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June 15, 2012, Friday

Travel, terrorism and tips

It was Ziya Gökalp, a Turkish sociologist and writer, who once said, “Civilization is a book to be written internationally, each chapter containing the culture of a single nation.” People love to travel and learn about other cultures.

According to the article “Travel Trends: What’s Hot in 2008” by Beth Harpaz, published in the Dec. 17, 2007 issue of USA Today, the Conference Board’s then-most recent consumer survey found that 45.8 percent of Americans intended to take a vacation within the coming six months. Every year more and more people are on the go and visiting Turkey. The Ministry of Culture and Tourism reports that Turkey attracted more than 31.5 million foreign tourists in 2011.

Going on vacation and obtaining a tourist visa in Turkey is fairly straightforward. However, obtaining a work or resident permit is another story.

It is understandable that a number of nations are making it more complicated to apply for visas and residence or work permits. It is not only the United States and the United Kingdom, particularly since 9/11, that have tightened up. History has shown that it is naive to assume a traveler from a visa waiver country automatically constitutes a lesser threat than a visa applicant who has undergone greater scrutiny prior to travel.

Turkey has become an important country with respect to tourism and economic development. However, things can change quickly here. Therefore, knowing that things may be different the next time you go to do something that you have done before, I always tell my guests to check with the nearest Turkish Consulate a couple of months ahead of time to make sure regulations have not changed.

You’d be surprised how many foreigners visit Turkey as tourists and decide for one reason or another that they would like to return here to study or work or retire. I receive numerous letters from Today’s Zaman readers who say, “Doing this [returning to Turkey] is getting more complicated, and some people are getting caught out.” It makes sense that Turkey wants to tighten visa restrictions; it will help track those who are renting out their villas and failing to claim the income and pay tax on it, etc., or who are up to other things. Moreover, the terrorism threat throughout the world is very real. Nearly every nation has concerns about some form of radicalization or individuals overstaying their “welcome.” These days it is very common to hear about security scenarios such as kidnapping, checkpoints, ambushes, convoy management and land mines, improved explosive devices (IEDs) and unexploded ordnance (UXO).

Nations have to be aware of potential terrorism threats, and every expat should be prepared to manage crises and emergencies abroad. Terrorism is defined as violence against innocent victims to create fear to cause political or social change.

Brian Jenkins, an expert on terrorism and transportation systems, says this: “The victim may be totally unrelated to the terrorist’s cause. Terrorism is violence aimed at the people watching.”

Regretfully, since 9/11 in New York City and then the 7/7 London bombings, negative stereotypes and sweeping generalizations about Muslims have been formed. Often when I go to America and mention to someone that I live in Turkey they respond with surprise and awe. Usually they ask me how safe it is to live here. This question in itself communicates that generally people think there are many problems, unrest and violence in the Middle East. To some degree we all have fixed ideas about certain places and nationalities or ethnic groups based on what we have heard. Just as some Westerners may think you can’t trust Muslims, sadly some Muslims are suspicious of Westerners.

I would like to share a few basic tips for the average expat who may not have a clue what to do in such a situation. The main thing to be aware of is that the success of an attack is based on the element of surprise. If you are aware of your surroundings and what is occurring you can take away the element of surprise. It is best to be alert to what is happening around you and who is in the area.

One of the most important things to do is to avoid anything your instincts warn you about!

If you ever find yourself in a situation where you must defend yourself, remember that speed, surprise and aggressiveness is a must. In my next piece I will consider some specifics. Remember, courage is an important element.

“Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear not absence of fear.” Mark Twain

Note: Charlotte McPherson is the author of “Culture Smart: Turkey” 2005. Please keep your questions and observations coming: I want to ensure this column is a help to you, Today’s Zaman’s readers. Email: [email protected]

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