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You're Not Going There!?

Tell anyone that you're traveling to the Middle East, and in particular Yemen and you will invariably get a similar response to the title of this post. It's possible that you get a slight variant, like "You're nuts!" or the more tactful, "But, isn't it somewhat conflictive?" ranging to the brutal, "But they are terrorists!"

These accusations however couldn't be further from the truth and a little investigation into the matter shows things a lot differently from what they seem glancing at the 2 second sound bites fed to the internet world.

True, there have been kidnappings, the most recent ending in brutal and senseless murder, but let's remember that these things happen in many other places and things are not always as the headline seems. Reading past the byline reveals a new world.

Would you get a similar response if you were heading to Mexico? Just a few more kidnappings there wouldn't you say?

How about a trip to see the Pyramids? Surely the neighbours would be jealous? What about the atrocities in Luxor or the frequent bombs in Cairo?

A trip to Sunny Spain will have your office mates drooling, but what about ETA and then there were the train bombings?

Yet Yemen has an image problem...

One worsened by the customary Jambyia knife that juts from the belts of 97% of the men over 17...Worsened even further since the attacks of 9/11 and lazy journalism that never fails to mention that it is the 'ancestral home' of Osama Bin Laden, whatever that means?

The truth is that it is home to some of the kindest people in the world. People who cried with my Spanish wife when the news of the Madrid train bombings hit. People who will chase you down the street to return some money that you might have dropped as you walk along. People who will happily shout, "Welcome to my country!" as you walk along the streets. People who are as repulsed as you and I regarding acts of violence committed against civilians.

In fact, the only tourists that have been senselessly slaughtered in Yemen were a group of Spanish tourists who were deliberately targeted in a car bombing, carried out by foreign assailants.

But what about the kidnappings?

In the late 90's there was a rash of tourist kidnappings. Mainly in the desert areas where the central government's control is weakest. In order to bring the tribes under heel, the government has resorted to underhanded tactics, such as cutting off water supplies during drought periods. These tactics pushed the tribes to their last resort, the age old Bedouin tradition of kidnapping and negotiation. It is easy to reject such methods while the water flows freely from your tap, but a different matter when your children go thirsty.

A very small number of tourists have tragically been killed in these situations, but again they were not executed, but caught in the crossfire during botched rescue attempts by a government refusing to negotiate.

Once again, it's difficult, but nevertheless important to keep in perspective that these kidnappings were meant as a part of a negotiation process. The only way that powerless tribesmen thought they could influence the government.

The recent kidnappings that are front page news however are a different matter. These were not tourists, but people working at an Evangelical hospital located in an extremely conservative Muslim area.

Officials from the Foreign Ministry in Berlin believe that the Germans kidnapped in Yemen were abducted because of their missionary activities. Local Muslims had threatened one of the group and told him to stop proselytizing -- a warning the German ignored.

Whether or not the others were involved is still unclear, but the selfishness shown by those who belonged to a group whose mission statement is, "we see our mission mainly as the conversion of the peoples of the world who have not yet been reached," is unbelievable.

In their blind zealousness, these people put others at risk, that much is clear and excuses given for their charitable acts are immediately canceled out when it becomes clear that proselytizing rather than helping is their main goal.

It's easy to turn your back on a country and book your ticket elsewhere, but in doing so you play directly into the hands of the few extremists that are hoping for exactly that. By isolating a country, you only make their job of closing minds easier.


Troy said…
I expect this one to be a rough ride on the comment side, but please remember, nowhere am I advocating harming anyone.
Tom said…
"but what about ETA and the train bombings?" is perhaps an unfortunate phrasing. I know you didn't mean it that way, but the way you put it seems to conflate ETA and the 11M attacks.

Anyway, thanks for an interesting blog post: I've heard from other people that Yemen (and Lebanon, and numerous other 'dangerous' places) is a lovely place to visit. Have you written about your experiences there before? If not, might I beg for a longer Yemen post in the future?
Troy said…
Agreed Tom, definitely don't want to fall for the El Mundo/PP trap and link the train bombings to ETA. Will definitely think of another way to phrase it.

As for writing about Yemen, still in the process of trying to 'sell' some pieces to travel mags etc, but the mere mention of Yemen seems to have a rather negative effect on editors. I guess you have to be 'somebody' in order to write about an 'adventure' there, even for the Guardian!?

Do listen to what people have told you, Yemen is a wonderful place, full stop. I can't speak about Lebanon, but was in neighbouring Syria last summer and have nothing but great things to say about it. The point is that the held perspective is worth challenging.

That is of course unless you are a missionary and thus, well their only challenge is ridding themselves of their supreme egoism.

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