Now They Are Coming for Us

By | February 5, 2015 | 0 Comments

First they came for the communists, but I was not a communist, so I did not speak out. Then they came for the socialists and the trade unionists, but I was neither, so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Jews, but I was not a Jew, so I did not speak out. And when they came for me, there was no one left to speak out for me.
– Pastor Martin Niemöller

Martin Niemöller (also spelled Niemoeller, 1892-1984) was the author of this famous statement. It is quoted in various versions, but this one was verified by his wife.
Niemöller was a hero. Heroism is rare, but rarer still is someone who is a hero twice over.
In World War I, Niemöller commanded a German submarine and received the Iron Cross First Class for valor. Then he was ordained an Evangelical (Lutheran) minister and at first tolerated the Nazis because of their anti-communist stance. But when he realized how evil Nazism was, he became an active anti-Nazi and was sent to a concentration camp. He barely survived until he was liberated by American troops. His colleague in opposing Nazism, Pastor Dietrich Bonhöffer, did not survive.
We study history to learn basic principles, so we can apply them to similar problems we encounter today. How is Pastor Niemöller’s experience relevant to us?
First, let’s admit that the vast majority of us aren’t heroes. We admire heroes and depend on them to rescue us from desperate situations. But most of us really don’t want to be heroes – it’s much too dangerous. So what can we, the basically good but unheroic majority, learn from this man?
Niemöller was busy with his own problems. He saw the rising tide of Nazi totalitarianism, but he saw it from a distance. It was too far away to affect him and those he cared about – or so he thought.
He saw Nazism’s early victims. He was sorry for them, but he didn’t identify with them. He felt sympathy, but not empathy. They were too different from him – or so he thought.
Then the tide of violence came closer. It began to engulf people who looked like Niemöller, people with whom he could identify and empathize. But by then it was too late. Much of what he held dear had been swept away, and people he knew had disappeared.
And then they came for him.
How is this relevant today? There is no maniac in Berlin, gesticulating and haranguing the crowd. There are no troops goose-stepping across Europe.
But again there are fanatics proclaiming that only their ideas should be allowed. Again there are totalitarians spreading notions of “supermen” destined to rule a world of “subhumans.” Again there are sociopaths destroying what they don’t like and murdering those who disagree.
We were busy with our own problems. We saw the rising tide of violence in the Middle East, but we saw it from a distance. It was too far away to affect us – or so we thought.
We saw hundreds of Israelis murdered and maimed by bombs in buses, pizzerias, and markets. But Israelis aren’t like us – or so we thought.
And we saw scores of American tourists and students murdered, but even then we had trouble identifying with the victims. Nobody forced them to visit Israel, after all.
On Aug. 9, 2001 a suicide bomber attacked New York-based Sbarro’s pizzeria in Jerusalem. The restaurant was known to be frequented by families with children and by tourists, especially pizza-loving Americans.
Sixteen people were murdered, including women and small children, and over 100 injured. The carnage was seen as so admirable that two groups claimed “credit.” This was roughly the 80th terrorist attack since the Oslo “peace” accords were signed in 1993. To call this “peace” is to drag a beautiful word through the mud.
Among the dead was an American from New Jersey. She was an only child and was pregnant with her first child. That is, two Americans were murdered. Yet our media and our government acted as if foreigners had been killed. We couldn’t empathize even with a pregnant American woman murdered in an American-based restaurant.
We did nothing, just as we had done little or nothing when the first World Trade Center attack occurred, when our barracks in Saudi Arabia was bombed, when our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania were bombed, and when the USS Cole was almost sunk. Americans were murdered just because they were Americans, but we did nothing.
And was our restraint interpreted as patience, or as weakness?
This question was answered a month later, on 9/11. And even then, with almost 3000 Americans dead in their offices and airliners, we still had trouble empathizing with the victims. Some saw those killed in the Pentagon as “warmongers,” and those killed in the World Trade Center as “capitalists furthering globalization.”
Hundreds of thousands of Christians have been murdered or enslaved in Sudan. Uncounted Christians have been persecuted and killed in China, Pakistan, Egypt, Nigeria, Lebanon, Iraq, Iran, and elsewhere. But many Christians have difficulty empathizing even with their fellow Christians.
There is something we can criticize about every person on earth, including our own loved ones and friends. And I’ll guarantee there is something they can criticize about us. If we require perfection in order to identify with people, we’ll never identify with anyone. And no one will identify with us.
Even worse, to lack of empathy we add cowardice. We throw other people to the crocodile, hoping it will be too full to eat us. But crocodiles have big appetites.
Martin Niemöller was right:
● First they came for the Israelis, but we didn’t like Israelis, so we didn’t speak out.
● Then they came for the American tourists and students in Israel, but we had no desire to visit Israel, so we didn’t speak out.
● Then they came for the Jews in Middle Eastern and North African nations, but we thought we had little in common with Jews, so we didn’t speak out.
● Then they came for the Christians in Middle Eastern and African nations, but religion isn’t important in our lives, so we didn’t speak out.
● Then they came for our military personnel and diplomats overseas, but nobody we know is in the service, so we didn’t speak out.
● Then they came for the World Trade Center, but we were irritated by “New York bankers,” so even then we barely spoke out.
● Then they came for the subways and buses of London and Madrid, but we weren’t British or Spanish transit riders, so we didn’t speak out.
● Then they came for the hotel in Mumbai, but we didn’t stay in Mumbai hotels, so we didn’t speak out.
● Then they came for Indian novelists, Danish cartoonists, and Dutch film directors, but we weren’t novelists, cartoonists, or film directors, so we didn’t speak out.
● Now they come for French cartoonists and grocery shoppers, but we aren’t French, so we don’t speak out. Our president couldn’t be bothered to go to the Paris anti-terrorism march, or even to send an important deputy.
But soon they will come for us. And then who will be left to speak out for us?
And why should they? We are so cowardly that not only do we remain silent when others are attacked, but we also crawl on our knees to avoid insulting those who commit or abet these attacks.
● We obsequiously refer to the “prophet” Muhammad. Yet we never refer to the “prophet” Moses, or the “prophet” Joseph Smith, or the “Lord and Savior” Jesus. No, the only time we call anyone a “prophet” is when we refer to Muhammad. Is this due to respect, or due to fear?
● We patronize films that make a hash out of the Exodus, or out of Christianity itself, but we feign outrage that anyone might say anything negative about Islam.
● We rarely use the words “extremist” Islam, or “radical” Islam, or “Islamo-fascists,” or “Islamo-Nazis.” In fact, we rarely mention the words “Islam” or “Muslim” at all, unless it is to repeat the incorrect mantra that only a tiny minority of Muslims condone violence.
● We rarely use the words “terrorist” or “terrorism.” When Canadian Prime Minister Harper called the man who killed a soldier and shot up the Parliament Building a “terrorist,” even then, President Obama refused to use that word.
● We watched as Major Hassan killed 14 Americans at Fort Hood while shouting “Allahu akbar,” but we said nothing when our government called it “workplace violence.” This is akin to saying that Jeffrey Dahmer had an eating disorder. It is the worst kind of lie – one that obscures a dangerous reality and lulls us into apathy and inaction.
The lesson that Pastor Niemöller taught us is that we must see the essential humanity in every human being, not just those who most resemble us. Only then will we have the courage to speak out against inhumanity. Only then will we have the strength to fight it. And only then will we be fully human ourselves.
Niemöller overcame his initial apathy, then had the courage to correct his error, despite great personal risk. It remains to be seen whether we will do as well.
If we lack the moral courage to save others, we may need the physical courage to save ourselves. Niemöller narrowly escaped execution and was saved by American troops. But who will rescue us if we don’t wake up in time?


U.S. Consulate, Libya


Christian church, Egypt

SNAP QUIZ: What do the photos above represent?

(a)  These are two “isolated incidents” committed by “lone wolves” – and for unknown reasons. Yes, the attackers might have shouted “Allahu akbar,” but maybe they had a “toothache” that caused them to “snap.”

(b)  These are further evidence of international terrorism, which requires that we speak up and demand that our governments act vigorously.

Well, which is it, (a) or (b)? It can’t be both. Did we learn anything from Pastor Niemöller’s painful experience? Or do we regard him as merely a historical figure of no relevance today? You tell me.

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