Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 20 April 2014

A Rough Guide to Basra and other holiday delights

What do you do when you've bombed the living daylights out of a country? Well, you go on holiday there, of course.



Clearly the best thing to do, once it's all died down a bit, is pack your Ray Bans, bikini, and guidebook and take off. G&Ts by the pool. What could be nicer?

That, it seems, is the view of Hammoud al-Yaqoubi, who was at the World Travel Market, trying to extol the wonders of Iraq. “There are enormous things that can be done in Iraq,” he said. “Cruise ships into Basra, for example, with short tours from there.”

Basra. Ah yes, Basra. That was the place where, in the 1991 Gulf War, hundreds of retreating Iraqi soldiers were fried alive. The place where, six years ago, British soldiers fought some of their bloodiest battles. It was also the site, according to historians, of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon and perhaps the Garden of Eden.

But you can't, alas, see either (though you can see YouTube footage of the hanging dictator) and you can't see many of the artefacts because many of them were looted when we invaded.

And you won't be able to get travel insurance and the Foreign Office says that that there's a “high threat” of “terrorism, violence and kidnapping”. Poor old Mr al-Yaqoubi has his work cut out.

But then tourism, like freedom, is messy. In February, on a trip to Cambodia, I visited a beautiful spot in the countryside. The sun was shining, but the trees offered wonderful shade.

These were the trees used by teenage recruits of the Khmer Rouge to dash babies to death. Poking out from the ground beneath were bits of cloth and bone.

In April, in Iran, I passed the massive mausoleum of a man who came to power, after a bloody revolution, at the time when the Khmer Rouge were killing and torturing their neighbours.

In May, I was in the Czech Republic, which, at the same time was subjecting political opponents to intimidation and torture.

All of these were holidays, or kind of holidays. The world is smaller now than it ever was. You can argue about the benefits of tourism. Parasitic? Almost always. Demeaning? Often. Destructive of the environment? Nearly all the time. Wasteful of precious local resources? Ditto. Helpful to the local economy? Well, there's the rub. Usually, yes.

You can do it badly, or you can do it well. And if you do it with |respect, and with your eyes open, you might learn something about the country you're visiting.

You might also learn that the politicians you elect really matter, and the decisions they make |really matter, and the wars they wage really matter, because people you might meet will be living with the consequences of those |decisions, and those wars, for a very long time.

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