When the Nazis came for the communists,
I remained silent;
I was not a communist.
When they locked up the social democrats,
I remained silent;
I was not a social democrat.
When they came for the trade unionists,
I did not speak out;
I was not a trade unionist.
When they came for the Jews,
I remained silent;
I wasn’t a Jew.
When they came for me,
there was no one left to speak out.
The words above – a translation from the original German – were spoken by Friedrich Gustav Emil Martin Niemöller, a German Lutheran Pastor, an initial supporter of the Nazi Party, who during World War II spent close to 10 years in Concentration Camps because he although a supporter of the Regime…opposed the Nazi takeover of the Church. On his release he repeated the theme of “First they came for…” many times, in many places, sometimes reversing the order – but always with the same deep and chilling meaning.
I first became acquainted with this quote and its origin as a teenager, as I struggled, with many, over the burning issues of the day…Vietnam, Human Rights and what did it mean to be a “real” American and, as importantly, how did my religious beliefs fit or not.
The verses came to my mind, again, last week as I watched the unfolding drama in Egypt and the ensuing sideshows around the world.
In fact they burned in me this morning as I prepared to write while watching one rather world-famous conservative speaker – known for his championship of the US Constitution and his passionate rants on Democracy and freedom – berate President Obama and support President Mubarak as a dear friend… “First they came for…”
So whom have they come for?
And in the age of the ubiquitous and ever-present web…the global entities who make that particular magic available to the masses acquiesced to Egyptian Government demands and took down their networks so that neither cell – smart or otherwise – nor Internet was available to the protesters.
“First they came for…”
What is it we don’t get? The updating of Niemöller’s insight starts with the connected, always on (not always it now seems…) world. First they come for the network – look at what happened in other countries or what’s happening, now, elsewhere in the world where the connectivity we take for granted and make fun of – tweeting, friending, Im’ing, BBM’ing – add your own – is at best accessed at great personal peril.
Take away the right to communications – digital communications – and journalists and activists go next. No YouTube postings make for even scarier encounters.
However, lest you think I am a starry-eyed naïf, this sword cuts two ways. I am equally chilled and depressed by a crowd demanding democracy, human rights, education and better economic conditions who also lump in hatred of anything “foreign” – the flames of which – by the way – are being stoked by the current regime as a means of deflection.
Journalists have also been attacked by the demonstrators, and the usual suspects – Israel, Christians, the US, etc. et al – are being demonized by those who would seek to control the situation.
And by the way – developments elsewhere suggest that the current regime is not alone in wanting to control the Digital Highway. Because unless we understand that the first time anyone comes to take away a freedom and we stand by – wherever we are or whoever we are – ultimately the chain of events will touch us as well – and when no one is left? It all begins again…
What an opportunity for the world; what an opportunity for all of us to know that what we do; what we preach is not just about selling more stuff but is embedded into the fabric of society as perhaps the most powerful tool of personal empowerment and freedom ever devised.
To return to Davos and a session I participated in – it can educate, create commerce, eradicate sickness, develop rural communities and be a force of good like none other. Proof being how it’s feared by those who oppose changing the status quo.
This is a wake-up call for all of us – on all sides of the divide.
Let’s not wake up to find they have come for us…because no one is left or because there is no way to hear….
The price of being digital is guarding digital freedom and ensuring digital access. This impacts our view on privacy, access, hardware, devices, apps – you name it.
Our Digital world is not merely a shopping mall…Egypt has the largest Facebook presence in the Mideast with five million users and if you follow the story – much like Tunisia – the ability to coalesce around postings of videoed proof of corruption and violence against dissenters was a huge catalyst in igniting the protests.
Since web access and cellular networks have been restored both the protesters and the government have been using digital social channels for their own means – one for coalescing the crowds; the other for disinformation – pretty easy to see who is winning – and perhaps that is the lesson…
“If you don’t speak out now when it matters, when would it matter for you to speak out?”
Check your news feeds – trust me on this one – it matters….
What do you think?