Travel and Travel Blogging Are Political; Oman and Charlottesville

We interrupt this series of trip reports for another kind of post…

I recently got into a dispute with a travel blogger who I don’t know why I even follow how unsophisticated and uninformative her writing is.  What spurred it was her tweeting about how Oman is on her “bucket list”, with a mention of the official account of the Oman tourism bureau – i.e., the government of Oman (PS: Am I the only one who thinks it’s weird to have a ‘bucket list’ in your 30s?). For those who don’t know, the absolutist monarchy of Oman is one of the most oppressive in the world.  Oman treats its migrant worker population terribly.  There are no speech rights and media, including blogging, is highly censored.  Women have pretty much no rights in practice, and forget about being LGBT. You can read the troubling 2017 Human Rights Watch Report here.

The response was three-fold. First: “I went to Egypt and it wasn’t that bad.” Well, that’s nice, but that’s comparing apples and oranges.  I’d have moral qualms about visiting Egypt, too, but also American travelers generally know about the political instability in Egypt, unlock the Gulf states who have convinced bloggers over the past several years to paint a picture of luxury and beauty.  Her tweet was the first people are learning about Oman, and linked to a story that paints Oman as Playa del Carmen on the Gulf; i.e., misleading.

Second, was the “Well it’s my opinion.”  I’m not sure what this is has to do with anything.  I don’t doubt that its her opinion that it’s appropriate to paint a rosy picture of a brutal regime.

Finally, was the kicker, “My blog is not political.”  Oh, dear.  There’s so much wrong with this, but by *ignoring* the hardships and realities of a country and choosing to link to the government tourist agency, you are making a political choice.  You are saying “I don’t care about people who live there as long as I can see pretty sand dunes.”  You are making a deliberate choice to direct people to a country that murders, represses, and kills. (Well, maybe not deliberate until I pointed it out, because I don’t think this blogger has knowledge of the world.)

I am not a particularly vulnerable member of society.  I am secure in my health and housing, am overeducated, have a decent base of savings, supportive family, and live in a place where I am generally unafraid. But that, combined with any platform I have, gives me a moral obligation to . Do I explore every inch of the ethical/moral dimensions of the places I travel? Of course not.  (I’ve shared my thoughts on that kind of stuff here before.)  But I would never respond to someone who pointed one of those out by saying that acknowledging the realities of the places I go is too “political.”

This comes into focus on a day like today, where 100 miles from my house, white supremacists and neo-Nazis are marching in Charlottesville. These people *hate* me.  They are ranting about Jews and gays.  They hate my neighbors, my co-workers, my family.  They hate millions of Americans who cannot speak for themselves.  My very existence and success in life is a direct hit on their agenda.  But it also shows the danger of shying away from discussing things because they are too “political.”  These marches didn’t start today.  These (predominantly male) marchers have been saying racist and sexist and homophobic things for years.  And people won’t tell them they’re wrong because they’re not “political.” Or “well that’s your opinion.”  No, some things are wrong, and decent human beings with platforms have an obligation to say so when those things happen.  If you’re a blogger and you’re afraid of losing readers, then you should be ashamed of yourself.

My heart hurts when I see what’s going on in Charlottesville.  And it hurts when I see someone either too cowardly or too selfish to address the evils of places they are blogging about.

Travel is political.

Blogging is political.

Being a woman is political.

Being openly LGBT is political.

Refusing to acknowledge how terrible a country is because your blog is “not political” is like the President responding to white nationalist violence by saying there has been violence “on many sides.”

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