If You See Something, Say Something

Solidarity As a Tool Against Terror

Spring arrives, and young people’s hearts turn to?terrorism.

On screen
It must have been just about the 21st day of March 2004 that I walked into the Columbus Circle subway station, approached a Metro Card vending machine, and instead of being cheerfully asked whether I wanted to refill my card or purchase a new one, I was told the following:

“If you see something, say something.”

That’s our problem
Actually this has actually been the Metropolitan Transit Authority’s security slogan for months, but after the 3/11 Madrid train bombing it suddenly appeared on every vending machine and in every train car. Where it remains until today, trying to get us to think differently about security?that it’s our problem, instead of the usual thing of each of us looking out for himself or herself.

Apparently people follow the directive. On Easter Sunday I arrived at the Columbus Circle station to find it filled with police. I asked a cop what the deal was?he told me a bomb scare. No bomb in the end, thank God.

In a sense, the MTA is trying to get us all to make good on values taught in Catholic Social Teaching ? solidarity and the common good. Solidarity means that your concern is my concern, that your worry is my worry. Seeking the common good is just getting us to realize that pooling our concerns is better than everyone trying to make it on his or her own.

Traditionally, people in the U.S. (especially Anglos like me) don’t think like that. The flip side of the tremendous individual freedoms that we have here is the huge amount of privacy and space we grant one another. I mean, how many Americans have no idea who their neighbors are?

Al Qaeda knows
Al Qaeda, on the other hand, knows something about solidarity, even if it is used in a diabolical way. Its loud complaints about the desecrating presence of American troops on the same Saudi soil as the holy sites of Mecca and Medina found a sympathetic hearing among many Muslims who might otherwise not have approved of them. As a result, American troops have quietly left Saudi soil over the last couple of years. The American occupation of another Islamic country, Iraq, has garnered them sympathy, if not exactly support, in a similar way.

Spain sticks together
Not that this kind of solidarity is missing on the side of those they attack. One of the most spectacular things to behold was the way in which, the day after the Madrid bombings, huge demonstrations gathered perhaps one out of every four Spaniards across that nation.

That kind of breathtaking display of national purpose makes it difficult to fragment a nation in the hour of crisis, makes it harder for terrorist cells to recruit locals as agents, and generally creates an atmosphere where everyone is watching out for everyone else.

Blackout tactics
It’s not that this kind of thing is impossible in a more individualistic nation like the United States. Little crises bring it out in beautiful ways. At Easter Sunday dinner a friend reminded me of how normally grouchy people in his apartment building went around checking on his elderly neighbors during the ’03 Blackout. I can remember several stories like that from that time.

But if we want solidarity and a focus on the common good to be a part of our defense against terrorism, we have to more than just want it. We have to actually do something about it now and then. Like getting to know our neighbors, chatting them up now and then. Like being more aware of the people around us all the time. Like thinking of people who suffer around the world as our brothers and sisters, not as distant victims.

After all, solidarity and the common good could and ought to go beyond just our nation. I mean, imagine the whole world thinking: If you see something, say something.