Are you ok?
Finding a text on my phone is not an unusual experience when travelling. However finding a text on my phone from a work colleague asking me ‘whether I am ok in light of today’s events’ is somewhat more alarming, especially as I have no idea what she is talking about.
Sousse beach attacks
A quick Google search informs me that, a few hours south of us in Sousse, armed gunmen have raided the beach posing as holidaymakers and killed 28 western tourists. Reports talk of one young boy watching as both his parents and grandparents were shot and killed. In the immediate aftermath, stories are piecemeal and rapidly changing as news emerges. It’s shocking news, and immediately puts a dampener on the day thinking of innocent people slaughtered indiscriminately.
ISIS are claiming the usual rhetoric of an ‘holy war’. What kind of God sanctions this type of killing?
I later find a card under our hotel door, advising us against the trip we were planning to Sousse the next day, but reassuring us we are ‘safe’ here. I’m sure those tourists in Sousse believed the same thing so it is of little comfort, but more to the point, how safe are we?
We are certainly given the impression that safety is a high priority with numerous roadblocks, security guards in abundance and iron gates barring the way to luxury hotels. The events this week might suggest that these measures have little impact. After all, what can one lone security guard at a hotel do to guard against one or more assailants who have no concern for their own lives? How can the police possibly protect us from terrorists masquerading as tourists?
They clearly can do something, as a previous botched attempt on the same Sousse hotel in October 2013 testifies, but no police or security force can protect against every possibility.
Foreign office advice
The Foreign and Commonwealth Website indicates the possibility of further attacks in Tunisian tourist areas incited by social media. Checking the site before our departure made no reference to any risk in the main tourist areas, so should one incident make the country dangerous and off limits to tourists?
Terrorists can, and do, strike at random in many cities we would consider safe – Paris, Tokyo, and New York being just a few examples. Between 2012 and 2013, the Global Terrorist Index referenced a whopping total of 55 countries reporting deaths from terrorism.
The Index ranks Iraq top for the highest terrorism impact, with Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Nigeria in close contention. Perhaps not top of people’s bucket list destinations, but alarmingly the United Kingdom ranks 27th, the United States 30th and Tunisia is in 46th place. Egypt, India, Turkey, Thailand and Greece, all popular holiday destinations for Brits, rank higher than Tunisia but I doubt the grieving families will care.
It is too early to tell yet whether the attacks in March, at the Bardo museum in Tunis, or the Sousse beach attacks, will reduce tourist numbers. Logic suggests it will, as a mass exodus gets underway.
Thomson, First Choice And Jet2 have cancelled all their holidays to Tunisia for the coming week, and comments are appearing on news feeds suggesting many others will change their plans to avoid the country. New arrivals report planes departing virtually empty.
Today, around our hotel pool, you would be forgiven for thinking that nothing had happened. The squeal of children playing blends with muted conversations and the pool waterfall provides a relaxing soundtrack. The animation team continues their relentless quest to involve as many unsuspecting guests in a never-ending programme of activities. We are even herded en masse for a group photo, with football style singing to boot, almost as though to demonstrate to the international community that fun is still to be had in Tunisia.
The fear here in the hotel seems to be the reserve of the staff wondering if they will still have jobs in a month. Indeed, today they are finding out which individuals retain their jobs, but the outlook is bleak. If tourists do not come, the hotel will be forced to close in a few weeks.
Out in the town it is a different story. Wandering the chic streets of Yasmine Hammamet, it is easy to believe you are in a ghost town. Modern, stylish buildings have hollowed out basements where shops should be parading trinkets, colourful pots and other paraphernalia from the region. Other than shopkeepers trying to entice you with their wares, there is barely a soul to be seen. Even in the super swanky marina, it’s hard to find any movement other than the fluttering of sails and flags. It’s as though all this was built in the hopes of a gold rush, which never materialised.
So the question remains, is it safe? Well undoubtedly the answer is ‘not if you happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time’ but that could just as easily be a tube in London, as it could another city or beach in Tunisia.
Am I safe?
Perhaps more to the point, do I feel safe here? I’m certainly not lying awake at night wondering if armed gunmen are going to burst into my room.
Am I bit more cautious right now? Probably. We had plans to travel to Sousse, El Djem and to some other destinations along the coast, and they have been put on hold. Part of me thinks the likelihood of another incident is small, and I am letting the terrorists win by staying in my hotel. The other part of me says, ‘yes but the terrorists won’t shed a tear for me if I’m gone,’ while our family will have to live with our recklessness, should we venture out and come to harm.
I think the true question should be is anywhere safe anymore?
Pin this in memory of those who are victims of terrorism
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