Beyond Niemöller

A lot of people are sharing the Niemöller poem (“First they Came….”) in response to the election. But I would say we are well along that trajectory the poem follows, rather than at the beginning. “They,” the US government, came for the Muslims long ago in the aftermath of 9/11.  A registry was set up for non-citizens from Islamic countries. Detention centers were opened, filled with people who were rounded up and held without charge and subject to abuse – many for long periods – not knowing when or how they would get out or what would be their fate. Some were released, others deported. No one spoke for them because the association of Islam with terrorism was so strong in the public mind.
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There was an immediate backlash, paranoia and persecution followed at the level of civil society. Americans were told by government to report any “suspicious behavior.” Everything was suspicious to people in this tense atmosphere, even seeing Muslims out in public together. Acts of popular violence and hate crimes targeting Muslims, and even non-Muslims who simply “looked Muslim” or like they were from the Middle East, were many. Because how can Americans tell who is who? No one spoke for them.
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Congress almost unanimously voted for war in response to the attacks of 9/11. The full force of the US military was brought to bear on Afghanistan and Iraq, destroying and permanently destabilizing them, killing countless people and reigning torture and terror down on populations who had nothing to do with attacks on the US. Civilian casualties were called “collateral damage.” No one spoke for them because people wanted to believe the government was fighting terrorism to protect Americans.
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Black sites and Guantanamo Bay facilities  across the world were filled with victims whose detention and abuse violated the US constitution, a number of international human rights accords, and nullified Habeas Corpus. Weapons of mass destruction and illegal chemical weapons like depleted uranium were used in Fallujah, causing horrific birth defects to spike. No one spoke out.
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Some tried to speak out for these victims of US terror. But their voices were drowned out by a loud and militant nationalist chorus. Patriotic outbursts and slogans calling on all to “support the troops” were all that were heard. People who dared question or criticize the violent imperialism of the United States were labeled “Un-American” and subjected to shaming and hate. Manipulatively named ” Patriot Acts ” were passed that legalized intrusive forms of surveillance- even wire-tapping- on Americans and residents in the name of fighting terrorism, further weakening constitutional rights.
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When Obama came everyone hoped for change. But then Libya was bombed, various government coups backed, and terrorists supplied to escalate war with an eye to regime change in the Middle East and Latin America to uphold US interests. Drone attacks were launched across borders, even those of our purported allies. No one spoke out for the victims because Democrats were in charge. And bad things aren’t bad when Democrats do them.
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In the US, the Secure Communities program was unleashed on the undocumented who were subjected to violent ICE raids that dragged people away in the night and terrorized families and communities. More people were detained in private-for-profit detention centers, where they suffered horrible abuses, including rape and physical abuse, until they could be deported. Many were deported – 2.5 million deportations since 2008. How many died following deportation to Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, all victims of decades of US imperialism backing military coups. No one spoke for them.
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Blacks and Native Americans, including children, have been gunned down with impunity by cops and self-appointed vigilantes like Zimmerman, disproportionately, all over the country. Until BLM no one noticed or came for them. The Justice Department did not come for them, and all we hear are complaints about blocking traffic.
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President Obama signed into a law a National Defense Authorization Act that allows the indefinite detention of American citizens, even though Obama said it would not, severely circumscribing the right of protest.  No one spoke out.Even progressive Democrats voted aye.
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Rather than changing course and abandoning these persecutory policies of the past 15 years, the Democratic party promised more of the same, opting for a status quo candidate deeply implicated in all of these crimes, and just as fiercely committed as Obama to the debilitating neoliberalism that has encouraged the rise of fascism.
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Now we have a fascistic American version of Silvio Berlusconi at the helm and a Republican congress bent on even more draconian legislation, some of which will further constrict the right of protest, by imposing harsh penalties on the destruction of property and obstruction of transport, making these felonies and widening the net of accountability to include those who fund organizations that sponsor protests.
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Sadly, there is no one in the world to speak for us. Only ourselves. And God only knows what is in store for everyone. If only more people had spoken out.
Will we unite against further persecution or stick with the same pattern? Only a strong anti-capitalist movement on the left can fight fascism, history has shown.
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