His perception of Israel was so radically altered he felt compelled to write at the Huffington Post: “If you are a friend of Israel, you must watch Peace, Propaganda, and the Promised Land.”
The ideologically inclined are likely to read a strong political message in what Steves wrote, but my hunch is that his post was prompted by something else — an everyday concern he has as a travel writer.
Every seasoned traveler knows two things:
1. The most interesting way of experiencing another culture is through deep immersion, and
2. the most common obstacle to that experience is the tourist trade.
As a result, it’s important to get streetwise not so much because foreigners — and especially Americans — are easy targets for one kind of scam or another, but because those who profit from tourism tend to be the least faithful representatives of their own culture. That’s why, as Steves often says, the authentic experience is most often going to be found by going off the beaten track. And this quest for authenticity makes the traveler watch out for false promises.
A good travel writer has little patience for travel guides that paint deceptive pictures — where charming turns out to be tacky or a popular destination turns out to be a tourist trap.
But now, when Steves says he’s been duped, he’s describing a much higher level of misrepresentation. Israel is not the country he took it to be and their is for him a measure of insult in this discovery.
No one takes kindly to being treated like a sucker.
Rick Steves does not have a political axe to grind, but he does have a genuine appreciation of other cultures and an awareness of the degree to which most Americans are ignorant about the rest of the world.
On the road, you learn that ethnic underdogs everywhere are waging valiant but seemingly hopeless struggles. When assessing their tactics, I remind myself that every year on this planet many languages go extinct. That means that many heroic, irreplaceable little nations finally lose their struggle and die. There are no headlines—they just get weaker and weaker until that last person who speaks that language dies, and so does one little bit ethnic diversity on our planet.
I was raised so proud of Nathan Hale and Patrick Henry and Ethan Allen—patriotic heroes of America’s Revolutionary War who wished they had more than one life to give for their country. Having traveled, I’ve learned that Patrick Henrys and Nathan Hales are a dime a dozen on this planet—each country has their own version.
I believe the US tends to underestimate the spine of other nations. It’s comforting to think we can simply “shock-and-awe” our enemies into compliance. This is not only untrue…it’s dangerous. Sure, we have the mightiest military in the world. But we don’t have a monopoly on bravery or grit. In fact, in some ways, we might be less feisty than hardscrabble, emerging nations that feel they have to scratch and claw for their very survival.
We’re comfortable, secure, beyond our revolutionary stage…and well into our Redcoat stage. Regardless of our strength and our righteousness, as long as we have a foreign policy stance that requires a military presence in 130 countries, we will be confronting determined adversaries. We must choose our battles carefully. Travel can help us understand that our potential enemies are not cut-and-run mercenaries, but people with spine motivated by passions and beliefs we didn’t even know existed, much less understand.
Growing up in the US, I was told over and over how smart, generous, and free we were. Travel has taught me that the vast majority of humanity is raised with a different view of America. Travelers have a priceless opportunity to see our country through the eyes of other people. I still have the American Dream. But I also respect and celebrate other dreams.