The U.S. State Department issued a travel alert yesterday warning citizens to exercise extra caution if traveling to Europe, effective from now until Jan. 31. Apparently, when the name “Osama Bin Laden” enters airwaves, it’s time to stick our heads in the sand and wait until the safety of February travel. Unfortunately, the world does not strictly follow U.S. travel alerts. It’s never particularly safe to travel—and that shouldn’t matter.

In a nation overloaded with counter-terrorism and security experts and watchers, we have become masters of the vague threat alert. The latest: terrorists mimicking the tactics of the tragic 2008 Mumbai attacks in any one of Europe’s three biggest countries. Osama Bin Laden may or may not be involved; so might other leaders. Of course, the same experts who can divine terrorists’ intent do so only before strictly necessary. The official who spoke to the Associated Press also said there were no indications that there was a capability of such attacks to actually take place. So to summarize: Al-Qaeda wants to attack tourists in Europe but probably doesn’t have new methods to do so.

This is newsworthy if you strongly believed that Al-Qaeda didn’t want to attack Europe. I, for one, was expecting Middle Earth to be a target—but the intent to target the United Kingdom, France, or Germany? This New Yorker and eyewitness of the 2006 Heathrow terrorism scare never saw that one coming.

Of course, I may have been too flippant just now, but consider what this travel alert really means. It’s not as serious as a “Travel Warning,” such as is currently in place for Mexico. The struggling war on drugs in that country is rated as a higher risk for Cabo San Lucas aficionados. In Europe, the State Department just wants you to be mindful of “the potential for terrorists to attack public transportation systems and other tourist infrastructure.” Tourists should remember that they are not safe on subway, rail, aviation, and maritime services. The State Department must not have to take taxis when they travel—if cabs are the only safe mode of transportation left to us, we are in trouble.


Danger Zone Europe