They came first for the Communists,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew.
Then they came for me
and by that time no one was left to speak up.
—Pr. Martin Niemoller, (1892-1984)
German Anti-Nazi Theologian and Lutheran Pastor

It has been eighteen years since I traveled Europe as one of countless college students with a backpack strapped to my back. And like any other twenty-one-year-old in Germany, I visited  the Dachau concentration camp. I got up early with my roommate, got on a bus and saw what humanity could do if left to its hateful devices. It was raining, if I recall correctly, rather fitting for place. Didn’t bother with a guided tour. This was a journey I wanted to experience alone with my thoughts and my ugly brown umbrella. I walked past the site where barracks once lined the road. There are only cement blocks and trees there today as reminders.   I felt sick to my stomach as I walked through the crematorium, horrified that people were burned like stacks of firewood.

I spent a lot of time at the international memorial with its tangled iron, forged together to look like barb wire. It was only after I took a closer look did I realize that the barb wire was made from human forms. And then there was the simple phrase: Never Again written in Hebrew, French, English, German and Russian. The war was flaring in the Baltics at that time, and I prayed that we had learned from our mistakes and would not  repeat history.

I prayed for peace and tolerance.

And yet we don’t seem to learn from our mistakes. We’re still a world of intolerance, often in the  name of self-proclaimed political or religious superiority. Ethnic Muslims were still slaughtered in the Baltics in the 1990’s.  I can’t count how many were slaughtered in the genocide in Rwanda. What Stalin did to his own people, or Hitler to the Jews, Roma, and others is not a new concept. Purge those who are different while wrapping yourself in the flag and proudly smiling.

When one person hates, they can be signaled out as a bully. When that person hates with an audience they can go from shunned whack-job or hate-monger to a hero in a matter of moments. Remember how crazy that woman sounded during the 2008 when, while attending a John McCain town hall meeting, declared that Barack Obama was an Arab? (And by saying “Arab,” that as a buzzword to mean Muslim, which leads to the ridiculous syllogisms that equate all Muslims to terrorists.)   Sounded pretty insane right? Well don’t underestimate the power of the mob mentality. Nearly one in five adult Americans now believes that Obama is a Muslim. (And I am going on record saying, even if he was, WHO CARES? There is not a constitutional ban on non-christians holding public office in the United States. God help us that it remains that way!) Again it’s fear mongering. But apparently if you through enough of anything against the wall, it will stick.

And it’s not just fringe whackjobs that are trying to perpetuate fear. It’s very savvy individuals that know how to manipulate the mainstream media.  When Keith Ellison, Democratic Congressman from Minnesota was elected, Glenn Beck fanned the fire of fear by saying something quite obnoxious, “And I have to tell you, I have been nervous about this interview with you, because what I feel like saying is, “Sir, prove to me that you are not working with our enemies. And I know you’re not. I’m not accusing you of being an enemy, but that’s the way I feel, and I think a lot of Americans will feel that way.”

Translation: Others may not feel like I do, but I’m going to do my best to plant that seed of fear so that they they think like I do.

And then there is Beck asserting everyone’s First Amendment rights to religion, free speech and the right to assemble, but at the same time tries to propagate that any Islamic Center at the Park 51 site near–not at— Ground Zero in New York will hasten Sharia Law and the destruction of America as we know it. It’s just a nudge and a wink, but that seed is planted yet again:

Everybody is talking about Ground Zero and the mosque. Should it be there? Should it not be there? I believe, as a nation, we’re pretty clear: You can build any house of worship wherever you want to build.

But, shouldn’t we be asking a more important question? Who are the people behind this? Where are they getting the funding? What do they really believe?

According to our next guest (Frank Gaffney, the same anti-Islamic president of a lobbyist group that advocated that the US military take out the Al Jazeera news network–ed.), the imam behind the Ground Zero mosque, Imam Rauf, makes no bones about his goal to build a mosque near sacred ground and to bring Shariah to America.

But their definition of Sharia Law carries omnious overtones. Gaffney states: “Shariah is a political program that the authorities of Islam have long believed, a millennium or so, must be imposed over the entire world, to be ruled by a theocracy, a caliph and to impose Shariah as the rules.”

In other words, hide your babies and beadwork! The Evil Muslims are coming for your country!

Yet the opposition to mosques and the basic constitutional right to assemble is not something unique to the Park 51 location where the excuse of Hallowed Ground gets tossed around more frequently than a football. It’s happening all over the country, but it doesn’t get as much media play (or thankfully, the public media magnets such as Palin and Beck haven’t heard about them yet.) And I’m ashamed to say, it is happening in my own state. Time recently ran an article about Islamophobia. When a local physician, Dr. Mansoor Mirza, wanted to start a mosque in the tiny town of Oosburg, Wisconsin so that he and others could have a house of worship, he was met with nothing short of xenophobia and hostility:

But when the floor is opened to discussion, you hear things they would never say to you even in the privacy of an examination room. One after another, they pour scorn and hostility on your proposal, and most of the objections have nothing to do with zoning regulations. It’s about your faith. Islam is a religion of hate, they say. Muslims are out to wipe out Christianity. There are 20 jihadi training camps hidden across rural America, busy even now producing the next wave of terrorists. Muslims murder their children. Christian kids have enough problems with drugs, alcohol and pornography and should not have to worry about Islam too. “I don’t want it in my backyard,” says one. Another says, “I just think it’s not America.”

Not American. As in, We Don’t Want YOUR Kind Here. By the way, Dr. Mirza was even asked if there would be any weapons or military training at the proposed mosque. And the local clergy aren’t immune to fanning the fire. In fact, the local clergy started an effort to ban the mosque before it could even be built!  Rev. Wayne DeVrou, pastor of the First Reformed Church of Ootburg told Time, “The political objective of Islam is to dominate the world with its teachings … and to have domination of all other religions militarily,”

Someone once told me, it is very hard to publicly disagree with your doctor or pastor. When the local clergy gang up to perpetuate stereotypes and fear, is it any surprise that Islamophobia is gaining momentum on a national level?

This mindset terrifies me. And I don’t just mean it gives me a big case of the willies. I worry we are on a slippery slope, and if we don’t do something to nip this fear mongering and hatred in the bud, the atrocities of the 1940’s Germany will come back to haunt us.  The anti-Semitic pogroms of the 1930’s were fueled by hatred and fear on the local level. And look what that got us? Euphemisms such as The Final Solution to the Jewish Problem. The pogroms started with propaganda. It didn’t just magicly appear at the beginning of World War II.  It appeared long before that. And some of the words from the  1934 Deutscher National-Katechismus (German National Catechism) echo nearly word for word what we are hearing about Muslims in America today:

The goal of the Jew is to make himself the ruler of humanity. Wherever he comes, he destroys works of culture. He is not a creative spirit, rather a destructive spirit.

Sounds a lot like what the anti-Muslim pundits are screaming every day if you ask me. But it doesn’t stop there, the Nazi’s were very good at coming up with counterarguments like, “Religion is a private matter” or “There are decent Jews” or even, “Everything in the human race is equal.”  Again, these are arguments rightfully used today when the sane try to counter these ridiculous and hateful assertions. Kurt Hillmar Eitzen’s Zehn Knüppel wider die Judenknechte outlined the propaganda with its own rules of logic (unfortunately it was the type of logic that insane trolls speak) to dehumanize the Jews.

Funny how we forget how propaganda successfully manipulates the waiting mob. It can whip the mob into a frenzy and spark unspeakable violence. All it needs is a nudge in the right direction. September 11 means quite a lot to many. It is a day to mourn those who passed in the terrorist attacks. It’s a day to support the survivors, both from the actual sites and every one of us world-wide who watched the terror unfold. Shortly after the event, the United States Congress  darated a bill to memorialize September 11, but President George W. Bush reinvented Patriot Day to reclaim the day from those who wanted to main and destroy us, rebranding it as a day of Nationalism and pride. It’s now a public holiday along side Memorial Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas, etc. Not sure if mail service is supsended that day.

Coincidentally, September 11, 2010 also marks the end of the Muslim month of Ramadan, the ninth month of the Muslim year marked by, among others,  fasting, prayer and reflection.

I, like others worry,  how these two entities will collide. And I’m not talking about attacks on America or others. I’m talking about how the mob will react to to Muslims.

There is already hype for an International Burn a Quran Day on September 11. And this “celebration” (Picture me making very sarcastic air quotes.) is the brainchild of a so-called Christian preacher Terry Jones of the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainsville, Florida. It has a Facebook page that features photoshopped pictures of Iran and Mecca being destroyed by bombs.

What’s not to stop people from going one step further? All it takes is a small nidus for an infection to take hold. For Islamaphobes, September 11 is a rallying point. There is no question about it. Some will be clutching a cross and wrapping themselves in an American flag as the burn the Quran. What’s to stop anonymous cowards who already burned construction equipment at a building site for a future mosque in Tennessee from escalating the violence on a larger, more destructive scale?

After all, it’s not the first time in humanity’s long history that houses of worship have been burned to the ground in the name of extreme nationalism. It happened quickly, and countryBerlin Synogogue after Kristallnacht-wide on the night of November 9, 1938 in Germany. That night at least 91 Jews died, 25,000-30,000 more were arrested, 267 synogogues were destroyed in fires and thousands of Jewish homes and businesses were ransacked and destroyed. Some say it was this event that took Germany from petty pogroms to a full-blown steamroller of the Shoah that extinguished the lives of millions all in the name of nationalism and extreme religious/cultural intolerance.

Are we creating the perfect storm for the Islamic version of an American Kristallnacht either through active hatred and violence, or worse yet our own apathy? How much graffiti is enough? How many acts of arson will occur before “decent” Americans finally say No More, Never Again? When do we realize that we aren’t the puppets of dressed up pundits and finally put our foot down?

When will we learn from our own mistakes. Neimoller’s words still ring true today. I just hope people are still willing to listen to him.

“Those who begin by burning books will end by burning people.”
—Heinrich Heine, German Jewish Poet

For more about this, I highly recommend Rabbi Arthur Waskow’s article Qur’an Burning: The 5 Steps that Brought Us to this Point and Why Religious Communities Must Resist.

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