Can A Socially Aware Traveler Visit Countries That Commit Genocide?

01.03.19 6 months ago 28 Comments

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It’s 2019 and the world feels like it’s on fire. From the Trump White House to Brexit to a 24-hour news cycle obsessed with tragedy, people are very aware of the pain around them. Add in the instant access to information from around the world via the internet and it can get overwhelming. We know more about the world than ever before. And all of that begs a big question: As travelers, where do our responsibilities lie when visiting countries clearly committing horrible acts?

Some background: A few weeks ago, I heard that Jack Dorsey of Twitter went to Myanmar on vacation. A practitioner of Vipassana meditation, he tweeted about the SE Asian nation and challenged intrepid travelers to visit. Immediately, alarm bells went off in my head. Right now, Myanmar is killing its most vulnerable citizens over their preferred religion. It’s classed by the UN as an “ongoing genocide.” Dorsey’s travels seemed like some sort of implicit acceptance of that. Especially because of his celebrity.

But there was a second set of bells that chimed as I discussed the issue with fellow Uproxx travel writers. The hypocrite bells. I’ve been to Myanmar (it’s the country I feel most guilty about visiting). I’ve also traveled to other countries committing war crimes. So the idea of me passing judgment on someone’s hard-earned vacation seemed suspect from the gate.

Still, this case seemed different to me. Is there ever a government action that can go “beyond the pale” so drastically that refusing to travel there is a moral imperative? I think so.

If you dig into the links below, you’ll discover that what’s happening in Myanmar isn’t a fringe group of extremist a la ISIS or the Taliban trying to force their fundamentalist views on an entire country via warfare and terror. This is the government of Myanmar using social media outlets, government services, and military to commit mass rape, murder, and dispossession of a million of their own people who happen to be Muslim instead of Buddhist.

To be clear: We do not use the term “genocide” lightly here. Policy groups, news organizations, the United States State Department, and even the United Nations have all come to the same conclusion and branded this event as a genocide being carried out by the government of Myanmar. 900,000 people have been forced to flee their homes. At least another 150,000 are in concentration camps. And tens of thousands have been murdered and are still missing after Myanmar’s government launched their “Clearance Operation” in summer 2017. That’s before we even get to the evidence of organized mass rape being carried out by the military. Moreover, this atrocity is, as mentioned, on-going and likely going to get a lot bloodier this year as hundreds of thousands of refugees are forced to return to Myanmar.

So, when Dorsey coyly tweeted, “and if you’re willing to travel a bit, go to Myanmar,” it felt deeply wrong. Dorsey’s 4.1 million followers received a message that it’s okay to travel to a country that’s openly raping and murdering children with their military.

Naturally, I wasn’t the only person who was bothered. There was an immediate backlash to Dorsey’s tweet calling him everything from insensitive to out-of-touch (and more that doesn’t need repeating here). Was the Twitter-verse right in dragging Dorsey for this?

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