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battle for the swastika: different faiths have different meanings
February 24, 2005 1:09 PM   Subscribe

The European Union abandoned a plan to ban Nazi symbols throughout it's member nations. The ban was strongly supported by German Ministers of Parliament after British Prince Harry wore Nazi insignia to a costume party. Among those opposed to the ban was the Hindu Forum of Britain (press release) who launched a campaign to reclaim the Swastika. The symbol its self was in Frequent popular use before WWII. Anti-Communists in former Soviet Block countries sought to expand the ban to communist emblems. Searching for different points of views on this came up with an earlier story of interfaith conflict over meaning, and a parallel to the European debate going on in New Zealand.
posted by KirkJobSluder (39 comments total)

 
What is a Swastika? This can get a little confusing. While most people associate the 4-pointed spiral with the Swastika, that icon is far, far older, and is used by several religions still to represent rotation/circularity/etc. For example, I once visited a fringe religion's temple in Japan, which was smothered in these spirals. The Swastika is a specific use of that spiral, where it is tilted slightly and placed against a white and red background.
posted by mek at 1:18 PM on February 24, 2005


Can we ban the cross? Seriously this is good news, while the symbols are associated with a horrific time in history, any banning of a symbol is a banning of speech.
posted by jeblis at 1:18 PM on February 24, 2005


It was completely unworkable and contrary to the Human Rights Act. They'd have to have banned the hammer-and-sickle as well. It's not symbols that count, it's the opinions they signify. Prince Harry is a twat, not a fascist.
posted by Pretty_Generic at 1:21 PM on February 24, 2005


Oddly, swastikas seem to be usually left off the tailfin of Luftwaffe planes in flight simulators. Seems a bit silly. There are programs to replace them.
posted by Pretty_Generic at 1:24 PM on February 24, 2005


mek: According to my research, you have it backwards. Swastika is derived from the sanskrit word for the symbol and appears to refer to any cross with the arms bent at a right-angle in either a clockwise or anti-clockwise direction. My experience with Buddhist iconography is that both directions are used.

The Nazi's actually used the term Hakenkreuz.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 2:19 PM on February 24, 2005


On the eve of the US' entry into World War II, the US Army's 45th Infantry Division switched from a good-luck Indian swastika symbol to a thunderbird on its divisional patch.
posted by alumshubby at 2:20 PM on February 24, 2005


Europe just doesn't have the same strong free speech protection tradition that the US does. I haven't figured out how much it matters-- does the fact that Nazis can march in Skokie make American debates more wide open? Sure it does on the fringes, but does it affect mainstream discourse that much? I prefer the American approach, but am not sure how vastly different a world we'd live in if we Americans could ban the display of the swastika.

"Its" does not have an apostrophe when used as a possessive, just like "his," "my," or "their."
posted by ibmcginty at 2:21 PM on February 24, 2005


Banning a representative symbol doesn't make a point of view go away; it just makes it harder to spot.

That's good, if you don't like to be reminded of what the symbol stands for -- at least until those who previously used the symbol start using a new symbol to represent the same thing.

That's bad, if you think that if you can't see a problem, it can't hurt you.
posted by davejay at 2:21 PM on February 24, 2005


The problem with attacking symbols is that you only attack the surface, not the underlying problem. People no longer see the symbols and often assume the problem has been solved. (on preview: just call me davejay's ditto head)

It does make me wonder though, what would happen to people who have swastikas tattooed about their person. Free laser surgery? Or would they simply be offered plasters?

Oh yes, and here's a page about the swastika.
posted by dodgygeezer at 2:27 PM on February 24, 2005


"Its" does not have an apostrophe when used as a possessive, just like "his," "my," or "their."

Damn, spent a full bloody hour researching and editing and I still get caught by a few obvious goofs. Oops!

davejay: I think a part of what I'm interested in is how do you reconcile conflicts between groups who have radically different meanings attached to a symbol. I suspect that the same sort of conflict can apply to the American Flag.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 2:29 PM on February 24, 2005


Oddly, swastikas seem to be usually left off the tailfin of Luftwaffe planes in flight simulators.

This isn't that odd at all, if you want to be able to sell your flight sim software in Germany. Model kits sold in Germany don't come with the same sets of decals that they do in the US either, as I recall.
posted by me & my monkey at 2:32 PM on February 24, 2005


Trash it!
posted by thomcatspike at 2:34 PM on February 24, 2005


Doesn't banning things just make people want to have them more? Doesn't banning it just create sympathy towards the banned opinion in the sense that expression and speech is curtailed? Not only do I think this is a bad idea, I think it will backfire to a degree.
posted by Arch Stanton at 2:42 PM on February 24, 2005


Well, Arch, the testing grounds already exists: they're illegal in Germany already, and have been for quite a while. Has Germany experienced more Nazi sympathy?
posted by Bugbread at 2:46 PM on February 24, 2005


me & my monkey
Also, if you've ever played the WWII boardgame Axis and Allies you'll remember tha the Nazi forces were represented by a black cross, not a swastika, for exactly the reason you mentioned (sale in Germany).
ibmcginty

I think you bring up a really interesting point, one that coincidentally I was pondering earlier this afternoon. There seem to be two questions here:

1. Is it okay to infringe upon the right to free speech in cases that deal with issues like this?
2. Will doing this solve anything?

Many of the previous posters have addressed the second question, pointing out that banning a symbol does not kill the idea and would be pointless at best, actively harmful by hiding the idea at worst. But what about the first question? I'm leaning towads agreement with ibmcginty here. I know there is a "slippery slope" argument, that allowing one thing to be banned could lead to others, but I'm not sure if that logically follows. Would the US banning Nazi or KKK rallies and images really lead to an eradication of free speech? Is anything gained or helped by allowing their views to be aired? I would say no.
posted by Sangermaine at 2:52 PM on February 24, 2005


Would the US banning Nazi or KKK rallies and images really lead to an eradication of free speech? Is anything gained or helped by allowing their views to be aired? I would say no.

The minute you outlaw an idea, it only stands that further bans on ideas follow. Think about it.
posted by angry modem at 2:55 PM on February 24, 2005


and uh, a symbol is still an idea.
posted by angry modem at 2:56 PM on February 24, 2005


I have no idea, bugbread. They were questions. However, I can see the swastika becoming a symbol of countercultures of sorts and of 'sticking it to the man' if it's banned. People have become increasingly hostile towards Israel and nationalistic in Germany in recent years according to a January poll.

The swastika was changed famously in the Super NES version of Wolfenstein 3D as well. And dogs to rats, too.
posted by Arch Stanton at 2:57 PM on February 24, 2005


"Let's all ban the ban's." Says Todd as he dons his Burkha, veil, Yarmulke, and Swastika bare midriff T-shirt combo.
posted by tkchrist at 3:04 PM on February 24, 2005


They changed the dogs to rats? That sucks.
posted by Bugbread at 3:04 PM on February 24, 2005


Another interesting swastika site: The Truth and Legend of the Swastika. Lots of good pictures, including the Elephant Gate at the Carlsberg Brewery.
posted by raygirvan at 3:13 PM on February 24, 2005


Go flaunt your Swastikas. Go march, ya Nazis, pacifists, etc. "hate speech" should be unregulated.
posted by ParisParamus at 3:17 PM on February 24, 2005


Germany not only bans the symbol, but also groups that associate themselves with the former National Socialist party. Given its history, I can see the case for this in Germany. The extreme nature of their history can probably justify extreme measures now. I konw that the Germans themselves are hyper-aware of the issue--and they probably should still be ultra-sensitive to Nazism.

But it becomes a much different issue when you talk about essentially extending this ban to the whole of the EU since many EU member states would fear Nazism for a very different reason--it was the problem of their former enemy, not of their own country.
posted by tippiedog at 3:17 PM on February 24, 2005


Another interesting swastika: Nazi trees.
posted by dodgygeezer at 3:25 PM on February 24, 2005


by a black cross, not a swastika, for exactly the reason you mentioned (sale in Germany)
It's also logical since the "black cross" represents Germany’s national symbol while the “swastika” stood for Hitler’s political party.
posted by thomcatspike at 3:26 PM on February 24, 2005


So I'm agreeing with ParisP. now since he was here first, right?
posted by davy at 3:28 PM on February 24, 2005


wow, those trees are awesome -- how sad to cut them down. Reactionary punks.
posted by undule at 3:28 PM on February 24, 2005


Sangermaine: Well, I think one of the things that complicates this issue is that you have two religious groups, leading to things like the Pokemon flap after a Japanese language card with a swastika was imported into the United States. The link from New Zealand describes the conflicts with the symbol coming from Maori traditions.

Paris: One of my concerns is that I live in a community with a very strong Buddhist presence, so I'm more likely to see the symbol on religious iconography rather than Nazi iconography.

tippiedog: I think one of the issues is that not all countries in the EU have the same demographics or patterns of immigration.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 3:35 PM on February 24, 2005


Dang, need something this evening to make better sense of my posts.

What do you do when a large chunk of the world sees a symbol as blessed and good, and another large chunk of the world sees it as the ultimate evil? I'm wondering how globalization plays into this with consumers in North America and Europe hating a symbol that is beloved by producers in Asia.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 3:44 PM on February 24, 2005


Sangermaine: Would the US banning Nazi or KKK rallies and images really lead to an eradication of free speech? Is anything gained or helped by allowing their views to be aired? I would say no.

Amen, brother! The Bill of Rights does not apply to the likes of KKK members or Nazis. I know I trust the government to apply the constitution to only good people. What's next? Gays have the right to poison our kids with their rallies? I mean come on! Opinions I do not agree with must be suppressed - how can they possibly be worth while? After all, outlawing speech that I don't agree with won't prevent me from presenting my views.
/Sarcasm
posted by Bort at 4:17 PM on February 24, 2005


Did you know that'Ride of the Valkyries' by the German Opera composer Richard Wagner was the same melody the Nazis used as underplay in there Wochenschau, the weekly news program being shown in every German movie-theater during the Third Reich.
They used especially this song when they displayed the "heroes" of the German Wehrmacht (the German army during Nazi-times).
The music and the pictures should proclaim the German people the "greatness of the Aryan soldiers marching into battle, and conquering the peoples of the lower races in their inequity and cowardice"
Now here is how an embedded reporter of the "Chicago Tribune" describes the marching into Falludja on 11/10 2004:
"A psychological operations Humvee blaring Richard Wagner's 'Ride of the Valkyries' drove by, followed by creaking military construction equipment."
What kind of chuzpe do you need to use even the same symbols as the Nazis in WW II?
posted by halekon at 4:21 PM on February 24, 2005


Hay guys, the jewish holocaust happened, what, like 50 years ago? That's totally ancient news. I mean, I can barely remember that pesky Bosnia/Hercegovina conflict, better yet something that didn't even happened in my lifetime! Let's see those swastikas, I say!

on preview: halekon, that is one of the most tenuous metaphors i've ever read.
posted by naxosaxur at 4:33 PM on February 24, 2005


naxosaxur: Hay guys, the jewish holocaust happened, what, like 50 years ago? That's totally ancient news. I mean, I can barely remember that pesky Bosnia/Hercegovina conflict, better yet something that didn't even happened in my lifetime! Let's see those swastikas, I say!

So, how would you deal with the interfaith and intercultural issue?
posted by KirkJobSluder at 4:42 PM on February 24, 2005


Now here is how an embedded reporter of the "Chicago Tribune" describes the marching into Falludja on 11/10 2004:
"A psychological operations Humvee blaring Richard Wagner's 'Ride of the Valkyries' drove by, followed by creaking military construction equipment."
What kind of chuzpe do you need to use even the same symbols as the Nazis in WW II?


Francis Ford Coppola had it, evidently.
posted by Vidiot at 5:04 PM on February 24, 2005


What kind of chuzpe do you need to use even the same symbols as the Nazis in WW II?

Maybe some Lee Greenwood would've been more apropos?
posted by alumshubby at 5:07 PM on February 24, 2005


It's also logical since the "black cross" represents Germany’s national symbol while the “swastika” stood for Hitler’s political party.

The Iron Cross (hakenkreuz) was and is the symbol of the German military, never the national symbol of Germany; that would be the Black Eagle, in a tradition dating from late medieval Prussia (and arguably from Charlemagne). From 1935 until 1945, the Swastika Flag was Germany's national flag. The Iron Cross remained in use as the symbol for the "civilian" armed forces (which it does today).
posted by dhartung at 6:26 PM on February 24, 2005


KirkJobSluder: The link from New Zealand describes the conflicts with the symbol coming from Maori traditions.

It's just an analogy, though. There's no history of the symbol in Maori culture, but Youle's working in a recent tradition of Maori artists using the swastika as a kind of metaphor for the appropriation of cultural symbolism.

On the surface, it's about the boundaries of what is and isn't acceptable in the movement of imagery across cultures, and its exploitation in art and commodity form. But what it really is, in this context, is a kind of joke. It's a meta-scandal: a piss-take of high-art pieties, and a commentary on the messy intersection of art and identity politics.

I don't know about Youle, but fellow swastika-controversialist Peter Robinson is doing a whole performative riff on the concept of a 'Maori artist', and the unspoken rules of occupying that kind of subject position. (Be 'colourful' and authentic, but please don't be shocking the liberal pieties...)
posted by Sonny Jim at 6:30 PM on February 24, 2005


Would the US banning Nazi or KKK rallies and images really lead to an eradication of free speech? Is anything gained or helped by allowing their views to be aired? I would say no.

Like Bort pointed out if we started censoring unpopular groups that power would be extended to groups never intended to be affected by it. Many years ago Canada passed an anti-poornography law. It was backed by feminist groups and some gay groups because they wanted to get rid of violent porn. Guess what? The Canadian government has used that law to close down feminist and gay bookstores.

Besides, if we allow the wackos to speak publicly it just means they make fools of themselves in public.
posted by berek at 10:25 PM on February 24, 2005


Berek: Besides, if we allow the wackos to speak publicly it just means they make fools of themselves in public.

While I agree with most of your post above, regarding this statement, I don't think history bears you out.
posted by Bugbread at 5:46 AM on February 25, 2005


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