Holidaying in the Muslim world

My eighteen-year-old daughter asked me where she can safely travel to when she finishes school in June and has three months holiday before going to university in September. “The Muslim countries or Japan”, I replied.

By Jonathan Power (POWER’S WORLD)

Published: Sat 25 Apr 2009, 9:36 PM

Last updated: Thu 2 Apr 2015, 8:49 AM

She was quite taken aback. At school they talk about the USA, Australia, Thailand and South America. “No”, I said very empahtically, “I don’t want you to go there”, and then set about explaining to her and her mother why I felt so strongly.

I pulled out the figures from the new 2009 UN World Development Report. After a lot of research into different types of measurement, the UN decided that the only accurate one was the homicide rate. If you try to compare rape, theft, break-ins etc. There is confusion—every country, apart from those in European Union, measure these in different ways. Some figures are accurate, some seem like they’ve been drawn out of a hat.

But most countries report their murder rate pretty accurately. There may be under counting where there is civil strive, as in Sri Lanka, where murder and the killings of war can blur into each other. But in most difficult cases, like Russia, press reports can help balance the official figures.

To cut a long story short, I would gladly let her go to Egypt, which has the world’s lowest murder rate—at 0.4 per 100,000 population. Although it is closely followed by Japan at 0.5, other Muslim, mainly Arab, countries follow next, all with less than 1 murder per 100,000 of population. The United Arab Emirates, including that hot bed, Dubai, is at 0.6; Oman at 0.6; Saudi Arabia at 0.9; Bahrain at 1; and Jordan at 0.9. Even Indonesia, with all its political troubles, comes out at 1.1. Outside the Arab countries, the Scandinavian countries are the safest. Norway is at 0.8, Denmark at 0.8 and Iceland at 1. But Sweden breaks the Scandinavian success rate with a poor 2.4. Holland and Ireland do well, too.

So daughter, there is your list that I approve and your mother has been persuaded to approve. None of the others you mention orthink about are safe, so forget about them. Ironically for us, they are countries with a Christian heritage- the US at 5.6; Mexico at 13; Russia at 19.9; South Africa at 47.5; and Columbia at 62.7.

OK, we can put India on the positive side of the ledger. It is at 3.7. But it is a big, very diverse, country and parts of it, like West Bengal and its capital, Calcutta, are very safe.

Your “mad dad” has been to them all, I know, but journalists have a name for being stupid and taking too many risks.

The murder rate can change, sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse. South Africa, which gets a bad press, has statistics that are reliable over a range of crimes. Its murder rate has fallen since 1996 -- from 70 to 38 last year. (Since these figure come from the South Africa Police Department they are more up-to-date than the UN’s.)

Also interesting, if very worrying, is the situation in Britain, a country with good statistics.

The murder rate is higher than other European countries. And with non-deadly violence Britain soars alarmingly ahead of the rest of Europe, with a rapid increase since 1988. A New Yorker visiting Britain is less likely to be murdered than he would be at home, but he is more likely to be beaten up. Doctors say that they see more stabbing victims than before and injuries from guns have more than trebled since 2000. Although over 35-s are being murdered less frequently, those under 17 are being murdered more often. Indeed, the increase has been fast.

Why? Take a look at any British city and stand and watch the pubs empty out on a Saturday night—many young men come out ready for a fight and it doesn’t take much for them to start one. A government study reveals that both the killer and the victim are drunk in about half all male-on-male murders.

Britain, an old civilisation, has been keeping murder statistics since the 17th century. From then until the late 18th century, when industrialisation got under way and peasants were forced into urban jobs, the murder rate dropped dramatically from 8.1 to 0.9. But land enclosures, the “satanic mills” and the “Gin Lanes” of Dickens’ nineteenth century England inflicted a massive social wound, which has led to an alienated working class (how few working class people will call in the police when there is a beating up) and produced a sub-culture in which knife and gun fighting are part of youthful bravado.

Over 150 years, the murder rate has increased sharply, although in fits and starts. The recent jump is partly a legacy of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher who, in the name of free market reforms, encouraged policies that led to a more socially divided society. At the same time, because of renewed economic growth, working class young men had growing purchasing power, which enabled them to spend more on beer. These are probably the main causes of heavy drinking and heavy violence.

I live partly in Britain. I’m not sure I want my daughter to visit her father’s homeland any more, but I do want her to have an interesting and safe holiday in Egypt, Oman or Dubai.

Jonathan Power is a veteran foreign affairs commentator based in London

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