Lonelier planet: After the latest terrorist atrocity in Tunisia, we have to get used to living in a shrinking world


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The Independent Online

The summer holiday, preferably two weeks long and spent in a hot, southern climate, is such a long-standing fixture on most people’s calendars that is hard to get one’s head around the idea that we have to start forgoing the privilege. But, after the latest killings in Tunisia, many will be eyeing the map of potential destinations with a fresh, concerned eye. Following so soon after the murder of 22 tourists at the Bardo Museum in Tunisia in March, simply saying that we should carry on as normal and defy the terrorist threat looks foolhardy rather than unflappable.

Of course, in purely statistical terms, we are far more likely to die in a traffic accident than at the hands of an Islamist gunman – and no one wants to give these fanatics the satisfaction of knowing they have scared us off. However, people rely on instinct and gut feeling as much as bald statistics when it comes to making choices in life – holidays included – and it would be surprising if Tunisia did not now silently disappear from the list of countries in which people from the West feel safe to travel with their families.

But by bit, more and more of the world is being closed off to casual visitors from our part of the world. It is a slow, incremental process. Who remembers when Afghanistan was a playground, an important stopping-off point on a “hippie trail” that ran in a meandering fashion from Turkey to India across Lebanon, Iran, Kashmir and Afghanistan and Pakistan? Of all those countries, only Turkey and India remain a sure bet for Westerners today. The rest have become debatable lands, doable for wary, the well briefed and the adventurous but not advisable for ordinary wanderers and pleasure-seekers.

Syria is another country that suddenly dropped off the list of countries to visit. Only a few years ago, it was opening up fast and becoming a must-see destination for culture lovers. After four terrible years of war, the thought of taking a holiday there would seem macabre as well as mad. The same goes for Libya, which was briefly touted as the “next big destination” for Westerners after the revolution in 2011.

Tourism struggles on in neighbouring Egypt, but it never really recovered from the massacre of 67 tourists at Luxor in 1997. The turbulence that followed the toppling of the Mubarak regime in 2011 only made matters worse. The once familiar sight of hordes of visitors following their tour guides round Luxor, Aswan and Cairo is now a distant memory.

Some may deem any discussion of the plight of tourism in these countries frivolous and selfish, in the light of the number of people who have been killed there or driven from their homes. But the near-death of the tourist industry in these lands should not go unrecorded or unlamented. Mass tourism has a gross and exploitative side to it but it is an important economic motor in many poor, developing countries. The people on the southern side of the Mediterranean are being deprived of a very significant amount of money and jobs as a result of the upsurge of terrorism and, in some, the virtual breakdown of central government.

Whether we in the West are partly to blame for this chaos because of our meddling and interference is a separate point. Either way, our world is effectively shrinking and, as our physical horizons are reduced, it is hard not to believe that our mental horizons will not suffer the same fate.