Wednesday, September 08, 2010

It Can't Happen Here

It began with an attack, led by a bearded man, seeking to destroy the government of a country which stood for everything he stood against. Even though he failed, the people of the country began to fear bearded men like him, began to fear men who came from the same religious background. Right-wing religious, political, and media leaders referred to these people as vermin, less than human. They blamed them for the country's woes, a sick economy, a decline of national culture and stature. Popular cartoons appeared mocking their religion. Their places of worship, houses, and businesses were attacked. Their books were burned...

This may sound familiar to anyone following the current trend of anti-Muslim furor in this country. Osama Bin Laden attacked us. Right-wingers have stirred up anti-Islamic feelings. Those feelings have taken root in people who have suffered in our current economic downturn. Recently, a Muslim cab driver and a mosque were attacked. Now a Florida church plans to burn hundreds of Korans, the Muslim holy book, which have been sent to them from people all over the country.

But the story I began with is not the story of America's relationship with Islam following the September 11th attacks. It is the story of a different country, in a different time. Let me tell you the rest.

Over time, the dehumanization of these "enemies of the state" became accepted by the majority. After that, it was easy to pass laws restricting their freedoms. But this didn't make the people of the country feel quite safe enough. It was then suggested that there was an easy solution to the problem these enemies of the state presented. Kick them out.

I'm reminded of the simplistic solution many right-wingers have offered to the influx of illegal immigrants in this country. But this story isn't about Mexicans either.

But the solution wasn't that easy. Where would these people go? Neighboring countries didn't want them. In the meantime, they were forced to move into cordoned-off slums and makeshift encampments. These became overcrowded. Disease was rampant. The manpower and money necessary to keep these places under control was overwhelming. It was then that someone came up with a different solution. A permanent one.

Hopefully, you've figured out what story I'm telling here. It's the first part to a more popularly known story, an introduction that often gets skipped over, simply because the details of the final part are so chilling, so monstrous.

It's the story of a Jew, Kurt Eisner, who led the overthrow of the German government in Munich at the end of World War I, and was a key figure in forcing Germany's surrender. He didn't do it because he was a Jew, he did it because he was a radical communist. But his attack gave fuel to the right-wing forces that claimed Germany's defeat in World War I was due to leftist elements in their own country, not superior foreign might.

In this atmosphere of hatred, a new leader rose to power. He built his constituency by playing to their basest fears-- that Jews and the communists were trying to destroy their country. His hateful words inspired Germans to terrorize all Jews, no matter what their political beliefs. It was just a matter of time before this leader put into action his "final solution."

Could such a thing happen here? We're not at that part of our story yet. But the first few chapters written after 9/11 look eerily similar to that story of the past, with Muslims (and dark-skinned immigrants) instead of Jews. The Koran-burning parishioners are a reminder that people tend to follow their leaders, even into madness. 11,207 people are fans of this event on Facebook.

How many would have been fans of Kristallnacht?

Jews have a saying: "Never Again." I think that includes making sure that no other group is ever subjected to the kind of hate that spurs the most demonic violence in men.

So I've started a "Americans Against International Burn A Koran Day" group on Facebook. Show that there are enough Americans out there who recognize the signs of a country spiraling towards madness.

"Where they have burned books, they will end in burning human beings." -Heinrich Heine

[UPDATE: The book burning was canceled, proving that when the majority of good people stands up to the minority of bigots, the bigots sit back down.]

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