BA on Assignment

September 22, 2011

Hikers, Not Criminals

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Written for: Communicado Magazine
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I don’t know where to start with this. There’s just so much wrong in this scenario. I’ll start with the basic situation.

Josh Fattal, Shane Bauer and Sarah Shourd went hiking somewhere between Iraq and Iran. Maybe I should repeat that. Josh Fattal, Shane Bauer and Sarah Shourd went HIKING somewhere between IRAQ and IRAN! WTF…

Sarah was released in July, 2010 and now, we are celebrating the release of the two men – Josh and Shane. It’s a good day for international diplomacy, but, their detainment was very much a political ploy that took two years to sort. While I sympathize with them, this is the kind of danger tourists face when they decide to go HIKING through the Middle East. Was Switzerland closed or something?

Who hikes though the Middle East? My friend Renee called me yesterday and that was her first question. To be fair, Renee and I try to travel internationally as much as possible and pride ourselves on being citizens of the world and not just creatures of the United States. So, we both have a pretty good sense of the climate no matter where we decide to go. Hiking in the Middle East is not an idea for a holiday/vacation/adventure.

In fact, if I do get to the Middle East, I won’t be wandering off AT ALL. I’d like to visit Dubai at some point, but, I’ll be at the Four Seasons Dubai, which, I’m hoping is within running distance of the U.S. Consulate. Not taking any chances. I’ll hike in Switzerland…

I remember seeing the movie, Midnight Express when I was 13. It was about an American accused of smuggling drugs out of Turkey. The prison was harrowing. I still remember how terrified I was thinking, “If I ever go to another country, I’ll be on my best behavior.” I still think, “When I’m in another country, be on your best behavior!” “And never go to Turkey!”

I don’t say these things to be inflammatory, I say these things because facts are facts: The Middle East is basically a full-on war zone. And not because there are troops there, but because all of the natives hate each other. Iraqi’s hate Kuwaiti’s, Iranian’s hate Saudi’s and most notably, Israeli’s and Palestinians mutual disdain for the other’s culture and domain. P. S. I hear Turkey is actually beautiful – I’d actually rather go there than any of the previously named countries.

I don’t hold much enthusiasm for visiting the Middle East because, who wants to be in the middle of all that? But, through all of the current uprisings, my hope is that the countries of the Middle East will become fully Democratic – No more tyrannical dictators and will also become more tolerant with their social standards – Equitable treatment for everyone. But that’s not now and the hikers are a perfect example to be smarter when traveling.

I also have to make a special note about how their release was reported in the news. It was clear that their release was perfectly timed with Iranian President Ahmadinejad remarks to the United Nations. Funny how quickly and amicably things happened pending his arrival? But we’ll take it. Especially since it basically just put an end to a series of bad decisions for which all parties involved needed to accept their part.

Hiking in the Middle East = NO
Arresting innocent, non-threatening tourists = NO
Charging them and holding a court trial = NO
Using them as pawns to negotiate the release of alleged terrorists = NO
Releasing them to win points with the UN = NO

To be clear, this is not an indictment of the Arab culture, the Muslim faith or any other station. That’s another post all together…

This post is confined to watching your step in another country – literally. The politics associated with those kinds of missteps are a bitch. 🙁

Best of luck to Josh, Shane and Sarah. I’m sure they won’t do that again.