What Would Martin Niemoller Say About the Cordoba Mosque Near the 9-11 Site?

What would the German Protestant Pastor, Martin Niemöller, say about contemporary Christian nationalists (which I would call American Herderites) who brand their fellow American Muslims with collective guilt for 9-11, and seek to prevent them, because of this collective guilt, from building a mosque and recreation center a few blocks down from the former World Trade Center site? 

The below quote of Martin Niemöller is a familiar one, but I haven’t seen it used by anyone in the debate about the proposed Cordoba Mosque. I’ll quote Niemoller exactly as he is said to have put it to a Frankfurt congregation in 1946, then I’ll offer my contemporary rendition below it. He is illustrating one of the ways that individuals rationalized their failure to offer resistance to right-wing political escalation in Germany in the 1930s:

“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.

and by that time no one was left to speak up.”

And here’s how I think that Pastor Martin Niemöller might put it to a contemporary American congregation on a Sunday morning in 2010, commenting on the right wing in our country:


and I didn’t speak up because I’m not an atheist.

THEN THEY TARGETED gays and lesbians,

and I didn’t speak up because I’m not gay or lesbian.

THEN THEY TARGETED illegal immigrants,

and I didn’t speak up because I’m not an illegal immigrant.

THEN THEY TARGETED American Muslims living in NYC,

And I didn’t speak up because I’m not Muslim.


But I’m not a terrorist. I said nothing.

THEN THEY GOT RID of Miranda rights.

I don’t need them.

THEN THEY MADE a group of people carry special cards at all times.


THEN THEY REVIVED OLD LAWS against blasphemy, divorce, and sodomy.

I don’t blaspheme; my marriage is fine; I’m not homosexual.


And rumor has it that they take you to these black sites.


and I’m liberal on a lot of things. . . .

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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7 Responses to What Would Martin Niemoller Say About the Cordoba Mosque Near the 9-11 Site?

  1. kip says:

    I’m not sure what this post means, but I strongly agree with the President on this issue.

    • santitafarella says:


      If you decide to come back to this thread, could you please share with me what it was that made this post baffling for you (so that I might be able to clarify it)? I don’t like to post something that makes sense to me, but confuses others.


  2. Colin Hutton says:

    Santi :

    Like Kip, I’m not sure what point your over-the-top slippery slope (mixed metaphor!) argument is making. Are the encroachments in some particular order?, are they actual examples of agendas of particular right wing groups in the US?, ‘black sites’?.

    By way of comment, however, as an atheist I’d be more interested in what Darwin (or perhaps even Nietsche) had to say today than in what Niemoller might say.

    • santitafarella says:


      The phrase “black sites” refers to top secret areas that the CIA has set up around the world. It is at some of these black sites, and not just at Guantanamo, that human rights organizations have worried that terror suspects have been tortured.

      As for coherence, I guess I’m struggling to restate, in contemporary terms, how the constant revolving of right-wing demonization targets (atheists on Fox News one day, NYC Muslims on another, immigrants not speaking English on the next, etc.) can morph, in a time of crisis (a nuclear terror incident, for example), into the physical deportation of the “enemy within.”

      In other words, how does a society move from rhetorically targeting people to literally carting them away as representatives of “collective guilt”? I would say that this happens by exploiting a major crisis. What Republicans are doing surrounding the Ground Zero mosque is prelude, in a time of greater extremity, to a coming Kristallnacht:



  3. Pingback: Collective Guilt for 9-11: The Ground Zero Mosque and Muslim Americans as the Enemy Within « Prometheus Unbound

  4. Colin Hutton says:


    Thank you for yr response. (I think most Australians would know of CIA ‘renditions’, but not the term ‘black sites).

    An interesting debate you have stirred up on the Cordoba Mosque issue – I keep changing my mind about whose side I’m on!

    • santitafarella says:


      There aren’t many thing in life that are black and white. On this issue, if you are an Enlightenment sympathetic liberal, I think you have to side with the mosque builders. In fact, I’m planning to find where, exactly, I can make a $50 contribution to it. This is a time for solidarity with a despised minority precisely because they are so widely and vehemently despised. The very principle of individual inalienable rights guaranteed by our Constitution is at stake here. This is, in my view, one of the most important existential moments of decision in our lifetime, and it will reverberate for decades in our politics. Our Bill of Rights is literally at a crossroads. This mosque must be built. It demonstrates our nation’s determination not to become a Herderite nationalist country, but a Republic of individual citizens who cannot be tainted by collective guilt. I’m not being polemical. I think that this issue is that important. It will reverberate for years if liberals go wobbly on this and get it wrong. It will revererate in any case and absolutely no one will get to have an existential pass on this. A lot of politicians are scurrying pathetically, trying to wash their hands of this. Obama, to his credit, is not. I’m with him.


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