When They Come For You, I'll Speak Up

If Muslim-Americans are forced to register their identities, this proud Greek-American will register as Muslim.
11/20/2016 11:42 pm ET Updated Nov 21, 2016
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump points towards guests during an campaign event with employees at Trump Nationa
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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump points towards guests during an campaign event with employees at Trump National Doral, Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2016, in Miami.

Much of the world is still struggling to understand the unforeseen results of the American Presidential elections on November 8. Competing narratives seek to explain the victory of President-elect Trump. Some point to the anxiety caused by economic dislocation around the world. Many recite a catalogue of Hillary Clinton’s flaws, including political complacency. Others note the similarity between the presidential elections and other elections/referendums around the world, concluding that millions of Americans decided to take a “wrecking ball” to the system.

The most concerning narrative is the one that explains the Trump victory in terms of racism, white nationalism, and an “us versus them” mentality. That narrative gained tremendous steam when President-elect Trump appointed Steve Bannon as chief strategist. The appointment was criticized as evidence of a spike in anti-Semitism, and there has already been an outcry to reverse the appointment on the grounds of Bannon’s ties to white nationalists. The incoming Trump Administration won’t rule out a Muslim registry, and the choices of Senator Jeff Sessions as Attorney General and Lt. General Michael Flynn as National Security Advisor have raised even more concerns among racial and religious minorities.

Will President Trump’s America be less tolerant and more racist? During a particularly nasty campaign, too many Trump supporters exhibited outright racism. Other supporters — including those from immigrant backgrounds — were emboldened to express anti-immigrant sentiment. Indeed, the campaign provided the irony of a Greek immigrant by way of Canada who conducted an interview in a foreign language and then adopted the rhetoric of a white nativist.

The immediate aftermath of the election has only made those who fear the rise of hate more worried. The comparison of the President-elect to Hitler is pure hyperbole and unfair, but comparing the white nativist movement that made up a significant part of his supporters to those that Daniel Jonah Goldhagen labeled Hitler’s Willing Executioners may be on point. Even those Trump supporters who do not subscribe to racism in any way should recall the words Martin Niemöller, a prominent Protestant pastor who emerged as an outspoken public foe of Adolf Hitler:

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.

But there is reason to be encouraged. Concerned Americans have not been cowed into silence. One of the most viral post-election tweets played off the Niemöller quote, declaring:

First they came for the Muslims and we said “not this time, mother*****r.”

Children are writing to the president-elect, urging him to be kind. The cast of the musical Hamilton publicly challenged Vice President-elect Pence to “work on behalf of all of us.” And Jonathan Greenblatt, the CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, declared earlier this week: “[I]f one day Muslim-Americans are forced to register their identities, that is the day this proud Jew will register as Muslim.”

There have been other notable moments of courage and defiance in the face of hate. I think of Archbishop Damaskinos of Greece, who although under Nazi occupation, eschewed the silence of Nazi collaborators across Europe. He decided to defy Nazi orders, declaring: “I have taken up my cross. I spoke to the Lord, and made up my mind to save as many Jewish souls as possible.” And these were not thoughts uttered behind closed doors or jotted down in a personal journal. The Archbishop challenged the collaborationist Prime Minister openly, admonishing him in writing:

Our Holy Religion does not recognize superior or inferior qualities based on race or religion, as it is stated: “There is neither Jew nor Greek” (Gal. 3:28) and thus condemns any attempt to discriminate or create racial or religious differences. Our common fate, both in days of glory and in periods of national misfortune, forged inseparable bonds between all Greek citizens, without exemption, irrespective of race.

The majority of Trump supporters are not racists, and I doubt that the majority of Trump opponents are ready to speak out for fellow Americans. We can have legitimate disagreements over tax policy, education policy, immigration policy, foreign policy. But silence in the face of hate only makes us complicit in the actions that emanate from that hate. It is time we prove that we learned the lessons of Nazi Germany, of the Armenian and Greek genocides in Turkey, of the World War II Japanese internment camps in the United States. I for one will stand next to Jonathan Greenblatt, and if Muslim-Americans are forced to register their identities, this proud Greek-American — one who looks to Archbishop Damaskinos as inspiration — will register as a Muslim.

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