Like many other Yale students today, I saw the large Palestinian flag on the gate to Cross Campus torn straight down the middle. A friend of mine said it was probably done with a knife, noting the clean edge of the cut. I replied that the vandal probably was unable to take the whole flag down because it had been chained to the gateposts 20 feet up. The “Loves Israel” sheet sagged ironically and sadly beneath the shreds.

Had that flag been smaller, I may not have noticed it. Had its tone of defiance been quieter, somebody would not have tried to silence it. Obviously no one needs to be told about the Arab-Israeli conflict. We well-informed college students read The New York Times regularly. But we also have a schedule to keep. We can’t spend too much time reading the paper or gawking at that flag because we have classes to go to, professors to meet with, and band practices to attend. It’s understandable.

But something really is going on — here. And this something makes people feel passion, anger — deep anger — even on a beautiful day like yesterday. Like many others, I’m still struggling to understand the conflict. To me, the torn flag was a sign of possible things to come.

I hope with all of my heart that the protests and tensions we see around us don’t beget more violence like the kind against Jewish schoolchildren in France or Arab Americans, or even Arab-looking American citizens. But if the last century taught us anything, it’s that this complex and interconnected world offers more surprises than assurances.

We see signs of violent tension in the news just like the ripped flag we all saw on Cross Campus. We should recognize these signs as something more than just news. Of course, we humans need some level of equanimity in our daily lives. We must walk the fine line between being concerned about our own responsibilities and being concerned about larger causes. But knowing which side to place ourselves on demands vigilance on everyone’s part.

I remember seeing pictures of Germany in the 1930s as the Nazi Party was rising to prominence. I used to be amazed at the Germans caught on film simply walking past smashed Jewish storefronts, until now. I used to wonder, why couldn’t they see it coming? Even in Berlin — one of Western Europe’s capitals of culture.

I am not making any comparison between what is going on today and what eventually resulted in an unspeakable event like the Holocaust, but I am trying to make a point about paying attention to the world around us. Events can unfold in unexpected ways if we don’t pay attention.

For me the torn flag on Cross Campus was more disturbing than anything I have seen here at Yale. There are Palestinians, Israelis, Arabs, Muslims, Jews and Christians on this campus who all have a stake in this conflict that can quickly grow into something greater than a local one. All of us have already been witnesses to how horribly events can play out in a shrinking and ever-borderless world.

After a few minutes of standing in front of that torn flag on Cross Campus I thought to myself, “Wow, the pictures of Germany in the 1930s used to amaze me until now–” But then I had to go to class.

Michael Scherzer is a junior in Silliman College.