Guy W. Farmer: American innocents abroad

Chad Lundquist/Nevada Appeal

Chad Lundquist/Nevada Appeal

I felt terrible when I heard about the death in Syria of 26-year-old humanitarian aid worker Kayla Mueller, of Prescott, Ariz., because I met many young American idealists like her during my 28-year U.S. Foreign Service career. Having lived and worked overseas for more than 20 years, I sympathize with Ms. Mueller’s parents and loved ones, and offer my condolences.

Nevertheless, I’ll add a cautionary note: Young people and their parents should carefully consider the risks and rewards of relocating to dangerous and volatile places in the Middle East and elsewhere in the war-torn Third World, no matter how noble their cause. Although I admire the thousands of young Americans who want to help the less fortunate and make the world a better place, they should carefully research their destination before deciding to go abroad. A sobering statistic: 460 aid workers were attacked and 155 were killed in 2013.

The world is a dangerous place where the bloodthirsty Islamo-fascists of al-Qaida and ISIS have vowed to capture and kill as many Americans as possible. Young humanitarian aid workers and other unarmed civilians, including American diplomats, are easy targets for murderous terrorists. That’s why President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry recently decided to evacuate our diplomats from Yemen, which is now ruled by armed militias.

I strongly advise Americans who are contemplating travel to international hot spots to review U.S. embassy travel advisories before initiating their travel. These frequently updated advisories provide detailed information about security risks in foreign countries, including Mexico and the rest of Latin America, and should be taken seriously.

We’re told Ms. Mueller devoted her life to helping others, focusing on the victims of terrorist violence in Syria. Apparently, she valued easing human suffering more than her own safety.

Author Larissa Fast, who has studied violence against aid workers, told USA Today “a lot of times people don’t have a sense of the actual danger they’re in, especially in a place like Syria.”

The sad part of Ms. Mueller’s story is the Obama administration made an admirable but unsuccessful attempt to save her life. In a cruel twist of fate, the Arizona Republic revealed at one point Ms. Mueller’s Syrian boyfriend went to the terrorist camp where she was being held, identified himself as her husband, and demanded her release. Unknowingly, Ms. Mueller denied she had a husband, a fateful decision that resulted in her death.

Although I understand people who clamor for world peace — including all Miss Universe contestants — I think most of them are hopelessly naïve. I recently talked with an idealistic young American who spent several months bicycling through Iran, of all places. He was fortunate to get out of there alive even though he described the Iranians as “nice and friendly.” While it’s true most Iranians like Americans, those who don’t can make life difficult for their captives.

Some of us haven’t forgotten Iranian extremists captured 52 American diplomats in 1979 and held them for 444 days until President Ronald Reagan took office in Jan., 1981.

I remember visiting a group of American Bible translators in central Peru in the mid-1980s. They were blissfully unaware of the terrorist threat that surrounded them in the Amazon territory after the Peruvian Communist Party identified them as “CIA spies.” Shortly thereafter I introduced the chief Bible translator to the American ambassador and the missionaries soon adopted the necessary security measures. Mission accomplished!

The moral of this story is Americans who plan to travel abroad to promote world peace should consider security threats before setting sail for foreign ports. Forewarned is forearmed.

Guy W. Farmer, of Carson City, is a retired diplomat.


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