I have more and more occasions to think of this quotation. Try each day. I work in Lower Manhattan, on the south end of the financial district, and what I see increasingly reminds me that I am living in the age of fascism by the consent of the governed. Or if we do not consent, we are so cowed by what has grown around us that we shut up and put up with it.
A terrible thing happened in this country on September 11, 2001. A terrible thing happened to this country starting on September 12, 2001; and it hasn’t stopped happening yet. It is as though the closet full of jackboots that we’d held away for so long came crashing out.
If You See Something, Say Something is the new mantra.
It is all over the subways. It is in buses. It’s taken the place of Natalie Dessay, the Metropolitan Opera poster girl. A new poster reminds us that last year 1,944 New Yorkers “saw something and said something.”
What did they see besides the paranoid fantasies of their own fearful imaginations? What did they see besides what Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly, and OxyBoy Limbaugh told them to see? “Officer, I live on East 83rd Street and I saw a black man who was not wearing his leash and collar.” “Officer, I saw a woman with a head scarf walking on Greenwich Avenue. I think she was only pretending to be pregnant, I think that was a big load of C-4 under her burka.”
We are told we are all soldiers in the War on Terror. That’s like declaring total war on acne or on the common cold. It’s about as effective as the War on Drugs.
Terror is a state of mind. It doesn’t have an army and it doesn’t have a government. If you want to make war on it, look in the mirror.
I am suggesting to you—but of course you will not believe me, dangerous radical that I am—that there is no War on Terror. There is a war only on the liberty of an American population that is handing over its freedom the same way a whore hands over her body. There is Ben Franklin’s reminder to us that fear can turn us all into civic sluts.
There is a war waged by the Drunken Frat Boy and that FrankenVice President from the Undead. “They” don’t hate our freedom, we hate our freedom. Feed a sadly large chunk of this population a diet of Nascar, cheese fries, and the Dallas Cowboys and they will beat up a Sikh because the turban makes them think he’s an Ay-rab. The cholesterol in the junk-food diet has gone to the brain tissue of Middle America.
If I see something, say something. Right. I see it each day in lower Manhattan. I hear it each day commuting to my job. The announcements about being alert for strange packages, especially the one with the Death’s Head on the side that says “Anthrax.” I see it in South Ferry subway station: gorgeous dogs—black Labs and German Shepherds—who are smarter than their handlers who make a point of harassing random travelers to make sure they aren’t carrying an Uzi, stick of dynamite, bag of junk, or copy of Mother Jones magazine. I see it in the daily shows of force by phalanxes of police cars with their lights twirling like pinatas, intimidating people who work for a living and becoming downright scary with the ones who missed the Prosperity boat.
Seven years after 9/11, we have turned into what Robert Lowell called “cowed compliant sheep.” And there are no wolves out there except the ones we feed.