Cyclists murdered in Tadjikistan

Several weeks ago a story did the rounds about an American couple who took off on a cycling expedition around the world only to end up murdered in Tadjikistan. It appears they were cycling down a road with two Europeans when a car deliberately rammed into them, killing all four. Later it was discovered the perpetrators were ISIS sympathisers looking for some westerners to kill.

Reader Rob Harries sends me this article which suggests the Americans were staggeringly naive:

To read Austin’s blog is to see no hint of hesitation, on the part of either of them, to keep on cycling – no sign of fear that their luck might run out at any moment. Their naivete is nothing less than breathtaking.

Austin’s blog also provides a window on his (and presumably her) hippie-dippy worldview and ultra-PC politics.

They then reference a rather idealistic article written in the New York Times about the couple, and the reaction it drew from people who seemed to think this story had an upside:

The Times article about Austin and Geoghegan drew hundreds of reader comments. A surprising number were by other people who’d bicycled or backpacked in far-off, dangerous places. Most saw Austin and Geoghegan as “heroic,” “authentic,” “idealistic,” “inspiring,” “a Beautiful example of Purity and Light.” Sample reactions: “Their candle burned brightly before it was extinguished.” And: “Good for them! They followed their dream.” Then there’s this: “I only see the beauty of two people taking steps to live the life they envision….The good experienced in their journey far far outweighs any negative.” Easy to say when you’re not the one in the body bag.

But they then go on to say this:

Perusing all the reader comments, I found exactly two that mentioned Islam critically. Here’s one: “Tajikistan is 96.7% Islamic. It is a dangerous place for American tourists….This is not Islamophobia. It is common sense.”

To be honest, I think even if the cyclists were incredibly naive it is a unfair to blame them for going to Tadjikistan and running into ISIS. Did anyone know there were ISIS sympathisers out to murder people in Central Asia? I didn’t, but a lot of people are now running around saying we shouldn’t be surprised because Tadjikistan is Islamic, but that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Now there are no doubt a number of Muslim Central Asians who sympathise with ISIS several of whom even went to fight for them, but the ‘stans are hardly hotbeds of radical Islam where westerners are instantly marked for death.

What they are, however, is rife with general criminals who would quite happily rob foreign tourists, especially if they were in the middle of nowhere. For a long time I harboured a desire to visit Uzbekistan, and take a road trip from Tashkent through Samarkand and Bukhara to Khiva and the Aral Sea. However, the advice was this would be a dangerous undertaking because of the number of bandits on the road, some of whom wear police uniforms. Kazakhstan is probably better, but oil industry workers get mugged in Atyrau at a far higher rate than in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk. I don’t know many non-FSU people who’ve travelled in rural Kyrgyzstan, but I’d guess that’s a little safer: my observation is that the Kyrgyz are less aggressive than Uzbeks, but I hardly did a scientific study. But the poorest, most remote, and most mountainous of the ‘stans is Tadjikistan and this is the place a foreign tourist who’s wandered off the beaten path is most likely to get mugged, robbed, or waylaid in some fashion. I imagine if you told a local you intended to cycle across Tadjikistan they’d think you were nuts, and try to talk you out of it.

So my guess is these cyclists were naive and probably shouldn’t have undertaken such a trip, but it’s rather daft to suggest that, with Tadjikistan being Islamic, they ought to have been aware of the dangers presented by ISIS sympathisers. Those wishing to make a similar trip in future ought to take this into account though or, better, go somewhere else.