See Something, Say Nothing?

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(Illustration: PublicDomainPictures.net)
(Illustration: PublicDomainPictures.net)

We’ve all been well-educated on the tagline, “See something, say something.”

The phrase followed the idea that we should be observant in a climate of terror and report suspicious activity.  Yet, “See something, say something is about more than just reporting on each other; it predicates the idea that we should be able to talk with each other about our concerns.

Is that really happening?

Recently, in the course of investigating the history of Mickael Harpon, the 45-year-old French computer expert turned jihadi, there were such conversations.

Harpon worked for the police in France gathering intelligence for 16 years. One day when he picked up a kitchen knife and an oyster shucker and killed four colleagues in a 30-minute rampage at work.

Besides the fact that Harpon converted to Islam close to 10 years ago, was in contacts with Salafists and adopted increasingly radical beliefs (which the police were aware of), he still was granted top security clearance. But when he defended the jihadi massacre of 12 employees of the satirical Charlie Hebdo magazine four years ago at work, none of his colleagues were willing to file a complaint against him.

The question is: Where do these reservations or refusals to speak up come from and how deep do they go?

In some cases, there’s a fear in minority communities to be seen as a “sell out” for exposing someone in their community. This often comes from a culture that cannot see the individual as unique from the community. An attack or stain on one becomes a representation of the entire community. This is a classic example of an honor/shame culture, the extreme ends of which produce honor violence.

Yet, there’s no one factor.

Why people don’t speak is often due to composite reasons, including a desire not to get tangled up in the drama and involvement and oftentimes embarrassment that surfaces when one does file a report. They’re not equipped for the level of involvement being more vocal brings.

Whether speaking out looks like having to deal with questions from one’s community or just feeling like a fink, people need support in being facilitated through these scenarios — even trained as a community — on how to deal with these challenges.

Let not be in this situation again, where lives are lost and families shattered because we “saw something” and neglected to “say something.”



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Shireen Qudosi

Shireen Qudosi is Clarion Project's National Correspondent.

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