We're currently reading Derek Gregory's The Colonial Present, so the recent NY Times story and video on the development of tours in Iraq was particularly interesting. Gregory's historical analysis of the "war on terror" and its ideological foundations as ultimately colonial in nature (especially as it continues and reanimates Eurocentric Orientalism) got us thinking about the development of commercial tourism in this geography of the colonial present.
The statement from the first gentleman interviewed in the video, essentially that his favorite trips have been based on State Department warning lists, is echoed in the question posed to readers by the Times: "What is the most dangerous place you have ever traveled to?" Some of the comments point to what could be considered obvious places for US-based tourists: Uganda, USSR, Vietnam, Albania, North Korea...
But some people made some interventions into such expectations - suggesting that Detroit, Philadelphia, Houston, Jersey City. Of course, such interventions mostly followed the conventional depiction of urban centers (especially where there is a relatively large non-white population and/or large disparity in wealth distribution). One Berliner's comments sum up this sentiment:
Most terrifying experiences I had visiting San Francisco the multiculture city of love in the 90ies.These comments reveal the colonial present within the local spaces of empire, but are rarely called upon as authentic in the same way. They remain spaces that have simply resisted control and management, or perhaps more accurately that have been abandoned by colonial interests, except for attempts to cordon them off as much as possible until they're needed for something else.
Iraq is changing and although I would not go there on my own I am pretty sure that you are much more safe on a well organized tour in Iraq then in some quarters in US cities (to be fair this goes for other cities like Paris ot Rio too)
The travel company featured in the story, Hinterland Travel, offers packaged tours through Iraq, Afghanistan, Burma, Kashmir and other contested spaces. There may be something useful in a comparison of adventure tourism in spaces of extreme military intervention and the "internal" spaces of organized abandonment. We're not sure yet...
Image above from Hinterland Travel