Once again the spirit moves me to put my thoughts into writing on the topic of terrorism. This time the spirit is in the form of the many discussions and interviews that took place on the heels of the tragic Manchester homicide bombing (“suicide bombing” humanizes terrorists too much).
Of course it’s natural and necessary to offer emotional support to and commiserate with the victims and their loved ones after each such event, but I believe we do a disservice to ourselves as a society in the manner in which we often show that support. Time after time a talking head, or witness to the event or grieving family member will talk about how cowardly the attack was for targeting helpless, innocent civilians (children, in this most recent attack). But acts of terrorism are not meant to terrorize the military or the law enforcement community. Their purpose is to terrorize society as a whole with the goal of moving the general public toward the terrorists’ twisted ideology, even if it is for no other reason than self-preservation. Therefore, discussions that follow terrorist attacks that gloss over this fact with words that would distance the general public from its role in advancing the terrorists’ agenda hurt our collective ability to deal with the threat of attacks more effectively. To the extent that unarmed, non-uniformed members of the public are led to believe that they are not and should not be combatants in this global conflagration we risk being lulled into complacency and forget that we are all soldiers in the very highly asymmetric battlefield of world-wide terrorism.
It is true that no matter how vigilant all of us might be in watching our surroundings and reporting suspicious behavior and no matter how good the intelligence community becomes at staying ahead of the next attack, we will never be 100% successful. But, if we stick our heads in the sand and hope that future attacks only happen elsewhere and go blithely about our normal routines with our faces shoved into our iPhones we are neglecting our responsibility to have the mantra of “If you see something, say something” actually mean something.
None of this is meant to imply that we should cower in our homes avoiding the life and liberties we have come to expect and deserve and for which our country stands. But when we are out and about enjoying our freedoms, especially in crowded venues, it’s incumbent on each of us to pay attention to our surroundings and, if something doesn’t seem right or pass the smell test, don’t ignore that gut feeling. Share your concern with the nearest person who can help. After all, the life you save may be your own.