Who among us have not come across this famous quotation, or some version of it: “First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out– Because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out– Because I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out– Because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me–and there was no one left to speak for me.”
Martin Niemöller is the name behind these words. A priest and critic of Nazism, he made the above statement early after the War. The defeat of fascism and the post-World War Two political order had, for a while, rendered Niemöller’s expression as simply a reference to an episode in history. But as the world witnessed new forms of fascism and persecution, Niemöller’s words gained an undeniable relevance.
Niemöller’s admonition should haunt every conscious Pakistani who is witnessing the state of affairs today. The brutal victimization of various communities is accelerating in an unprecedented fashion. Starting with the Ahmedis, Hindus, and Christians, now Shias and Brelvies are also being targeted. Within the space of just one month, hundreds of Hazara Shias have been massacred by subversive militants on the one hand, and hundreds of Christian houses have been set ablaze by crazed mobs. One group motivated by some identity or ideology, who has been targeting another, is soon finding itself a target too. And this entire tragedy is unfolding without shaking the conscience of the nation at large.
A significant number of Pakistanis have been dismissing the persecution of minorities as just a marginal problem. But, as the history of this nation has proven, when persecution of one group is permitted, the same fate is bound to follow for the others. The question of protecting minorities can never be called a minor problem. The existence of numerous religious, ethnic, political, class and other differences naturally present in a society means that most people fall into a minority category in one way or the other. Hence sensitivity towards minorities is nothing short of a pledge to support each other in a state of vulnerability. Moreover, it also boils down to a fundamental choice we must make about holding ourselves to high moral standards or just escaping by pointing to the failures of others.
While some foresaw from the beginning the inevitable trajectory of the various forms of persecution in Pakistan, most of us have still not awoken to this reality. The question remains as to whether we want to take stock of the situation and change, or we want to go through the pain that Niemöller had to go through while he uttered these famous words.
—Written by Rab Nawaz
(Published in The Laaltain – Issue 8)