Tuesday, November 2, 2010

even bigots must be free to speak

Here's a quote that's generally credited to Martin Niemöller:
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.

Then they came for me
and by that time no one was left to speak up.
I'm a red, which explains why free speech matters so much to me. If capitalists don't respect free speech, I'm silenced.

But that quote isn't addressed to reds. It's addressed to people who oppose them. A modern equivalent for antiracism theorists would start, "They came first for the bigots, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a bigot."

Censors love a foothold, so they start with the things that the majority opposes, then use what they've gained to censor more. That's why I agree with the ACLU: lovers of free speech must speak up for a bigot's right to speak.

ETA: I wouldn't have thought of the quote if I hadn't seen it being used by one of the supporters of Wiscon's decision to cancel a speaker. The notion that Niemöller believed in silencing bad people before their ideas could spread just croggled me.

Yes, many notions croggle me.

ETA 2: This post follows from uninviting a speaker is censorship: Elizabeth Moon, Wiscon, ACLU, and more.