Tuesday, January 13, 2004

Department of Niemölleresque Situations

Many of you, I'm sure, have heard the quote by Reverend Martin Niemöller that goes as follows:

"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."

(Note: There are several versions of this quote in existence. Supposedly, the "true" one, recorded in the U.S. Congressional Record, is as follows: "When Hitler attacked the Jews I was not a Jew, therefore I was not concerned. And when Hitler attacked the Catholics, I was not a Catholic, and therefore, I was not concerned. And when Hitler attacked the unions and the industrialists, I was not a member of the unions and I was not concerned. Then Hitler attacked me and the Protestant church — and there was nobody left to be concerned.")

Regardless of what the actual quote is, what I want to say here is that we in the United States—those of us who are not male and Muslim or Arab or South Asian—are now in a Niemölleresque situation, given our government's recent decision to force airlines to hand over personal information on *all* passengers flying within the United States.

That is to say: First "they" did it to the Muslims, Arabs, and South Asians; then "they" did it to all foreigners; and now "they" are doing it to "us."

If this news disturbs you, you may also want to read this interview with the communications director of the Technology and Liberty Program at the American Civil Liberties Union.

Perhaps I am being an alarmist. But the fact is, the moment I learned that the World Trade Towers had been hit, back on Sept. 11, my first thought was, "Great. Now the government can use this as an excuse to clamp down on civil liberties." And of course that is what happened. So I feel inclined to trust my instincts on this, and my instincts tell me this is very bad.