Ken Connor

The growing opposition to plans for a Muslim cultural center and mosque near Ground Zero have prompted some on the Left to speak out in defense of religious freedom in America. On August 16th, pundit Keith Olbermann took opponents of the project to task in his "Special Comment" segment:

"'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.' Pastor Martin Niemoller's words are well known, but their context is not well understood. . . . [N]iemoller was not warning of the Holocaust. He was warning of the willingness of a seemingly rational society to condone the gradual stoking of enmity towards an ethnic or religious group, warning of the building-up of a collective pool of national fear and hate, warning of the moment in which the need to purge outstrips even the parameters of the original scape-goating, when new victims are needed because a country has begun to run on a horrible fuel of hatred ? magnified, amplified, multiplied, by politicians and zealots, within government and without.

Niemoller was not warning of the Holocaust. He was warning of the thousand steps before a holocaust became inevitable. If we are at just the first of those steps again ? today, here ? it is one step too close. . . . Despite the nobility of our founding and the indefatigable efforts of all our generations, there have always been those who would happily sacrifice our freedoms, our principles, to ward off the latest unprecedented threat, the latest unbeatable outsiders. Once again, at 45 Park Place, we are being told to sell our birth-right, to feed the maw of xenophobia and vengeance and mob rule. . . . And in America, when somebody comes for your neighbor, or his Bible, or his Torah, or his Atheists' Manifesto, or his Koran, you and I do what our fathers did, and our grandmothers did, and our founders did and you speak up."


Ken Connor

Ken Connor is Chairman of the Center for a Just Society in Washington, DC.