Boston Globe (Op-Ed)
By Timothy Snyder
May 07, 2017
In September 1941, the German army drove Soviet power from Kiev, the capital of the Soviet republic of Ukraine. The Nazi secret police, the Gestapo, took over the building that had housed the Soviet secret police, known as the NKVD. Natives of Kiev soon appeared to denounce their neighbors to their new Nazi masters, just as they had done under Soviet rule.
The main enemy defined by Soviet power before the war had been the “Polish spy,” so Kievans informed on neighbors of Polish origin. Under the Nazis, the enemy was the “Jewish communist,” and so now it was Jewish neighbors who were in peril. The two regimes, different in so many ways, were alike in their cultivation of, and indeed their reliance upon, denunciation.
The scene seems distant, the perpetrators exotic. But are we so different? If we could denounce our neighbor with impunity, would we recognize the danger to ourselves? Denunciation is a great temptation. You can destroy lives on a whim.
Our own Department of Homeland Security has just announced an American denunciation program, known as the Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement office. The stated purpose is to aid the victims of undocumented migrants. VOICE declares that “any person who is affected by criminal activity allegedly perpetrated by criminal aliens in the United States” should consider himself or herself “victims of immigration crime.” An online form encourages Americans to name names and check off the “violation that best applies” from a list that ranges from benefits fraud to terrorism — and includes “other.” “Did you have additional businesses/individuals to report on?” the questionnaire concludes.
Did you catch the trick? Did it strike you that the due process of law had been abandoned in favor of classic denunciation politics? Or did you accept that the person doing the denouncing was automatically the victim, and the person being denounced automatically a criminal? There is no reason to believe that someone is the victim of a crime just because he or she goes online and denounces a member of an officially stigmatized group. In a country where the rule of law prevails, it is the courts that decide whether a crime has been committed.
If you denounce, you are granting the government the power to define who is in your community, and who is out. You, along with everyone else who denounces, are destroying civil society and replacing it with an uncivil one. Once you have denounced, and the regime changes the definition of the outsider, you know that you could be next. The result is permanent fear and permanent obedience. No one dares to ask the government for any sort of reform, since to do so is to stand out, and to risk joining some category of the excluded.
A country where the rule of law prevails has no need of an office such as VOICE. Undocumented people are less likely to commit crimes than US citizens. They are more likely to be victims of crimes than US citizens. And now that the federal government has stigmatized them, they are more likely than ever to be victims of hate crimes. But even if none of that were true, such an office would be unnecessary for a much more basic reason: Anyone who has been the victim of a crime should call the police, not some bureaucrat in Washington.
The purpose of VOICE has nothing to do with safety. The purpose of VOICE is to establish the concept of the “criminal migrant.” The aim is to make denunciation normal, to educate Americans in a new kind of politics. Migrants will be the main victims of the scheme. But the real target is our basic American notion that everyone deserves equal treatment under the law. When we denounce, we build American authoritarianism.
We like to believe that we are better than this, that we have learned the lessons of the 20th century. But if we accept programs like VOICE, we prove that we have not.
For more information, go to: www.beverlyhillsimmigrationlaw.com