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Thursday, January 13, 2005

Oh Harry!

The sad thing about Prince Harry appearing at a party wearing a Nazi swastika is that he is not untypical of his class and his generation. Surveys have consistently shown that the vast majority of young people know little or nothing about the Nazis and the evil they perpetrated. Even fewer understand the significance of the swastika, whilst most have never heard of the concentration camps and what occurred there.

The symbols of the German National Socialist party have been hijacked by a minority to support a certain view of Britishness that excludes ethnic minorities, wraps itself in the Union Jack and promotes a very narrow view of what it is to be English. The fact that an expensively educated Prince of the realm has allowed himself to be sucked into this culture is very disturbing. Not only are his actions insensitive and ignorant but they bring the whole monarchy into disrepute.

As Leighton Andrews points out this is a time when extremist parties are becoming more active. It is also just weeks away from Holocaust Memorial Day. In that sense Prince Harry has made a disturbing political statement that must sound a warning to us all about the many threats that face our democratic process. If the third in line to the throne does not understand what he has done then how are we to get the message across to others?

Personally, I agree with Michael Howard that a personal apology is called for, not one issued by spokespeople. I also agree with the California-based Simon Wiesenthal Centre, one of the largest international Jewish human rights organisations, that the prince should attend a ceremony being held at Auschwitz later this month, to mark the 60th anniversary of its liberation.

I know that there are some who are eager to accept the apology that has been issued and put this incident behind us, but I do not believe that this is sufficient. To leave it at that would be to tacitly accept the insidious racism and little-Englander nationalism that is slowly growing in some sectors of our society. It would avoid confronting an evil that at some stage needs to be faced down. In some ways Prince Harry has given us an opportunity to deal with these issues now rather than later. We should not miss that chance for fear of causing further embarrassment to the royal family.

Of particular relevance with this story is the collective amnesia of everyone that Mel Brooks', writer of The Producers, is Jewish. This film/musical doesn't seem to have caused as much fuss and it features dancing swastikas and such classic lines as "don't be stupid, be a smartie, come and join the Nazi Party." It was also released in the '60s, when the memory of Nazi Germany was much freshier. Harry was only dressing up for a fancy dress party.
Double standards perhaps?
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