Tuesday, 29 December 2015

I did not speak out....

As I wrote in my previous blog - this was written in August 2014 but not posted. It is as relevant now as it was then. 
Some years ago I commissioned a calligrapher to write a version of the often-quoted poem by Pastor Martin Niemöller which hangs in my hall as a reminder. I have subsequently learned that there are many versions of this, he changed it from time to time to suit the audience but the message is the same. (I have also learned he perhaps is not quite as straightforward a person as I originally thought – who is?)
One version of the poem, at the United States Holocaust Museum, is here:
“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.”

I walk past my version of this several times a day and it is much on my mind at the moment. Jews have fled many Middle East countries and no one spoke out. Christians have fled (and are continuing to flee) many of the countries and now Iraq is being ethnically cleansed – leave, convert or die. Where are the mass protests? Now that the Yazidis are fleeing as many have been murdered, women raped, kidnapped, forcibly married and used as slaves – the world is waking up a bit. Hundreds of thousands of Muslims have died at the hands of other Muslims – where are the mass protests against this?

It seems that the world’s outrage is saved for Israel (and now extending to the Jews). Don’t think for one moment that I am of the “Israel can do no wrong” camp. Far from it – and neither are many Israelis by the way. The world seems to need Israel to be perfect when their own governments are anything but. Israel remains the only country in the Middle East where you are free to practice your religion, express your sexuality, genders are equal and all have equality before the law.

They all have freedom of speech and can criticize the government and the armed forces.  This includes the 1.7 million Arabs – mostly Muslim but some Christian - as well and the 12 Arab members of the Knesset. There have been Arab members of the Knesset since the beginning.

In the presence of neighbours, some of whom deny their right to exist and would like to drive them into the sea, they defend themselves. The world doesn’t mind that – as long as they don’t do it too well.

No one talks about the hundreds of thousands of Jews who have fled Middle Eastern states – Egypt (75,000) Syria (15,000), Iran (80,000), Iraq (130,000) and others - over the decades, leaving everything behind. They have moved on and made their way in Israel, the USA, Australia, South Africa and many European countries. They are not refugees: they are citizens of their new countries. They know that they can never go back and will not be compensated for the homes, businesses, properties that they were forced to abandon.

To return to Niemöller: when he says – “then they came for me” – for ‘me’ read everyone who is not speaking out now including the many millions of Muslims who are outraged by what is happening.

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