Tunisia failed to protect its tourists - but if tourism loses, the terrorists have won
Published 04/07/2015 | 02:30
A week after the horrendous terror attack in Tunisia, serious questions remain about the atrocity itself but also about how we should deal with visiting such locations.
On one level, many of us strongly feel that people should continue to go on their holidays to places like Tunisia. We should support these local economies and not allow ourselves to be intimidated by random and ruthless acts of terror designed to destroy such activity. This is the best way to show defiance of such murderous activities and assert the common values of decency, democracy and a blameless secular way of life where families, retired people and locals can go and enjoy the sun and the sea. The worry is that intense media coverage of these attacks will frighten tourists from ever going to such places. This would be a pity. One would hope that such attacks are very rare, and especially in the near future, given the hopefully intense increase in security. But, more importantly, to stay away from Tunisia would be letting the violent extremists win. It would destroy the local tourism economy, which relies so much on visitors, and would further destabilise these regions so none of us, visitor or local, can ever enjoy what they offer.
However, this is not much solace for those who want to take a sun vacation with their children. Why should their holiday be a 'political statement'?
And in the case of Tunisia, serious questions remain about security - before, during and even after the atrocity. Given the atmosphere across North Africa, and especially in neighbouring Libya, how did the Tunisian authorities not have major security on the beaches? After all, in March, two gunmen killed 21 people at the Tunis Bardo Museum, deliberately targeting westerners.
Apparently, the killer responsible for last week's attack, student Seifeddine Rezgui, trained in a jihadi camp in Libya at the same time as the two men in the museum attack - a chilling link between the two assaults. More Tunisians - about 3,000 - are estimated to have gone to Syria and Iraq to join radical jihadis than fighters from any other country. Given all this, why was more not done to protect tourists, especially during the heightened atmosphere of Ramadan?
And, once the rampage by Rezgui got under way, why were the police so slow to respond, and so slow to disable, arrest or eliminate the solitary gunman? Rezqui actually ran out of ammunition, but was able to go and get more ammunition. He was able to kill 38 people over an incredible 25-minute period. And this wasn't just a man hiding behind a wall where he is hard to dislodge or shoot. Rezgui was able to saunter around the resort, go from the beach to a hotel swimming pool and then into the hotel itself, before re-emerging on to the beach. All this time, he was killing more people.
The security reaction immediately afterwards was also questionable. Far from flooding the beach with soldiers and police to protect and reassure those who had bravely decided to continue with their holidays, the beaches and resort were apparently deadly quiet and, according to Irish holidaymakers, still very frightening.
Clearly, this is something that will take Tunisia years to recover from. But recover it will. It has to, and memories will fade. In Egypt, where Westerners have been attacked more frequently than in Tunisia, the tourism industry still survives.
By refusing to stay away, we can defy and defeat the terrorists. Think of the solidarity of the English rugby team who travelled to Dublin in the 1970s when other rugby teams refused to come due to the Northern Ireland violence. We should never stop going to places we have always gone to because of the chance that terror might strike. I went to Bosnia shortly after the war there and the locals in Mostar and Sarajevo really appreciated the support from visitors. This is international co-operation, as it should be: through travel, commerce and contact.
The Department of Foreign Affairs, where I used to work, is tasked with giving us advice on where it is safe to travel, but, according to one source, "there is only so much we can say - we do not have a crystal ball".
However, in the case of Tunisia, holidaymakers could reasonably have expected a more robust security reaction.
"If Tunisia's tourism is affected, it is not our fault," said a French tourist in Sousse. "We came even after the Bardo attack. But the authorities should have better protected the tourists here."
It is a fair point and the failings of the Tunisian security have not just let down their own people, but the safety of tourists. Sadly it represents another victory for terrorism, however pathetic.