Routledge, or ‘Lord Miles’ to his fans and followers, was recently released from captivity by the Taliban along with three other Brits, having been presumed dead since his arrest in Afghanistan in March 2023. An experience never to be repeated, you’d think – but no. This was his second encounter with the brutal military rule, the other being in 2021 when he was arrested on the eve of the fall of Kabul. He’s also done some jolly sightseeing in the frontlines of Ukraine, South Sudan and the US-Mexico border. You know, places where people are violently murdered every day.
This is part of the wider trend of danger tourism, where tourists travel to geopolitical areas with active military conflicts for pleasure. It’s not to be confused with humanitarian visits to war zones, where travellers seek to assist the victims or work towards peace in some way. Don’t mistake it with dark tourism either, which is travelling to places historically associated with death and suffering, like Chernobyl or concentration camps, but with no active risk to life. As the name suggests, danger tourism puts you in danger. And this danger is popular; more and more danger tourists like Routledge are jetting off to Syria, Palestine, Nagorny-Karabach and others. An American travel agency even offers war zone tours.
Why on earth? In Routledge’s case, pure and simple entertainment: he wants to visit “fun countries” that “aren’t boring”. There’s also a strong financial and narcissistic element in it for him; he’s a youtuber and X user who shares his risky globetrotting on social media in return for likes, shares, concern and attention, as well as funding on Patreon. He says he’s looking to sell his story to a journalist for “no less than £5k”. Others partake in danger tourism to “find themselves” and “feel alive”, for the adrenaline rush, or to sensitise each other to the effects of war (such as the father who took his son to Gaza to discourage him from playing Call of Duty). The shock value of their escapades and the sensationalist headlines they generate are enticing; people worry for their safety and want to know how the story ends. As a social media user put it, Routledge has achieved “internet immortality” – and I bet he’s pleased about it.
It may just seem like a mildly diverting conversation topic, but danger tourism entails some serious issues. Principally, it’s incredibly selfish. Home secretary Suella Braverman had spent months negotiating with the Taliban to get Routledge released, wasting precious governmental time and resources (funded by us as taxpayers) on a completely unavoidable situation. It also normalises war and legitimatises murderous political regimes – Routledge is doing wonders for the Taliban’s PR, posting on X that he made friends with Taliban members, sunbathed, played video games and ate chocolate in incarceration. Perhaps most outrageous though is its insensitivity and exploitativeness. These conflicts are literally destroying people’s lives and you treat them as a leisure activity. It’s a privilege to be able to risk your life when for others this is the daily reality. Aren’t there better uses for this privilege? It’s dark tourism - already voyeuristic and inappropriate - on steroids. So let’s go for less “feel alive” and more ‘stay alive’ on your next trip.