Every year I teach my high school sophomores the inimical Holocaust memoir Night by the late Elie Wiesel. Included in the unit is the iconic Pastor Martin Niemoller poem “First They Came” in which Niemoller reflects on the consequences of apathy when social groups other than one’s own are targets of persecution. At the poem’s conclusion, Niemoller sadly affirms:
“Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”
Niemoller, a minister, opposed Hitler–although not initially–was sent Sachsenhausen concentration camp, and then to Dachau. He survived.
I have yet to teach Niemoller’s poem since Donald Trump’s ascendency, but my students and I will have our work cut out for us in this era of persecution of LGBT, undocumented, and Muslim Americans.
According to a piece in Reuters, a survey of 2,389 people conducted Jan. 4 through Jan. 23. found more than 38 percent–one in three–U.S. Muslims fear white supremacist groups targeting them since Trump’s election. Almost one in five had made plans to leave the United States “if it becomes necessary.” Forty-two percent report their children have been bullied in school, more than four times the rate of the general population. One in four cases involved a teacher. By comparison, 27 percent of Jewish Americans, 11 percent of Protestant Americans, eight percent of Roman Catholics, and 16 percent of those not claiming any religious affiliation, expressed concerns.
The Institute for Social Policy and Understanding reports Muslims’ fear of ostracism contributes to low voter turnout. This was evident in November as only 61 percent of Muslims reported voting in the 2016 presidential election.
Interestingly, the survey period concluded three days after Trump’s inauguration, before presidential executive orders restricting travel from certain majority-Muslim countries.
So far this year at least four U.S. mosques in Texas, Florida and Washington have been arson targets. Jewish Community Centers across the nation have reported more than 100 bomb threats, all hoaxes.
Likely because their appearance more easily identifies them as Muslim, Muslim women and Muslims of Arab descent reported discrimination at higher rates than Muslim men and Muslims of other ethnicities.
Half of Muslims polled said their faith leaders and organizations need to condemn terrorism more than the 44 percent of the general public who held the same view.
In a mere couple of weeks, I will introduce my students to Pastor Niemoller’s poem, and ask them, as I have in the past, to contemporize the lines to reflect current conditions. I’m a little nervous about what they will have to say, but I can guarantee it has never been a more poignant time.
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