Sunday, October 10, 2010

First they came...

When the Nazis came for the communists,
I remained silent;
I was not a communist.

When they locked up the social democrats,
I remained silent;
I was not a social democrat.

When they came for the trade unionists,
I did not speak out;
I was not a trade unionist.

When they came for the Jews,
I remained silent;
I wasn't a Jew.

When they came for me,
there was no one left to speak out.

Martin Niemöller (1892–1984) 

The above poem sits on my wall. It was written by a Christian Pastor, Martin Niemöller, about his experience living under Nazi Germany. Pastor Niemöller was born in 1892 into a very conservative home. After graduating he served as an officer in the Imperial German Navy during the First World War, rising to become commander of a German U-boat (submarine). For his wartime achievements he was awarded an Iron Cross First Class but after the war he became disillusioned with Germany's new democratic government and resigned his commission in the Navy, choosing instead to become a Protestant preacher. Like most Protestant Pastors, he supported the rise of right wing radicals opposing Germany's new democratic government and endorsed the Nazis as they rounded up various groups to cement their power. However, unlike most pastors, he correctly saw the extreme racism exhibited by the Nazis and bravely joined a group of other pastors who declared the Aryan Paragraph, the clause in the Nazi statutes that set out discrimination against 'non-Aryans' (people who didn't fit with the idea of the 'master race', Jews, Muslims, many Catholics and almost all non white people were included as non-Aryans) incompatible with the Christian virtue of charity. For this, 800 opposing pastors and other supporters were arrested by the Nazis. Becoming disillusioned with the Nazis, he set up the Pfarrernotbund (English for 'Emergency Covenant of Pastors') to unite other pastors from various sects who opposed the Nazi's racism and policies. Hitler grew to personally detest him and eventually he was arrested and spent the duration of World War Two in a German concentration camp before being liberated by American forces in 1945.

His poem reflects all this. To begin with, as a supporter of the Nazis, Niemöller kept silent and sometimes actively supported the Nazis rounding up of left wingers (Communists and Trade Unionists in the poem) and other 'opponents' such as Jews. By the time he realized what was happening and that he too would soon be an 'opponent' due to his Christian stance against the Nazis, it was too late, he was on his own and ended up imprisoned. Had he not been liberated by the Americans, he would probably have been killed along with thousands of others who dared oppose the Nazis. But if he had chosen to oppose the Nazis earlier, along with others, then maybe the Nazis would never have risen to power.

So how is this relevant to us now? Well, there are two important lessons here. First off, there is this, just because right now you are not being oppressed, opposed and attacked unreasonably doesn't mean that it will always be like that. Once those who are attacking have finished with their target what's to say they won't pick on you? Today we see Muslims being the ones attacked, Islam being demonized, by certain groups. By and large most non Muslims just let it be, I can't say I blame them, but I ask them to think of what Niemöller wrote, think about it hard. Because who knows when they will come for you?

For Muslims it's a similar lesson. We have a whole load of people who claim to be Muslims, Bin Ladan and so fourth, who attack others. Now, while we don't exactly do nothing about it, we all know that we oppose people like this, there is more that we could be doing. Why is it that the Americans had to go and hunt Bin Ladan? Why didn't we? And why aren't we doing a little more to oppose radicalization. I know we do a lot already, but there are areas for improvement and it's a topic I will write about at a later date. Because, the question is the same, who knows when they will come for you?

At the end of the day, the power is in your hands. Non-Muslims, look at what is happening to Muslims and ask how you can help. Talk to us, we don't bite! Muslims, reach out more. We're good people but if we don't sort our our nutters then I can understand why non-Muslims doubt it sometimes. Again, the power is in your hands, use it. And remember this; 'Courage doesn't always roar. Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says, I'll try again tomorrow.'



1 comment:

  1. A little history lesson, I like it!.

    We are all probably a little to comfortable in our lives, and speaking up, or speaking out, often puts a bit outside that comfort zone.

    But, to do nothing, is to sanction behaviors we should be trying to change!!

    Peace - Mike