This post is meant to open a dialogue on security issues. I’ve lived overseas with my family (as a diplomat–a hot target) in 3 different countries. There was always a threat to our personal safety, but we didn’t let it crimp our lives. That’s the bottom line for me; if you live scared, you will live unhappily.
I was in Abu Dhabi during the Iran-Iraq war. My government was backing and arming Iraq, while the UAE was neutral, so there was an Iranian Embassy and school in town. I was there when we, the US, bombed Muammar Khaddafi, an Arab friend of the UAE, and when the Iran-Contra deal was exposed, showing that the US was secretly fighting against Arab interests. There were plenty of reasons for local groups to wish us harm, but I rarely felt threatened. I think it was because I speak Arabic.
I was in Jerusalem during the early stages of the Palestinian Intifada. The security office at the American Consulate said there was no question if a threat existed–there always was a danger. The question was “who is most angry at us today?”. If the US backs Israel in a UN vote, the Arabs are upset. If the US opens a dialogue with the PLO, Israelis are upset. Again, I rarely felt threatened. There were two episodes when I sensed potential danger, once from Palestinians, and once from Israelis.
There were no political crises during my time in Mexico, but poverty leads people to take risks, so a number of my colleagues were robbed, some at gunpoint. I never felt threatened. I think it was because I speak Spanish.
Personal security overseas is a personal issue. There will always be threats and dangers. In most cases and in most places, there is no more danger overseas than at home. You have to exercise the same cautions, and sometimes a bit more. You especially have to know what’s going on around you, speaking of current events and trends. If you are assigned to a place that presents serious concerns, or if stress over safety is beginning to affect you or your family, weigh the pros and cons carefully. And if you decide to get out, get out. There are still men signing up to drive trucks in Iraq even though several have been kidnapped and beheaded. (The compensation package is juicy.) But I’m not one of them.