Wednesday, May 20, 2009

"They came first for..."

The picture comes from a Holocaust Memorial in Boston, courtesy of Svetlana Miljkovic who kindly put this picture in the public domain.

I've seen variations of Pastor Martin Niemöller's poem. The following is most consistent with the image above:
In Germany they first came for the Communists,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist.

Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew.

Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Catholics,
and I didn't speak up because I was a Protestant.

Then they came for me —
and by that time no one was left to speak up.
There is much to be read out of that poem, including a rather important idea: tyranny thrives whenever individuals are apathetic. Somehow, during one of the most recent accusations hurled at me for being allegedly "pro-Islamist" (and deserving to be blacklisted from the academy) Niemöller's poem immediately sprang to mind. Although some will take issue with a poem describing the Nazi brand of tyranny in the context of early 21st century American society, I would merely retort to think critically about the level of apathy at so many levels of our culture, including (perhaps especially so) among our so-called intellectuals. So few would speak out when the Bush II regime was deporting or rounding up people of Arab descent in the aftermath of September 11, because they were not Arab, were not Muslim, and quite frankly plain did not give a flying fuck. When fascist elements in the US accuse those who insist on an apparently rather radical concept - that instead of bombing families in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, or wherever; that instead of imprisoning alleged "enemy combatants" for life sentences including heavy doses of torture; that instead of blackballing those who are Muslim (whether of Arab or central Asian descent or elsewhere around the globe) - of treating the billion-plus Muslims on the planet as human beings of being "pro-Islamist", who is there to speak out and debunk such nonsense? To what extent are you willing to risk the day when there will be no one left to speak on your behalf? What can you do today to prevent that day from ever coming?

No comments:

Post a Comment