American couple killed in Tajikistan

An American couple, understandably bored by their day jobs in Washington DC, take off on a rugged biking journey around the world. On a remote highway in Tajikistan, they along with two European cyclists are killed by what appear to be Islamic State sympathizers:

A grainy cellphone clip recorded by a driver shows what happened next: The men’s Daewoo sedan passes the cyclists and then makes a sharp U-turn. It doubles back, and aims directly for the bikers, ramming into them and lurching over their fallen forms. In all, four people were killed: Mr. Austin, Ms. Geoghegan and cyclists from Switzerland and the Netherlands.

Two days later, the Islamic State released a video showing five men it identified as the attackers, sitting before the ISIS flag. They face the camera and make a vow: to kill “disbelievers.”

Dramatic but rare events like these tend to vastly inflate the dangers of overseas travel in the public mind. Contrary to what you might think, despite a heavy terrorist presence across the border in northern Afghanistan, Tajikistan is generally considered safe for Western travelers. This seems ridiculous, until you consider that according to State Department data, only one US citizen died in Tajikistan – of drowning – from October 2002 to December 2017. After the latest incident, however, the State Department raised its travel advisory for Tajikistan to Level 2 (“Exercise increased caution”).

So, if you have a hankering to visit landlocked Central Asian republics, there’s no need to scratch Tajikistan from your bucket list. Just please don’t explore it on a freakin’ bike.

Two aspects of this story annoy me. First, this guy appears to have dragged his girlfriend into a dangerous lifestyle that she probably would not have otherwise chosen. According to the article:

It was in 2016 that Ms. Geoghegan told [her close friend] Ms. Kerrigan that she was planning to quit her job and bike around the world. Ms. Kerrigan could not suppress a little concern. “I said, ‘This is not the Lauren I know,’ ” she said, adding: “Jay changed the trajectory of Lauren’s life.” […]

“She was concerned for her friend, in part because of how bighearted she was and in part because she feared that Mr. Austin had a higher tolerance for danger than Ms. Geoghegan did.”

It’s one thing to throw your own life away, but roping someone else into your lethal adventure is a different universe of bad. I am reminded of Amie Huguenard, who followed Timothy Treadwell into the Alaskan wilderness, only to share his fate of being killed and eaten by a grizzly bear.

Second, I find it seriously alarming that this guy expected the rest of the world to help him and his girlfriend out of their self-imposed crises:

It was July 23, 2017 — winter in South Africa, when the sun sets at 5:30 — and they hadn’t realized how far they would need to travel on congested freeways before they could get out of Cape Town. At dusk, they found themselves with a punctured tire on the chaotic R27. There was nowhere to pitch their tent except for a ditch adjacent to the busy freeway.

In a post about why he chose to cycle — as opposed to, say, drive around the world — Mr. Austin spoke about the vulnerability of being on a bike. “With that vulnerability comes immense generosity: good folks who will recognize your helplessness and recognize that you need assistance in one form or another and offer it in spades,” he wrote.

This attitude strikes me as not only remarkably naive, but also morally questionable. Hospitality to strangers is baked into the culture in many parts of the world. For pampered Americans to take advantage of that, by deliberately putting themselves in dangerous situations from which strangers are expected to rescue them, seems selfish at best.

In the middle of the night, a security guard patrolling the grounds of a nearby nuclear plant spotted their tent. He radioed for help and arranged for a truck to drive them across the city to a campsite. Their journey was a series of tedious, and occasionally grueling, physical tests, punctuated by human kindness.

Bad decisions are often linked to philosophical confusion. It’s almost cruel to reference the first two paragraphs of this April blog post by Austin, but people need to understand that evil does exist, and it is not rare.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *