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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

One Main Reason to Be Scared

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It is probably the most abused quotation of all time: "When they came for the communists, I remained silent; I was not a communist. When they locked up the social democrats, I remained silent; I was not a social democrat. When they came for the trade unionists, I did not speak out; I was not a trade unionist. When they came for the Jews, I did not speak out; I was not a Jew. When they came for me, there was no one left to speak out." It is attributed to German Pastor Martin Niemöller, a onetime Hitler supporter who was later imprisoned by the Nazis. The poetic wording probably has only a remote relationship to the pastor's actual words; overall, though, it is a brilliant but little-understood insight into the nature of collaboration.

In the modern world, everybody is a something. In Western democracies, the ability to claim affiliation with a group leads to the useful but annoying phenomenon of identity politics. In Russia today, it endows each of us with her own individual allotment of fear.

I am Jewish and gay. I am also the mother of one (light-haired, fair-skinned) child who attends a Jewish preschool and one child who has very dark hair and eyes and swarthy skin. I have four reasons to be scared. How scared are you? Go ahead and count the ways.

That's silly. All of us have exactly one reason to be scared, and we all have it in common. We live in a city and in a country where people who claim authority -- including God-given authority -- actually say that some human beings do not have the right to exist. To my mind, that is key to any definition of fascism.

Over the last year, various religious leaders have called on their followers physically to attack gay people. It began when a group of activists declared their plans to organize a gay pride parade in Moscow in May 2006. Umar Idrisov, the chief Muslim authority in the Nizhny Novgorod region, said Muslims should stone gays if and when they march. Far from reprimanding Idrisov for calling for violence, Russia's head mufti, Talgat Tadzhuddin, stated that all "normal people, both Muslims and Russian Orthodox," are going to beat gay people if they come out to march. Patriarch Alexy II was not quite as crude, but he publicly thanked Mayor Yury Luzhkov for his blatantly illegal refusal to consider the organizers' application for a parade permit. Last month, Metropolitan Kirill cited homosexuality as a chief evil value forced upon Russia by the West. The message was clear: Homosexuals don't just lack the right to march, they don't have the right to exist.

Last weekend, Russian Orthodox religious activists cooperated with radical nationalists to attempt two pogroms at Moscow gay-friendly clubs. Police intervened, with varying degrees of success: According to the management of the club attacked on Sunday night, one of their staff members had to be hospitalized after being hit by flying bottles, eggs and rocks. The following night, young men with shaved heads and older women with religious posters, and their priest, appeared in front of a different gay club, alternately praying, shouting "No fags in Russia!" and "Glory to Russia!" and trying to storm the club.

I could circle back now to Martin Niemöller's famous quote and state that if you don't stand up for gay people because you are not one of us, sooner or later they will come for you. That is true, in most cases, and obvious. But it's not the point. The point is, we live in a country where religious and secular authorities openly encourage fascist violence. It's getting to where we risk becoming collaborators by even just recognizing the authority of this president, this mayor, this patriarch and this mufti. And at this point, it really makes no difference what you are anymore.

Masha Gessen is a Moscow journalist.