As the countdown continues for my writing and research trip to the South Pacific during Christmas break, many of my friends ask me whether I'm afraid to fly in the wake of 9/11. My initial macho response is that I'm not worried at all. However, that isn't altogether true. I'm not totally indifferent to the danger. I won't want to go down in a plane or get blown-up in some faraway café. However, I must not fear terrorism too much, because I'm nearly finished with the plans for the South Pacific trip. In fact, I'm in the process on deciding on what the destination will be for the following year: Thailand, South Africa, Turkey, or Mongolia.
When I tell my fearful questioners about my plans for the next several years, their incredulity about my lack of fear of flying has caused me to reflect again on the safety of international traveling. This reflective process has caused me to recall other trips that I have taken over the years and has made me re-evaluate the threat risk that I might have unwittingly incurred. I've never been kidnapped except by a Delhi taxi driver who drove my wife and me all over town trying to book us in one of his buddies' many hotels instead of the one at which I had reservations.
I also recalled being in Czechoslovakia in the summer of 1968. It was a grim time for the Czechoslovakian people. I had traveled there to see firsthand Alexander Dubcek's political experiment of putting a human face on communism. I left a couple of days before Soviet tanks ended that premature Czech experiment.
Then there was hijacking of TWA flight 847, which I missed by days when I flew into Athens in 1985. During that same summer while in Turkey, an Air India flight blew up over the North Atlantic about the time I was to return to the States. They missed again.
After avoiding double-trouble in Greece and Turkey, I returned to the Middle East. I spent several weeks in Jordan, Israel, and Egypt. I recall that every time that I heard a loud noise, I assumed that some terrorist had just blown up a bus. I figured that if I could hear the explosion, it wasn't meant for me.
My most recent trip involved going to occupied Tibet-occupied by the Chinese since 1951. There were several times that I was concerned about avoiding being arrested for my pro-Tibetan views and writing. Fortunately, my wife and I got out safely and returned to the States just before 9/11-another near miss.
If cats and I have nine lives, the way I have it figured is that I am safe for another four trips. That should get me back safely from the South Pacific excursion, Thailand the following year, South Africa the year after that, and Turkey or Mongolia would run out my nine lives.
Reflecting upon my travel lives, I realize that there isn't much that you can do to guarantee total safety from terrorism or just ordinary bad luck of life. If you resort to giving into fear and remain safely inside your home, you will succumb to the ultimate terrorism. Your fears will have transformed you into your own terrorist. You will hold yourself hostage. You won't need some Muslim extremist to do you in; you will have done it to yourself.
Go out and enjoy the world. Don't be foolhardy, but don't allow fear to control your life. Fear has a strange way of becoming all-encompassing. First, it is the fear of terrorism, but fear will soon spread to include other aspects of your life. Being killed as the result of some terrorist act is a tragedy, but it would be far more tragic if you live your life in fear and trembling. It is highly unlikely that a terrorist will do you in, but you can hijack your life and create the ultimate act of terror-the incarcerating of yourself in a cell of fear.