I’m not a terrorist, and I’ve never spoken with one, so I can’t really say what they’re really thinking. But it seems to me that the whole point of terrorism is to Spread Fear. For example, if they kidnap one tourist – just one – they can strike fear into all tourists. If they can paralyze an entire population with fear, then it becomes much, much easier to control that population, for any number of diabolic or simply misguided purposes. The imagination can go wild with the potential for corruption and conspiracy, with just one single act of terrorism. It’s actually much more efficient than full-on war.
This is made even more effective when the targets themselves buy into the fear:
(Taken directly from the U.S. Department of State’s website)
“Algeria Country Specific Information
SAFETY AND SECURITY: Terrorism continues to pose a threat to the safety and security of American citizens traveling to Algeria. Terrorist activities, including bombings, false roadblocks, kidnappings, ambushes, and assassinations occur regularly, particularly in the Kabylie region. Since early 2007, vehicle-borne suicide bomb attacks have emerged as a terrorist tactic in Algeria, including in the capital. Suicide car bomb attacks in December 2007 targeted the UN Headquarters and the Algerian Constitutional Council in Algiers. The attacks occurred in areas where many diplomatic missions and residences are located. The group that claimed credit for the December 2007 attacks has pledged more attacks against foreign targets, and specifically U.S. targets. The same group is believed to operate in southern Algeria and has kidnapped foreigners in neighboring countries. This kidnapping threat was noted in the Department of State’s Worldwide Caution, dated February 12, 2010.
The Travel Warning for Algeria contains the most current information concerning the threat from terrorism.
The Department of State recommends that U.S. citizens avoid overland travel in Algeria. U.S.citizens who reside or travel in Algeria should take prudent security measures while in the country, including making provisions for reliable and experienced logistical support. Additionally, sporadic episodes of civil unrest have been known to occur. U.S. citizens should avoid large crowds and maintain security awareness at all times. Visitors to Algeria are advised to stay only in hotels where adequate security is provided. All visitors to Algeria should remain alert and adhere to prudent security practices such as avoiding predictable travel patterns and maintaining a low profile.”
Now, I’ll admit that people should be informed about the risks of traveling to any particular country. I remained alert and prudent. But to me these previous paragraphs don’t feel like an impartial bulletin about the situation in Algeria; they feel like exaggerated fear-mongering. By posting this type of warning, replete with all the keywords that push an automatic Fear button, the U.S. Department of State is pretty much helping the terrorists – by spreading the fear.
Some other examples:
The verbatim response from the U.S. embassy in Algiers to to my request for travel assistance:
“Dear Mr. Brigham:
The border is indeed closed between Algeria and Morocco. Nor would we advise anyone to attempt a bicycle ride anywhere across Algeria. Please see the current travel warning for Algeria at (link.)
We do not assist individual private American citizens to obtain Algerian visas, nor do we provide letters of support for such visa applications.
You should not attempt this trip.
American Citizen Services
U.S. Embassy, Algiers”
The response from the U.S. embassy in Morocco:
“Hi Mr. Brigham,
Sorry for the delay in responding to your inquiry. While the economy of Morocco does depend largely on tourism, it would be extremely unsafe, not to mention logistically impossible for your to attempt to bike across Algeria and Libya. Even if you were able to obtain a visa to travel to Algeria and made it across the closed border, you would end up stuck there trying to get into Libya, which has complex visa entry requirements. Please consult www.travel.state.gov to review the travel warnings for these countries. While we applaud your efforts to bike around the world, you must consider your own safety. Perhaps an alternative would be to ferry to Spain and travel along the European Mediterranean coast?
Once again, we urge you to make alternate plans. Bike travel across Algeria and Libya is simply not an option.
American Citizen Services
Of course they have to be rather blunt and frightening, lest some moron gets himself killed or someone sues them for giving relaxed advice. (Our society is actually prepared quite nicely to be paralyzed by fear, isn’t it?) But they were wrong.
And I’ll wager that the U.S. government doesn’t really care if Algeria maintains a reputation for being full of terrorists – they would rather Algeria just fall off the map.
But I do care.
Algeria is not full of terrorists. Algeria is full of wonderful, generous folks who hate terrorists.
I did “attempt this trip,” and the only “reliable and experienced logistical support” was me, and my attitude of love and joy for all, which blossomed elegantly into a network of Algerian friends. I never felt in danger, I never felt close to any manner of terrorism or even crime. In fact, I must say that it was an unforgettable experience of the true cosmic beauty of humankind.
Conversely, if I had swallowed all the tripe the U.S. government tried to feed me – if I had gone to Algeria full of fear – well, I can’t say for sure, but it surely would’ve prevented me from reaching out to the people of Algeria, and I would’ve been much more alone, suspicious and frightened of everyone until something ugly actually did happen. Sure, when that’s the alternative, it’s better to just stay home under the covers and watch Fox News.
I’m not saying that there is no risk of terrorism in Algeria. All I’m saying is that the people of Algeria do not deserve to be feared, and you don’t deserve to live in fear either. Terrorism depends on fear to succeed; if you live in fear of it, you’re living exactly how they want you to. If you live in fear you are being controlled. Fear is a natural phenomenon, but it’s how you react to it that makes all the difference. It lives or dies in your mind. Will you choose repression, control, and desperation – or freedom?
P.S. Please look up the book “Three Cups of Tea.” Pakistan, Afghanistan. Education to promote peace, alternatives to terrorist training camps, dedication, love, growth… it’s an inspiring story.
“If you just fight terrorism, it’s based in fear. If you promote peace, it’s based in hope.”