ISIS took their lives, but the American Media took their reputations

in the summer of 2017. an American couple Jay Austin and Lauren Geoghgen left their comfortable jobs in Washington DC and began a bike tour of the world. The couple blogged and Instagrammed their journey writing about the challenges and rewards of they encountered. In July of 2019, while biking through Tajikistan, the couple, as well as two other cyclists from Switzerland and the Netherlands, were killed when they were deliberately run off the road and stabbed. ISIS militants took credit for the murders.

On August 15th several popular websites ran the story with the sensationalistic and patently misleading headline of “Millennial Couple bikes through ISIS territory to prove ‘Humans are kind’ and gets killed.”  Now I understand the purpose of having a website is to get people to read it and in turn get a look at advertisers selling their wares, and that often necessitates a ‘grabber headline” but this is beyond the pale. The article mocks the couple as some sort of deluded idealistic missionaries who were cursed with a rude awakening because they dared to trust someone of a different religion. It perpetuates an idea common with many conservatives that outside the barricades of the American fortress lies the evil unwashed hordes eager to kill them. Even the term “Millennial” is used pejoratively (IMO) as it implies an immature, naive entitled progressive who got their comeuppance by the hard cold world. The truth is, the couple posted both positive and negative encounters and were meticulous in the planning of their routes. They had worked hard for years to save the money to travel. The comments on the page were stunning in their casual cruelty. They got what they deserved for ‘trusting Muslims’ seemed to be the consensus.

Nowhere in the couples blogs did they ever say they were on a mission to prove the goodness of others only that traveling was an adventure and learning experience.  Also, the nation of Tajikistan is not actual “ISIS territory” or even near the center of activity for the organization. (Their focus is in Iraq and Syria which are hundreds of miles away.) Nor is the nation a hotbed of terrorist activity. The State Department has the country listed as a low to moderate risk.  Not that the average American would grasp this given their woeful knowledge of geography. Chances are great the four men who murdered these people were nothing more than opportunists who claimed affiliation with ISIS only for the notoriety.

My concern is that unscrupulous and downright lazy reporting such as the kind found in this article will only serve to clamp down on traveling outside of the US at a time our nation could use it most. We need a generation of well-traveled educated young people to help mend many of the ill-informed and xenophobic ways we view the outside world.

Millions of Americans have traveled all over the world without incident even the ones our president considers ‘shithole’ countries. You don’t have to set out on a journey ‘to prove the kindness of people’ but you just might find it anyway. You are certainly much more likely to find it than some terroristic cretin.  The best way to honor this couple’s memory is to continue their quest, not pull up the tent spikes and go home.

8 Replies to “Casual Cruelty”

  1. Amen! That’s such BS for that website to do that. I used to regularly feature a bike touring couple on one of my Instagram feeds (@excellent_america)…they would regularly tag us with the most awesome photos from South and Central America. Some of the photos included their dog. I stopped seeing them in my tag about a year ago…hopefully it’s just because they moved on out of the western Hemisphere. I’ll have to see if I can find their handle in the archives and check on them… hope it wasn’t the same couple

  2. Excellent but heartbreaking post. You raise so many important issues here. The media wasted a wonderful opportunity to educate and instead fed into sensationalism and misinformation again!!!

    1. I think in the US we really need to get over the immigration/foreign people are bad mindset. It is mentally-ill. These kids really wanted to see the world for themselves. What happened was tragic but could have just as easily happened here. We need to stop looking at the outside world as a ‘bad place’ there is so much we could learn for the better from those outside our borders.

      1. So very well said. There is so much to learn from one another but we spend too much time pointing fingers and highlighting our differences. Those kids should be honoured for making an attempt to do something many actually do dream about.

  3. Well written my good man. I just finished my job in Tajikistan and wished I never worked there. The people don’t deserve any kind of tourism, it’s not just the ISIS thing it’s the third world mentality and hostility towards foreigners especially in the workplace. People live in a fish bowl.

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