Photo Credit: Asher Schwartz

Martin Niemöller’s haunting poem, “First They Came,” has been making the rounds in social media lately.  The numerous variants of the poem recount Europe’s stoicism as “they” came for Communists, Socialists, Trade Unionists, Gypsies, Homosexuals, and of course Jews—in varying orders and combinations—before coming for “normal” Europeans.  Widely cited for its stinging rebuke of Europe’s intelligentsia as the Nazis attacked, enslaved, and exterminated one vulnerable minority after another, and for its terse reminder that self-preservation requires vigilance in protecting minority rights, the poem’s popularity spikes whenever a new atrocity works its way onto the front pages.

Today’s atrocity involves the refugees from Syria’s civil war, and in particular the plight of Sunni Muslim refugees fleeing the newly ascendant Sunni Caliphate.  The accused are those who question the wisdom of granting mass asylum in the U.S. or in Europe.  The charge against them is an irrational hatred of Muslims, also known as Islamophobia.  But the accusers, who see themselves as champions of the oppressed, have inverted both the facts and the moral sentiment.  The masses currently huddling at the gates of the West are hardly the “first” targets of Islamist terror.  That dubious honor belongs to the same group for whose plight Neimöller’s silent intelligentsia bears the greatest culpability: the Jews.


The Islamic State’s notion that the vast expanse between the Straits of Gibraltar and the Shatt-al-Arab belongs to the Sunni Arabs, and that the even greater realm stretching from Andalusia to Indonesia belongs to the Muslims, is hardly new.  Its clearest expression involves the false claim that the Jews, by establishing a safe-haven nation-state in part of the historic Jewish homeland, had “stolen” land from its rightful Sunni Arab possessors.  The use of anti-Jewish terror to secure “misappropriated” portions of “Arab” land date back at least to the 1920s.  It came into its own in the 1970s and 80s, when Yasir Arafat’s PLO launched spectacular attacks on the Olympics, jetliners, and cruise ships.  Far from fighting these tactics before they could spread, the international community forgave them as understandably targeted against the Jews, and elevated Arafat from revolutionary to statesman.  Other groups, from the Muslim Brotherhood’s Gaza chapter of Hamas to the Iranian-sponsored Shiite Lebanese shock troops of Hezbollah, took note.  The use of terror to promote Arab and Islamic causes would yield significant positive returns.  The targets expanded outward.  In September 2000, Arafat launched his intifada in Jerusalem, unleashing terror upon an innocent civilian population whose leaders had been willing to capitulate to every demand that the world then deemed reasonable.  Once again, Arafat taught his brethren an important lesson: the West will retreat in the face of escalating demands.  A year later, the terror hit New York and Washington—with London and Madrid soon to follow.

As long as the victims were Jewish, the Western intelligentsia was willing to take the matter in stride; the threat was distant, and focused on others. Even those who found the tactics distasteful preferred blaming the terror victims to the terrorists themselves.

Meanwhile, the Muslim Brotherhood and its affiliates invented the term “Islamophobia,” which the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) then foisted upon the West.  In theory, Islamophobia describes the non-existent phenomenon whereby Westerners systematically attack and oppress Muslims.  In practice, it is a charge leveled at anyone opposed to Islamic supremacy, daring to suggest that Islam is due no greater respect than is any other faith, or that the world should judge Muslims by the same standards that it applies to anyone else.  In point of fact, though the number of bias attacks against Muslims and Islamic institutions is far from zero—where it belongs—there is no evidence of widespread violence against Muslims, and scant evidence of systematic discrimination, anywhere in the West.  Most impressively, Muslims enjoy their greatest measure of safety in the United States, where the broad citizenry has repeatedly gone out of its way to overlook provocations by Muslims committing anti-American atrocities in the name of Islam.

The legitimate refugees among the hordes now clamoring for admission to the West may indeed be every bit as miserable as those who attempted to flee Hitler’s Europe, but the situation is only parallel for the non-Sunni among them.  They, like the Jewish refugees for whom Neimöller and his friends refused to stand, for whom the British had foreclosed entrance to their homeland, and for whom no country in the world claimed kinship, have been driven from their homes and abandoned by the world.  The Sunni Arab majority now fleeing Syria, on the other hand, are part of a large and powerful family.  Nearly all of the Arab League’s twenty other state members, and nearly all of the OIC’s fifty-five other state members, are Sunni Muslim.  America should indeed assert its authority as a moral and military superpower, by pressing these places to open their borders to embrace their suffering kinsmen. Americans do not want to return refugee families to their torturers.  But many Americans want and expect these powerful Muslim nations to embrace the victims of radical Islam that they claim as family.  Their failure to do so threatens to shake the foundations of American forbearance.  A global Muslim leadership unwilling to welcome Muslim victims speaks volumes about the balance between violent, radical Muslims and peaceful, tolerant Muslims.  It is hardly irrational to wonder whether IS speaks for a silent majority when so few of the world’s powerful Sunni Muslim leaders seem prepared to aid even Sunni Muslim victims.

Meanwhile, if the West, or the broader international community, truly wished to heed Neimöller’s admonition, it would refocus its efforts to protect the Islamist’s first choice of victims.  Unlike mythical Islamophobia, anti-Semitism is rampant and growing.  From Chabad houses in Mumbai and Kosher markets in Paris to the streets of Israel, the Jews remain the Islamist’s target of choice.  Even in the United States, likely the most tolerant country in the world, the number of violent anti-Semitic attacks consistently dwarfs the number of violent attacks against any other faith, including Islam. According to the FBI’s most recent statistics, attacks against Jews represent 59% of all anti-religious hate crimes—one and a half times more than attacks against members of all other faith groups combined. Yet many of America’s leaders and much of its intelligentsia treat anti-Jewish terror as if it were a threat apart, unfortunate but excusable, and unrelated to the broader threat of Islamist terror.

For whom did they come first?  They came for the Jews.  They are still coming for the Jews.  And they will come for far more than the Jews until the West chooses to defend the Jews.  Those Westerners–including some leading American Jewish organizations—raucously charging Islamophobia and recklessly calling for unrestricted immigration should know better.  Humanitarianism, strategy, morality, and self-preservation all come together to a single point.  The fight against anti-Semitism is a critical front in the battle against radical Islam.  Complacency in the face of anti-Semitism fuels the radical Islamist cause.  And a Western willingness to let Islamic leaders off the hook for their own anti-Semitism, and from the responsibility for caring for even their own people, threatens to bring a strengthened Islamism to our very doorsteps.


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Bruce Abramson, a technology lawyer in private practice in NYC (, is a Senior Fellow at the London Center for Policy Research. Jeff Ballabon is CEO of B2 Strategic ( and a Senior Fellow at the Center for Statesmanship and Diplomacy.