashed off an Instagram post, expressing my sadness – in French.  I hadn’t had the chance to hit social media, so wasn’t aware of the #NousSommesTousCharlie or #JeSuisCharlie hashtags.  I didn’t use them – my own Instagram post was just a genuine and sincere reaction and message.

During the day I received a beautiful private message on Instagram from a Parisian follower.  He thanked me for my message of support from Sydney – telling me he had family in Sydney and visited us often.  He was particularly touched that I had chosen to write my message of support in French.  Two people who didn’t know each other had a connection and something in common.  For one moment I felt just a little bit French – #NousSommesTousCharlie – we are indeed all Charlie.

What can we learn and do as travellers?

Let’s try to understand and put these acts in perspective.

Undoubtably all three are unspeakably horrible and without excuse.  All three have been perpetrated by people who wanted to draw attention to their cause and who felt the only way to do it was by lashing out at innocents, going about their day, minding their own business.

Was the motive to create fear?  We will never know.  But were tourists and visitors the target?  I don’t think so.  Without wanting to trivialise or excuse the inexcusable, what has occurred could easily have been targeted at tourists – probably with more symbolic effect.

The Lindt Café happens to be in central Sydney, but it is not in the heart of the tourist’s Sydney.  An act at The Rocks, Circular Quay or the Opera House would have been far more, ahem, “effective”.  Similarly a suicide bomber in the queue to enter Hagia Sophia itself would have sent a very different message.  It’s clear the shocking events at Charlie Hebdo were targeted at them specifically – otherwise, why not target the Metro or the queue at the Eiffel Tower?

As travellers we need to exercise appropriate caution, but we must not let fear guide our decisions.  Should we be going to Syria, Iraq or Sierra Leone at the moment?  Of course not.  But if I could get on a plane to Paris or Istanbul tomorrow I would.  I would ride the Paris Metro, I would walk and enjoy the streets, and eat delicious food in the cafes.  I’d be more worried about bag snatchers than fanatics with guns.  Similarly in Istanbul I would go to Sultanahmet and eat that ice-cream.  I’d find the persistent carpet salesman and ticket touts more of a worry.

We can’t let our fears rule our lives, including travel decisions.  Otherwise the bad guys win.  The world and the people in it are generous, kind and good.  People of all faiths (and of no faith) are generous, kind and good.  As we saw in Sydney and has we have seen in Paris and around Europe people have demonstrated that.  French expats held a vigil in Sydney last night in solidarity with the rest of their country – where did they hold it?  In Martin Place of course – they saw it as a place of unity and peace.  We can either use these incidents to build a bridge or to tear us apart.  The choice is ours.

Stephane Charbonnier, the murdered Editor of Charlie Hebdo, eerily said it best:

I’d prefer to die standing than live on my knees.

Let’s keep getting on those planes, riding those Metros and eating that ice-cream.  I won’t be letting the bad guys win.

Who’s going to join me?

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13 Comments on “#JeSuisCharlie: When 3 Cities You Love Face Terror”

  1. FoundTravel 09/01/2015 at 8:58 pm #

    Couldn’t agree more! Allowing regular life – and the fun stuff of it like travel – to be stopped by terrorism is another form of surrender. Keep on packing those suitcases!

  2. Russell 09/01/2015 at 9:04 pm #

    Excellent post. I am off to Paris in April then up to Aimes for Anzac Day dawn service. Never considered canceling !! Like you said that would mean the bad guys win.

  3. Pamela 09/01/2015 at 9:54 pm #

    Thank you for this thoughtful timely post. It is so important to give it serious thought.

    Yes, I completely agree, including about love for Paris. These terrible events have spurred me on. I’d been planning another French visit this year, including a month in Paris, with some of the arrangements pencilled in. Tonight I sent out emails confirming bookings. I will not let this terrorist act stop me from visiting. I feel great solidarity with the people of France. (I lived in London during the IRA terrorist bombing campaign during the early 70s – so came close sometimes to actual attacks where people were killed and huge damage was done.)

    I believe very strongly in freedom of the press and am appalled at the massacre at Charlie Hebdo.

    However, I do have a caveat. Personally, as a practising Christian (Anglican), I think it’s a serious error of judgement to mock a major religious figure, no matter what the religion: whether it’s the Christian God or Jesus Christ; the Jewish God; the Buddha; or the Islamic Allah or Mohammad. No matter what religion we follow, or whether we are agnostics or atheists, or just non-believers, we should respect the key figures of any and all of these religions and not seek to ridicule them, whatever our personal thoughts and beliefs are. Likewise, in countries such as Japan or Thailand where the Emperor or the King is revered, it would be simply foolish and loutish to ridicule them – and probably result in a prison sentence too.

    However, of course the press should be free to point out/campaign against questionable (or worse) religious teachings and issues. I give a few examples only (there are hundreds of issues): lack of freedom and tolerance, ill treatment of others of differing beliefs, inequality of women and suppression of women’s rights, ill treatment of individuals, including women and children, any kind of abuse or violence, lack of respect, and of course any connection with terrorism and violence. While the press should have the freedom to criticise and raise issues about individual imams or other religious leaders/supporters, it is deeply disrespectful to ridicule their God or Mohammad, even if we don’t agree with the teachings. Such disrespect for something that is at the core of their faith is deeply offensive for Muslims and is counter productive. It will breed only more violence and more polarisation. This helps no-one.

    It’s essential to work toward creating a climate of tolerance where the greater majority of people from all religions (or none) who abhor violence and terrorism can live peacefully together. It was so encouraging to see the majority reaction after the Sydney siege, the “I’ll ride with you” campaign.

  4. Beachbums1 09/01/2015 at 11:06 pm #

    Thank you for such a thoughtful post. I completely agree ~ there’s no way I would allow bullies to dictate what I do, say or write. I’m hoping to visit Paris this spring (waiting on cheap airfares).

    Personally I found some of those cartoons very offensive and would not have seen them except for the events of this week. But just like I can’t stand the Westboro Baptist church protesting fallen Soldier funerals, I still defend their right to Freedom of Speech. To me, “Je Suis Charlie” means solidarity for Free Speech and certainly not as approval of the cartoons. I’ve found the “Not in my name” hashtag to be very positive as well.

    Keep on traveling!

  5. UnrestingSea 10/01/2015 at 1:04 am #

  6. Susan Heiligman 10/01/2015 at 2:25 am #

    Having visited Paris recently, a city I love, my heart breaks for France as its people comes to grips with this tragedy. We felt so carefree in Paris just weeks ago. May that joie de vivre live on!

  7. Amy Lynne Hayes 10/01/2015 at 9:45 am #

    I lived in Paris for 3 years, and have plans to return for a visit this April. In no way am I going to let an act like this keep me away from one of my favorite cities in the world. The show of solidarity and support is truly amazing, and bowing to these extremists in my mind would not yield positive results anyways. I will continue to travel, as always. Great post!!

    • frugalfirstclasstravel 24/01/2015 at 7:14 pm #

      Excellent Amy, and thank you for your kind words. I’m unsure when I’ll be back in Paris next, but I’m hoping to make it soon……

  8. It’s been a rather depressing run, from all angles. But you’re right – we can’t just sit behind our curtains. There has to be a better way forward.

  9. holidayaddict 11/01/2015 at 2:52 am #

    You are so right, Jo. We can’t let fear guide our decisions. I feel like it’s our duty to carry on and to be free. That’s the only way.

  10. frugalfirstclasstravel 14/01/2015 at 7:48 pm #

    Hi Everyone, rather than reply to every individual comment, I felt it pertinent and appropriate to reply to collectively.

    Thank you all so much for your support of this post. Because I don’t write these types of posts very often, I wasn’t sure how it would be viewed by my readership, but I’m thrilled both with the number of comments and also the number of views the post has received.

    I don’t think anyone agrees with the concept of disrespecting another person’s religious views, but does that disrespect deserve murder? No, of course not. Charlie Hebdo pushes the boundaries of debate. By our Anglophone standards it probably goes too far. In French culture cartoons and political satire are used to initiate and add to the political and social debate – not to ridicule. It’s a cultural difference. There has been much discussion in Australia this week that many of the Charlie Hebdo religious cartoons would actually be illegal under Australian anti-discrimination laws, but that is neither the law nor the cultural norm in France.

    Whether we agree with the line taken by Charlie Hebdo, or whether we think it went too far doesn’t matter. No one deserves to die for their opinion.

    My French teacher (who is French, and lives in Germany) is a subscriber of Charlie Hebdo. As you could imagine, we spent much of my last lesson discussing the events in Paris. After my lesson, I sent her the link to my post. She sent me an email thanking me for writing my post, and making a particular point of saying how grateful she was for the comments and support of my readers – so on her behalf, Merci beaucoup, et allons-y!! (Thank you very much, and let’s go!!)

  11. Dianne W 19/01/2015 at 11:23 am #

    I was in New York City last week and several things struck me. There was a police presence everywhere, more so than in the past. The uniformed National Guard men and women were all over Grand Central. Flowers and handmade signs “Nous sommes Charlie,” rested at the doorway of the French Consulate on Fifth Avenue. I rode buses, subways, went to museums, walked, and enjoyed the city (despite the lousy January weather). I, for one, will NOT be deterred by inexplicable “death cult” (PM Cameron’s term, very appropriate) rampages.

    In April/May I will visit Istanbul, Krakow, Warsaw, Berlin, Paris, and all of Belgium. We travelers must not retreat, we must show courage and fortitude. Your post is totally appropriate and sends the right message.

    • frugalfirstclasstravel 24/01/2015 at 7:13 pm #

      Thank you Dianne. I’ll be continuing to travel too. Your trip sounds divine – enjoy!

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