Turkey blames Daesh for Istanbul suicide bomb

Blue in the faith: The Blue Mosque rises up from the historic neighbourhood of Sultanahmet

A new year, a new horror. Istanbul reels from the death of at least eight German visitors, and Turkish tourism faces meltdown. Should rich countries discourage visits?

Under a crisp blue sky, in the shadows of historic mosques, an explosion shattered the peace of an ordinary Istanbul morning.

Sultanahmet is one of the Turkish city’s most beautiful districts, abounding in shaded alleyways and exquisite Ottoman architecture. Tourists come here in droves. But yesterday morning, many of them were killed or wounded in a suicide bombing in the area’s main square.

The Turkish government was quick to ban any broadcasting from the scene. In the chaos that followed, images emerged anyway, along with snippets of information. Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan declared that the bomber was a member of the terrorist group Daesh.

At the time of writing, the toll stood at ten dead and 15 injured. A Turkish official announced that eight victims were German; two Peruvians and a Norwegian were also said to have been injured. Nobody had yet claimed responsibility for the attack, but the targeting of tourists suggested a suspect: Daesh.

The bombing fits a tragic pattern of attacks associated with the jihadist group. Last October, it took down a plane full of Russian holidaymakers in Egypt. In June, a gunman murdered tourists on a Tunisian beach. In each case, the objectives of the attacks seem to have included to provoke or punish the nations to which the tourists belonged.

But an attack on tourists is also an attack on tourism. Through violence, Daesh is spreading fear: the very definition of terrorism. As a result, the number of visitors to countries like Egypt and Turkey falls — indeed, foreigners currently in Istanbul are cutting their holidays short — and their economies are damaged. This is another kind of provocation.

Most governments issue advice on whether a region is safe to visit. This information is taken seriously by tourists and tour operators — it carries a lot of influence. Governments have a responsibility to keep their citizens safe, but they must also ensure they do not harm the tourism industries of other countries with inaccurate advice. Striking that balance can be very difficult.

To go or not to go?

Holidays are for relaxing, say some, and getting away from it all. While sunning yourself on a beach you do not want to have to worry about a terrorist attack. And picking a hotspot of conflict like Istanbul for your vacation is stupid and irresponsible — it is best to stay away.

On the contrary, say others: we have a duty to help, and encourage friendship among nations. Preventing travel or avoiding a destination starves it of money and causes unemployment, the last thing an already troubled region needs. By staying away, we play into the terrorists’ hands — and send out the message that their tactics are working.

You Decide

  1. Would you travel to Istanbul today? Why (not)?
  2. In the wake of the terrorist attacks in November, the British government did not advise against travel to Paris. Should it have?

Activities

  1. Choose a recent trip you went on — it can be a holiday abroad, or a visit to somewhere in your home country. Write a short travel diary, describing what you saw and did.
  2. Research the Turkish government’s responses to the threat from Daesh since summer 2014. Sum up your findings in a three-minute presentation, giving your opinion on the successes and failures of the government’s policies.

Some People Say...

“Government’s first duty is to protect its people.”

Ronald Reagan

What do you think?

Q & A

Should I ever ignore the British government’s travel advice?
This question is hotly debated. Before travelling, it’s always worth looking into any risks you may face on your travels. Governments are in a good position to know about these risks, so their advice shouldn’t be dismissed lightly.
So why the debate?
Critics claim that the British government’s advice is sometimes politically motivated. They point out that it never warns against travel to friendly countries (such as France), even after huge terrorist attacks, but often enforces long travel bans to countries like Kenya and India.
What’s the point?
Denying them income gives the UK political leverage over these countries, say the critics. And it reflects an imperialist mentality that the Third World is more dangerous than the West.

Word Watch

Sultanahmet
The historic heart of Istanbul, which was Turkey’s capital for centuries until Ankara took over in 1923. Sultanahmet is home to many cultural landmarks, such as the Blue Mosque and the Topkapi Palace.
Recep Tayyip Erdoğan
The current president of Turkey. Since coming to power in 2003, Erdoğan has presided over economic growth, but many have criticised his aggressive nationalism and repressive style of government.
Ten dead and 15 injured
At the time of writing, these numbers were widely cited by Turkish and international media. The nationalities of the casualties had yet to be confirmed.
Daesh
A derogatory Arabic name for the so-called ‘Islamic State’, a jihadist group which has conquered vast territories in Syria and Iraq since summer 2014. Turkey’s government has blamed Daesh for yesterday’s attack.
Advice
In the UK, this advice is issued by the Foreign Office. Regions considered safe are marked green; risky, yellow; no-go zones, red. As of yesterday afternoon, Istanbul was still green, but tourists were asked to follow the instructions of local authorities.

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