Out of all the commotion that has been taking place around the world after the US presidential election, from protests to boycotts, one particular thought has been on my mind— the striking parallelism between the state that America is in today, and that of Germany seventy years ago. Politicians have always used fear as a tactic, and this tactic has always had a target, a group of people that are made the scapegoat. Yet, somehow, we did not see this coming – we do not realize the injustices that are ingrained in our society until we become the victim of these injustices. This brings to mind a powerful poem I came across a few years ago, an argument for civil rights.
It was written by Martin Niemöller, a pastor during the Second World War, and an unapologetic public adversary of Adolf Hitler, and it goes like this:
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
This quotation proves to be a timeless depiction of the unfortunately common issues of today. The words are a compelling warning about how easily we could slip into such a mindset again, if we fail to bring change into ourselves and fail to overcome ignorance. If we take a look at the countless times throughout history that a group was targeted, and then pan over to the number of times we banded together and shouted, “Never again!”, it is quite safe to say that history is in fact repeating itself — time and time again. This poem portrays a simple message: if you sit by and watch injustice take place silently, there will come a day when you are the victim, and you, too, will be met with silence. Take a look at Niemöller himself, for example. He became aware of the atrocious situation that Jewish people were in during the war only after he himself was captured after opposing Hitler’s ideology. An ideology that was remembered as “never again”.
Muslims have been the victims of shootings, of discrimination, of hatred. Unfortunately, these misfortunes are ones that other minorities have been facing for ages – from the police brutality and shootings of young black men, to the systematic marginalization of the Indigenous population here in Canada. Look back and think – were we there to stand with these people? Did we speak up against these injustices?
One issue that seems to be the topic of debate lately is the issue of immigrants and refugees entering the United States, a country otherwise seen as indisputably advanced. This is not the first time that refugees, or more generally, people in dire need of aid, have been barred from entering a safety zone. For example, such a calamity was heaved upon the Chinese in the 1880s, and Jewish refugees during World War II. So although it is the Iranians, the Syrians, the Yemenis, the Sudanese, the Libyans, and the Somalis today, another executive order could place your neighbours on the list tomorrow. If no one speaks for the victims today, who will speak for you if it is your turn? Undoubtedly, for most people it is hard to imagine that such an atrocity could ever work its way into their life, which is understandable. However, this should not be an excuse to ignore the treatment of those who are being targeted today. As we educate ourselves on situations such as this one, which are not as black and white as we like to believe, we must think about empathy. It may not be you now, but imagine if it were.
Take this as a wake-up call: silence and ignorance only allows hatred to breed unchecked, and this is hatred that no one is safe from. Empathy and compassion are very powerful forces, ones that can overtake the lamentably predominant hate and prejudice that we see every day. After all — we are all immigrants somewhere.
This article was published in our June 2017 issue of MY Voice Magazine. For more articles like this, subscribe today!