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Right time to speak up is when the first act of tyranny is committed

Martin Niemo-ller’s famous commentary on the state of affairs in the Nazi Germany has come to be regarded as a barometer of what can happen in an autocratic or a totalitarian order in which ‘the acts of oppression, injustice and state terror’ go unquestioned and unchallenged.
“At first in Germany,” said Niemoller, “the Nazis came for the Communists, and I didn’t speak up, because I was not a Communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up because I was not a Jew. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I didn’t speak up because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, and I was a Protestant; so I did not speak up. Then they came for me. By that time there was no one to speak up for any one.”
This simple narration, besides being a brilliant portrayal of the Third Reich, has a lesson to learn for all those societies, countries and nations which attach as much value to individual rights and liberties as to the dreams of national glory and supremacy. The time to rise and speak up against tyranny and injustice is not after an order (or a government) develops confidence in its ability to get away with ‘murder’. Challenging the very first act of villainy is the surest way of saving a society from sinking into the abyss of total helplessness and subjugation.
For me it is not easy to cite the case of Nazi Germany as an example of this phenomenon.
Right from my years when I developed some understanding of the political and ideological currents behind the shaping of modern history, I have harboured a strong admiration for and fascination with the unique man of destiny Hitler was. He and his National Socialist ideology, revolving around a fierce pride in German nationhood and racial superiority, rose from the ashes (of Germany’s national honour) which the victors of the First World War had reduced this great nation to. Such had been the degree of humiliation Germans had been subjected to, that in 1930, bags full of Deutsche Marks were required in the markets of Vienna to buy a hundred dollar note. In 1933 Hitler had come to power, riding on the tidal wave of German Nationalism, and in 1936 he was already challenging the whole world. The rise of Nazi Germany is one of the most inspiring phenomena in the world history – an example for those who are driven by dreams of transforming their humiliation into their all-conquering march.
Thus tyranny that ruled Germany in the Nazi era had a sacred mission to justify its excesses. But not all autocrats and tyrants are Hitlers. Most of them simply hide behind one or the other agenda of ‘noble objectives’ so as to build unassailable fortresses of power around them.
The first time I used Niemoller’s commentary on ‘the consequences of docile acceptance of tyranny’ was in 1998. It was in a column that I wrote for Al-Akhbar. I remember Mr. Mushahid Hussain finding the words of Niemoller quite educative. Some years later Chaudhry Aitzaz Ahsan incorporated this commentary in one of his speeches in the Parliament. Quite ironically he finds himself detained today for the crime of speaking up.
While I am writing these lines, the Emergency of November the 3rd, 2007, has been lifted. I pray that with it are also lifted the clouds of uncertainty and gloom that have been hovering over and around us for quite some time.
Let us all rise in prayers to the Almighty that we don’t have to live and re-live again and again in the clutches of collective helplessness in which few can muster enough courage to speak up against tyranny.

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