Ever since the events of September 11, 2001, the world has become obsessed with the concept of security as never before. In efforts to strengthen its own security, the government of the United States has gone to unprecedented lengths to ensure the security of its citizens and its borders. This, especially during the years of the Bush administration and its implementation of the Patriot Act, has come at the price of certain civil liberties; some Americans would even argue, at the cost of the constitution. These lengths have been well documented, and it would be too time consuming to list them here. Yet, the reality may be that the citizens of the United States, and those of the world, can never really be guaranteed complete security, so measures, sometimes extreme, are taken by various world governments to ensure that its citizens at least have the semblance of security. The myth of security is one that all of us, to varying degrees, rely upon to go about our lives in relative comfort and to stave off an impending feeling of anxiety that accompanies us as we continue to move forward into the twenty-first century; a century that has so far been defined by violence and extremism.
In early October of this year, Britain, the United States, and Japan issued caution and called for their citizens to be particularly vigilant when traveling through Europe. Possible terror attacks against British, U.S., and Japanese citizens are reported to be at a “severe” level. On October 2, 2010 the New York Times reported that the U. S. State Department urged American travelers to be especially vigilant when traveling throughout Europe this fall. News of a possible terrorist attack (s) in Britain, France, and Germany have gained increased concern. The Times noted that the news of the intention of these attacks is originating in Pakistan and North Africa. High target areas are believed to be public transportation systems and high volume tourist attractions such as the Eiffel Tower, the Brandenburg Gate, and London Bridge. Additional target areas are thought to be crowded areas such as hotels, discos, and cafes. According to Travel.State.Gov, a service provided by the U. S. Department of State, official travel warnings to various European countries have been recently issued. The motto on their website is “An informed traveler is a safe traveler.” However, the spread of misinformation and fear can be just as destructive as having no information. The governments of the world are in a precarious position here. On the one hand, they know that security cannot be guaranteed so they provide as much information as possible, even if this information proves to be false and promotes stereotypical thinking. On the other hand, if they fail to provide any information for fear of stalling tourism, they run the risk of being negligent. I’m not sure if it was sound intelligence or just luck that thwarted the air cargo bomb coming from Yemen or the bomb that was delivered to German Chancellor Angela Markel’s office in the form of a postal package. Either way, the threat of a terrorist attack continues to increase and we become more and more obsessed with the idea of security.
The writer Paul Bowles once famously stated, “Security is a false concept.” The author of the Sheltering Sky, a man who lived among the Arabs in North Africa for the last 50 years of his life, predicted the extreme animosity that now exists between the world of Islam and the West. A resonant traveler himself, Bowles was in a position to see the threats that come when a traveler leaves the relative safety of his own home. Now, 100 years after Bowles’s death his fiction seems more relevant than ever.
Complete security for the traveler and for citizens all over the world is an illusion. No elected official, no political party, no matter how zealous the rhetoric, can guarantee its citizens safety from a terrorist attack. The fact is we live in a world where the threat of a terrorist attack has seeped into our lives on an unprecedented level, especially for those of us who live in the United States, particularly in larger cities. Security is not, nor has it ever been a universal right. No one is ever completely safe, and the sooner governments of the world acknowledge this fact the sooner its citizens can begin to combat the overwhelming feelings of anxiety and fear that currently dictate our daily existence. This is not to say that the travel should not be vigilant at all times; the traveler should, but so should all of us at any time we find ourselves in any public space. What we should not do is put our blind faith in a concept that has always been empty.