This morning, the U.S. State Department issued a worldwide travel alert. Though travel warnings are common, wide-ranging alerts like this are relatively rare — the last one came in December of 2014, after terror attacks in Australia. Point being: it’s not a meaningless notification.
To their credit, the U.S. State Department has cultivated a measured tone when issuing these alerts. Still, it’s not exactly a fun read at the beginning of the holiday travel season:
Authorities believe the likelihood of terror attacks will continue as members of ISIL/Da’esh return from Syria and Iraq. Additionally, there is a continuing threat from unaffiliated persons planning attacks inspired by major terrorist organizations but conducted on an individual basis.
These are the two main threats that the U.S. government is putting forward: members of ISIS returning home (to Europe) after training/fighting in Syria and Iraq; and terrorists who are inspired by the Paris attacks.
According to the warning — which cites attacks in France, Nigeria, Denmark, Turkey, and Mali — tourists should show caution in crowds. It goes on to specifically warn about holiday festivals and events.
These warnings are always tricky to interpret. They sound scary as all hell when you think, “My government is urging caution for all of its citizens, traveling anywhere.” Then you realize how comparatively rare the chance of dying in a terror attack is, and you think, “I’ll go wherever I want!” Finally, you slow down and consider that the fear of terror isn’t just about death, it’s about randomness and lack of any sense of control, and you see that basically terrorists are targeting all the things you want to be doing (Christkindlmarkts!). In the end, you come to a more nuanced middle ground: Yes, travel. Yes, be careful (particularly in crowds). Yes, fuck terrorists.