Why the World Can’t Shut Its Borders
Editor in Chief Nathan Lump on why we must welcome those from outside our borders, and continue to travel to see new parts of the world.
I’ve written a number of times over the past year—after the terrorist attack at the Brussels airport, after the election—about the ways that travel intersects with the major events and dominant political issues of our time. Last week and over the weekend, it was clear once again how true that is.
President Donald Trump’s executive order denying entry into the country of people from seven countries with Muslim-majority populations, as well as all refugees, was bound to be controversial, and with good reason. Refugees are already heavily vetted before being granted asylum in the U.S.; the number of people killed in terror attacks perpetrated by citizens of the seven countries in question totals exactly zero.
Wherever you stand on the ban—and full disclosure: I personally oppose it—the situation played out in good measure at airports. Incoming travelers to and legal residents of the U.S. were detained, immigration lawyers descended on international gateways to assist them, and, importantly, scores of protesters arrived at airports—in New York City, Dallas, Los Angeles, and more—to express their disapproval of the ban and their solidarity with those trying to enter our country. There were tearful scenes of reunited family members and crowds cheering about an event that is normally mundane and commonplace: someone clearing customs.
Moments like these, for those of us who are part of the travel industry, are important for many reasons, including, of course, moral and ethical ones. But our interest is also practical and economic. The foundation of our business is orderly and unfettered movement of people across borders. Without that, we don’t exist. Jihadist groups celebrated the ban over the weekend, because they believe it awakens anti-U.S. fervor and underscores their perception of our country’s war against Islam, not just radical terrorists. Many of us fear it makes the possibility of terrorist attacks more likely, and in addition to the prospect of more senseless loss of life, we all also know what a chilling effect that has on travel.
This is one reason why you are starting to see major players in the travel industry start to come out against bans and for supporting migrants and refugees: Expedia CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, himself an immigrant from Iran, spoke out powerfully against the order. Airbnb is a notable example of a company not just donating money to organizations addressing the refugee crisis but also leveraging their technology and their community to help those in need of lodging.
I am not alone in saying—as I have for years—that travel is very good thing for our world. When we travel our eyes open wider, and, I believe, our hearts do too. You cannot help but be exposed to people with different backgrounds, cultural norms, religious beliefs, and economic stations from your own. In all likelihood, you are not only exposed to these people but interact with them. They become human to you. You begin to understand their points of view, and you start to see the ways in which they are similar to you as much as how they are different.
Travel to a majority-Muslim country, spend some time there, and get to know the people, and I defy you to come back and talk to me about “Muslims,” and generalize about what they are like or the threats they pose to us. Travel to a country dealing with a refugee crisis, talk to or better yet help out a refugee, listen to their stories, and I defy you to leave that experience behind you and tell me that these people should be kept out or sent back or simply forgotten.
That’s not what will happen, and I know it.
Because when you travel and you meet people, you understand that this world is fundamentally very small. And we are indeed more alike than different. Travel is the antidote to ignorance. Knowledge breeds understanding which breeds compassion. It is ignorance that fuels hatred—and travel works against it.
For my part, I can only hope in the coming weeks and months that, whatever happens on the policy front, we do not stop personally welcoming those from outside our borders and we do not stop leaving our own country to meet people where they live, work, and love. Travel is one of our great hopes. We must keep it up.