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Monday, January 17, 2005

To ban or not to ban

I argued on Thursday that Prince Harry's gaffe in wearing Nazi regalia to a fancy dress party was part of a wider malaise in which 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.

Leighton Andrews took up this theme arguing that "The only explanation for this can be the decline of history teaching in schools - or rather the absence of compulsory history teaching after 14. History is central to a sense of citizenship." It seems that this applies to Government Ministers as well.

Welsh Culture Minister, Alun Pugh, has now written to the Home Office requesting a review of the law concerning the display and wearing of Nazi regalia. He argues that the only "legitimate place" for displaying Nazi memorabilia and symbols is in museums and history textbooks "in order to document the atrocities of the Third Reich and their attempts to enslave us."

"The people who sell this stuff and the dimwits who wear it would face criminal sanctions in other parts of Europe and I think we should examine the case for doing the same." That is a legitimate point of view, however, as a Liberal I always hesitate before rushing into banning anything and restricting people's right to express themselves, no matter how obnoxious and insulting their views are. That is because there are other issues involved.

One aspect is that the swastika is a Hindu religious symbol which was misappropriated by the Nazis. It is a very old symbol in many other cultures and, in related forms, appears frequently as a symbol of good fortune or, reversed, death. Any attempt to outlaw it comes up against the right to religious freedom as well.

Another relates to the problem we face, that of balancing freedom of expression and democratic rights against the wider issues of the rise of the far right and racism. We should not forget that Hitler rose to power on the back of a campaign of intimidation and suppression. He burnt books, he banned certain works of art and music, he oppressed and murdered Jews, gays and gypsies amongst others and he limited freedom of speech. Nobody is arguing that a call to ban Nazi symbols is akin to any of those things but you cannot oppose authoritarianism and tyranny by adopting its tactics on any level.

Equally, you cannot effectively teach the lessons of history without perspective - relating the symbols that some have adopted as commonplace to the horrors and attrocities of the past. Upsetting as it is to see youngsters adorn themselves with Swastikas, to see Nazi flags sold in a Cardiff street, to see the third in line to the throne debase himself and his family on the front page of the Sun or to see the British National Party win votes and some elections, the only way to effectively combat these trends is to win the argument.

"as a Liberal I always hesitate before rushing into banning anything and restricting people's right to express themselves, no matter how obnoxious and insulting their views are"

So you're perfectly happy for everyone to wear Nazi replica uniforms are you Peter?
I am by no means happy. I am just not going to advocate that their right to do so should be taken away from them anymore than I would advocate preventing you belonging to a party I do not agree with or that transvestites should not dress as women. Both of these activities would have been banned by the Nazis. I will not adopt their tactics.
And quite right you are too Peter.
And you think that's a vote winner do you?

I'm sure the majority of your constituents, especially our World War II veterans, will be disgusted by your attitude.

People gave their lives to protect the world from an evil regime, only for you to come along fifty years later saying we shouldn't ban people from wearing Nazi uniforms. As is the Nazi's are entitled to some sort of respect.
If you are incapable of engaging properly with this discussion David then perhaps you should refrain from commenting. Issues and principles are not defined in terms of whether they win votes or not, despite the ascendance of the spin doctor under New Labour. Equally, redefining my argument in your own terms is an intellectually bankrupt way of proceeding.

I have never argued that the Nazis should be afforded any respect whatsoever and for you to say that I did is a dishonest and deliberate misinterpretation of my views. I have only contempt for the Nazis, for fascists, racists and others of their ilk.

However, as you say, people gave their lives to protect the world from an evil regime. In doing so they opposed everything that the Nazis stood for, including censorship, oppression, intimidation, murder and the suppression of the freedom of expression.

The Nazis were not some abstract evil, they were very real and their actions had profound and tragic consequences on the lives of millions of people. We should not be using their methods of banning that we disagree with even if the purpose is to oppose people and groups copying them. Often in these circumstances banning things has the opposite effect and can rally support to a cause.

The answer has to lie in education and in ensuring that people understand what it is these symbols stand for and why they are so evil and undesirable. The problem, as both Leighton Andrews and I have said, is that this is not happening.
My partner, who is a teacher (although not a History teacher) says that all her 6th-formers know lots about the Nazis.

The German ambssador recently complained about the emphasis on WWII in British history lessons. And according to a story in the Telegraph, British History teachers have been flown to Germany to show them there is something other than the Nazis to talk about:

'Ministry officials reportedly told the British visitors that bias in their teaching led to animosity towards Germany'.

So we're supposed to believe that kids know nothing about that Nazi era: and that history lessons concentrate on the Nazi era. Can't both be correct, unless we assume teachers incessantly teach about the Nazis and the kids don't take any of it in...

The origin of the poll that supposedly shows 45% of people didn't know what Auschwitz was came from a mention in a BBC press release to publicise its programming. The figures originated in its regular postal Quest survey and was answered by people over the age of 16 - not current GCSE or younger school students at all. Leighton Andrews is taking an under-informed pop at current history teaching, I'd say, because I haven't seen an age breakdown of the survey responses and neither has he.

I'd like to take a look at the methodology of the survey (response rate, participation/inclusion etc). It doesn't ring true to me.
Perhaps the problem is not knowledge but understanding.
I stand by what I say.

And I'm sure the war veterans of Swansea would agree with me.
Although the swastika was an ancient symbol for "good luck" in India, that is not why it was used by the monstrous Nazis. The Nazis symbol was a "Hakenkreuz," not a "swastika." Hakenkreuz means "hooked cross."

RexCurry.net made the astounding historical discovery that the swastika was sometimes used to represent overlapping "S" letters for "socilalism" under the German National Socialists. People forget that "Nazi" means "National Socialist German Workers' Party." http://rexcurry.net/swastikanews.html It is the site that changed the way people think about the swastika.

It is also the site that made the news-breaking discovery that the straight-arm salute of the horrid National Socialist German Workers' Party (Nazis) came from the USA's original pledge of allegiance in government schools (as written by a national socialist in the USA) and also from the military salute. It did not come from ancient Rome. http://rexcurry.net/pledgesalute.html and see more photos at http://rexcurry.net/pledge2.html & http://rexcurry.net/pledge_military.html The website changed the way people think about the pledge.

Some critics make the absurd argument that during the 25 year existence of the horrid Party no Nazi noticed the "S" shapes nor attached any meaning (nor anyone in the SS Division). They also ignore the fact that the Party's leader was an artist.
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