Bad Civil War monuments:
Good Civil War monuments:
Another terrorist attack.
I check where (Barcelona) and how (running a car into people). On Las Ramblas, where I have been already, where I went for a walk, where I ate, where I read a newspaper.
That should touch me, bring back memories, arouse a feeling of worry for my friends in Barcelona.
But it doesn’t. I don’t even turn on CNN, I don’t watch the news at night. Instead, I keep working, have dinner, go for a walk and read a book. A perfectly normal evening. An evening with at least 12 people killed.
From time to time, one reads that we have become indifferent to terrorism, but “indifferent” sounds so emotionally cold. I would rather call myself “immune”. But when I am completely honest, I feel something else. I am neither indifferent nor immune, I am simply bored.
Terrorism doesn’t terrorize me anymore. It hasn’t for a long time. It only bores me. I do not feel any fear, not in large cities, not on a plane, not at train stations and not in pedestrian zones. I am not even scared in the immediate aftermath of a terrorist attack. If at all, the bombs and knife attacks are annoying, like a sudden downpour, a traffic jam or a power outage. I know that it will pass, that it will happen again one day, and so on.
It’s not only due to the frequency of terrorist attacks in recent years that they hardly make me yawn, it’s also their methods. Already in 2013, I had predicted that terrorists would increasingly focus on car attacks. But the disciples of terrorism turned out to be even less inventive than Hollywood with its never-ending sequels. Driving a car into a crowd or onto the sidewalk? Any old geezer whose licence should have been revoked long ago can do that. Every weekend, people die in road accidents, without any help from terrorists. That’s really nothing special. And knife attacks? We get that in every horror movie. People pay to see that. Even the suicide bomb is stale and boring, and in most cases only kills the amateur terrorist himself.
Even the most deluded terrorist has to recognize that attacks like that won’t get him into the news more than once. And the next day, there will be baseball, a Hollywood divorce and a redneck lottery winner again.
Dear terrorists, you are making fools of yourselves with your dilettantish wannabe-terrorism. There are high-school pranks and celebrity tattoos that scare the population more than you with your little bombs and knives and vans. And your targeting couldn’t be more petit-bourgeois either: Christmas markets, street cafés and supermarkets. That way, your message will never reach the really cool people. Why don’t you take a break for a few years to plan something big again? Maybe hijack two cruise ships and ram them against each other. Delete all Facebook and Instagram accounts. Develop a virus that turns cats into aggressive monsters. Blow up the moon. Dream big!
But as boring as the terrorists are, the reactions are equally boring. Every time the same.
Politicians will demand new laws for electronic surveillance, which doesn’t seem to help. Or more surveillance cameras, which logically won’t prevent attacks by people who want to be on TV.
“We can’t continue like before,” one will hear, followed by the exact same opinions and demands that the person held before the terrorist attack.
I don’t have the impression that a great many people change their behavior because of terrorist attacks. Those who are generally scared have one more reason to be scared, in addition to crime, traffic, thunderstorms, floods, epidemics, mosquitoes, postal employees with guns, ticks, snakes, black ice, bears and Bolsheviks. And those who are generally more optimistic won’t believe that the Al Qaeda van will hit exactly them. But to me, it doesn’t look as if there are fewer people in the streets or in other public places. Even after the truly terrible terrorist attacks on 11 September 2001, the number of people flying decreased for only a short time, and probably more due to the annoying security measures at airports.
There will also always be someone who wants to be overly dramatic and who will scream out the sentence “this is a war”. No, a terrorist attack is a crime, but no war. War is months or years of fighting, killing, bombing, starving and dying in a whole country or a large part thereof. In Barcelona, within two days at most, you will see tourists walking down Las Ramblas again, taking selfies and not getting full from the overpriced little tapas plates. War is something different.
Regarding terrorism as what it is, a crime, helps to realize that it is a part of life. Unfortunately. Just like there will always be homicide, burglaries, car theft, fraud and rape. We’ve always had laws against all of this, and we’ve been listening in on telephone and online communications. Of course we should prevent as many crimes as possible and protect as many victims as possible, but nobody would seriously expect the murder rate or the number of rape cases in Europe or in North America to go down to zero. Anyone who promised that would (hopefully) not be taken seriously. Terrorism cannot be any different.
Lastly, we hear after each terrorist attack: “Oh my, oh my, the world is becoming more dangerous/bad/terrible,” oddly enough often from old people who should know better.
Admittedly, it doesn’t help anyone if we older people remind the younger ones that we used to be blown up at funerals in Ireland
and that plane hijackings were an almost daily occurrence in the 1970s.
But knowing that we did survive worse may help to recognize that the apocalypse won’t be coming around the corner any minute just because a few psychopaths want to put on a show.
Remember this scene?
I am not sure though why Robin Hood is at the Hadrian’s Wall in Northern England on his way back from Jerusalem via Dover to Nottingham. That sounds like quite a detour to me.
Somebody proudly showing off: “I am making good progress with my Greek. I am already at B1 level.”
Me: “Do you study north or south Greek?”
Me: [speaking several sentences in German] “Did you understand that?”
They (insecure): “No.”
Me: “Then you must be studying south Greek. The two languages are completely different from each other.”
I liked how the sign with the arrow supplemented the “God” message.
But I don’t trust people who are up all night.
(Photographed in Carlisle towards the end of Hadrian’s Wall Path.)
Ever since I went on my first long-distance walk, the Hadrian’s Wall Path in England, I have been wondering: “Why am I only bumping into other white folks?” In most British cities, there was a vibrant and colorful diversity of ethnicities and origins, yet out on the famous trail, everyone was Anglo-Saxon (and me German).
I have since had similar experiences on other long-distance paths or in national parks in the UK, the US and in Europe.
This could be put down to coincidence, if there weren’t many other hikers asking the same question. I was reminded of my own observations when I listened to an interview with Rahawa Haile on NPR. She had hiked the Appalachian Trail – and encountered a disproportionately low number of fellow African-Americans.
But her explanations didn’t satisfy me. I don’t think that memories of slavery and Jim Crow laws plague many people when they have to make a decision about where and how to vacation in 2017. In any case, this wouldn’t explain the absence of Turkish hikers in Germany or of Indian hikers in Scotland compared to their share of the population. Not all global phenomena can be explained by US-American history.
Nor can most things be explained by one cause alone.
Economic disparity certainly plays a role. Although hiking itself is free and the equipment costs less than a mobile phone, people struggling with several minimum-wage jobs and living in constant worry about being evicted won’t take off a few months to wander through the wilderness. Ethnic minorities are over-represented among the poor, so this may account for some of the lack of Latino and African hikers. But I am not even talking about these long hikes of the Pacific Crest Trail or such, I am more concerned with shorter adventures of one or a few days.
Although I am generally big on economic factors, I wouldn’t discount cultural factors either. Olaleye Akintola, a Nigerian journalist who moved to Germany in 2014, recently wrote that he doesn’t understand why Germans go camping and hiking. “Why do people leave their clean and safe houses and sleep in their cars, in tents or in drafty mountain huts as if they were vagabonds?” For him, sleeping outside is a step down, not something to aspire to.
This goes hand in hand with the economic situation. Maybe one needs the secure middle-class background to find a lack of comfort exciting and not perceive it as a threatening memory of the past, whether it is one’s own or one’s family’s. Also, if you already live in a leafy suburb, you are emotionally closer to the outdoors than if you live in an inner city. Just as suburbans would be afraid of going to downtown, inner-city kids may be more afraid of bears.
Speaking of bears, I remember an anecdote that perfectly illustrates different perceptions of danger. As any hiker knows, bears are no real danger and definitely less of a danger than humans. It is rather rare that you see them. I have tried and I only managed it once, in Romania. Also in Romania, I met a refugee from Syria who hosted me on Couchsurfing. When I asked him if he had been out to explore the beautiful mountains and forests of Romania, he replied: “No way! There are bears.” Here was a guy who had escaped war, bombings, oppression and dictatorship, but he associated the peaceful forests of Europe with danger and death.
Particularly with first-generation immigrants, I often sense that they feel under pressure to lead a life that they can show off to those left in their home country, thus justifying the emigration. Apparently, photos of fancy apartments, big TVs and cars or huge weddings are more impressive in India or Turkey than a photo of the son freezing in a sleeping bag. (“If all you wanted to do was freeze your ass off, you could have stayed outside in the garden,” you can hear the nasty grandmother bitching.)
Maybe cultural heritage plays a role, too. White Americans have cowboys and trappers as role models, Australians worship escaped bandits living in the wilderness and Germans have read the books by Karl May. Latinos on the other hand, and overly stereotyping, have telenovelas, Indians have Bollywood and Persians have wine-drinking poets. (I don’t know anything about Asian cultures, but I have repeatedly read that they are the second-largest group on hiking trails in the US.) And maybe some non-white groups are not quite as big on individualism and value family, friends and community higher than proving to oneself the ability to walk 1,000 miles through the desert?
Another contributing factor may be advertisement. In almost all ads for outdoor equipment, everybody is white. There is even more advertisement directed at seniors, children and dogs than at ethnic minorities.
Actually, come to think of it, the only TV ads showing black people with outdoor equipment are those asking them to sign up to die “for their country”.
Now, I don’t think that everybody should go hiking. But I do think that hiking is such a wonderful, uncomplicated and affordable way to escape one’s daily routine, to get away from the stress, to build confidence that it’s sad if certain parts of the population were excluded, felt excluded or were to exclude their children from it based on race or class.
Particularly for recent immigrants and refugees, many of them with traumatic experiences, I would think that spending a week or two in nature will help to foster calm and confidence better than staying in overcrowded shelters. US military veterans are using hiking to overcome post-deployment stress. I think it would do some good to someone who escaped war and survived a boat ride through the Mediterranean, too.
Hiking through the wonderful nature of one’s new home may even lead to a greater sense of belonging than an integration course in which people have to learn all 50 state capitals. (As always when I have a good idea, some research reveals that it has already been done: two Afghan refugees walked 1,000 km through Switzerland.)
Lastly, I should caution that all my observations are unrepresentative. That’s why I am curious to hear about your experience. And of course there are always exceptions, and nothing can be generalized, as my Iranian hiking partner on the West Highland Way in Scotland demonstrated.