Sunday, October 28, 2012

When should politics and ethics enter into your travel plans?

Painting on a Buddhist temple in Nepal. Many people here practice Buddhism in the Tibetan tradition or came to Nepal from Tibet.

This is a post that I drafted many many moons ago, and just found. I'd love to hear what your thoughts are on this very touchy subject...

By now, I am sure many of you have heard about the recent outbreak of violence in the Chinese Autonomous Region (CAR) of Tibet.

I am not going to comment too much on the current struggle in Tibet, except to say that I do believe Tibet to be its own nation, and I hope to see a day soon when it is allowed to separate from China.  For this reason, I have decided that I am uncomfortable traveling to China -- not for any lack of interest, mind you, but because I feel by taking a stand personally against Chinese treatment of the Tibetan people and leadership, I am able to "vote with my dollar."

I know I am not alone here.  I know someone who grew up in WWII Europe, who refuses to travel to Germany.  Another friend is also boycotting China.  And it sounds very similar to me to the number of people in the United States who threatened to (or did) move to another country if George W. Bush were to be reelected in 2004.

At what point do travelers have to consider personal ethics in their actions?  This may seem like a crazy question -- in my experience, people who travel a lot tend to be very culturally sensitive, politically aware, and eager to do no harm wherever they go.

But there is also an mythology about travel that a lot of people buy into.  It is easy to buy into moral relativism, once you've seen a bit of the world and realized that its diversity is its best feature.  So I've thought long and hard, and drawn my line in the sand -- for me, China is out (please, no one offer me a free ticket to go, I would cry).

So the question: is there a place whose politics is such that you are not comfortable visiting, no matter how interesting the culture?  I would love to see China (in fact, as a kid, it was my number one place I wanted to see -- though that was, in typical fashion, only because it was "reeeeaaaalllllly far away") -- it is a huge place, and I have heard such incredible stories from my friends who have been.  But I just can't justify it for myself.

What are your thoughts?  Is a "boycott" like this reasonable?  I would love to hear what your "line in the sand" is.

1 comment :

  1. Although the economic effect of boycotts of products en masse might be effective, the potential harm done by allowing governments of poor human rights records to create isolated and impregnable states is too much. I think much more good is done by the presence of foreigners than pressure exerted by the absence of their money. So actually, I would consider the ethical obligation to use your presence as a foreign national as protection for home nationals when deciding where not to go.


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