"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." --Martin Niemoller
The late Protestant pastor Martin Niemöller (1892-1984) is perhaps best remembered for this widely cited quote. An outspoken public foe of Adolf Hitler, pastor Niemöller spent the last seven years of Nazi rule in concentration camps. Still for many years the pastor harbored anti-Semitic sentiments and only in 1963 did he acknowledge as much and express regret.
Regrettably, to this day, the message continues to be lost on far too many people including those who themselves have been victims of discrimination. Anti-racist activities have employed the quote to advance the notion that those who harbor prejudice against one community will inevitably feel prejudice towards others. Activists have tirelessly struggled to defend the idea that solidarity amongst communities is a pre-condition to successfully combating discrimination and attempt to instill empathy in the younger generation to put themselves in the place of the victim.
Too often empathy seems to be in short supply. Clearly empathy is not part of the mindset of terrorists, and regrettably they have enjoyed success in eroding tolerance and goodwill that is the key to social harmony in pluralistic societies.
Racist slurs and vilification of others are the worst possible response to the groups that the terrorists purport to represent. Racists are not known to play favourites. In North America and Europe, they succeed when they can get people from communities whose members have experienced discrimination to agree that certain other vulnerable communities are victimizers and not victims. In other words, racists succeed when they can get one vulnerable community to blame another for its own situation.
More than a few people overlooked France's former Front Nationale leader Jean-Marie Le Pen's denial of the Holocaust because of his popular tirades against Muslims. Some seemed persuaded that he was wrong about the Holocaust and right about Muslims, while others thought he was right about the Holocaust but wrong about Muslims.
In the United States, some Republicans want persons of Hispanic origin to see persons of African descent as a real source for concern while they simultaneously communicate the idea that actions of Mexicans trump all other problems. Racists seem especially delighted when some immigrants say it's those immigrants that are the issue that needs to be dealt with. Stigmatizing certain communities is seen by some leaders as a political opportunity, regardless of how deplorable such politics can be.
When stigma is attached to a community by populist political leaders, there appear fewer persons ready to come to the defence of the targeted group. In part, members of other communities see such support as a partisan issue. Others fear that such defence will result in their being associated with the group that is deemed unpopular.
By consequence, rather than viewing support for the vulnerable group as building solidarity and strengthening alliances, the key determinant towards taking action becomes what is in it for the supportive group. Its members will wonder if the situation were reversed would the vulnerable group come to their defence. The resulting inaction means that we simply get an answer to the question.
For those who think that the racists are wrong about them but right about others, the following survey results may provide some useful guidance. According to a 2016 poll conducted by Leger Marketing for the Association for Canadian Studies and the Canadian Race Relations Foundation, 60 per cent of those Canadians holding a very negative opinion of Jews hold a very negative opinion of Blacks and Muslims and 40 per cent see Asians and French Quebecers in an unfavourable light.
An earlier survey revealed a tendency amongst many Canadians to see the victims of racism as responsible for their own plight. Some 42 per cent of Canadians agree that Muslims are to blame for discrimination directed towards them (there is a wide gap on the basis of age when it comes to the extent to which Muslims should be blamed, with the youngest cohort far less likely than the oldest to feel as such).
In the case of Jews, just over one in four feel they are to blame for the discrimination against them (some 49 per cent of Francophones feel that they are mainly to blame for their plight compared with 18 per cent amongst Anglophones, and 24 per cent amongst Canada's allophones).
The results serve as a reminder that solidarity remains badly needed in the fight against racism if we're to successfully overcome the dead end of giving in to mutual recrimination.
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