Thinking For The Individual

Formerly known as 'Thinking For The People', this site offers some reflections on the state of British society and her people from the perspective of a libertarian Conservative with a passionate belief in the pillars of freedom and responsibility.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

The Lessons Of History

Prince Harry's decision to sport a swastika on his arm at a fancy dress party earlier this week will go down in common memory as a silly mistake by a boy who could do with a good kick up the back side. Yet the legacy of these silly mistakes could well be devastating.

The European Union may well decide later this week to introduce legislation throughout the community to ban Nazi symbols. Considering that EU justice ministers meet on the 27th (Thursday) and considering too that on that day 40 international leaders will be gathered at Auschwitz to commemorate the liberation of that concentration camp in 1945, the chances are that a grand gesture may be made to seize the opportunity.

There are some obvious problems with any such law. For example, where do you draw the line? Do we ban symbols, or do we ban the claims of modern-day fascists that the Holocaust never happened? If we ban symbols, then in what context? Do we ban people from sporting symbols in public? Do we ban symbols in history books? And if we ban the Nazi swastika, then why not ban the Communist hammer-and-sickle or the fascist insignia of other Fascist movements?

If some kind of ban on the swastika is presented, then the immediate reaction of the opponents will be to cite freedom of speech as a key right that we have in today's society, and something that the Nazis tried their hardest to destroy. They will say that it was the Nazis who tried to dispose of anything from their history that they didn't like. They will say that we do not ban a symbol, no matter what it represents or what it represented.

There is also the point that the Nazi swastika is a part of history, and history can not be changed. And there is the argument that a ban on the swastika should not be imposed on other nations who have little or no connection with Nazism (other than that they tried their hardest to destroy it). Why should Britain be forced to ban the symbol of a regime they helped destroy?

It is hard to see where the justification would lay in a ban like this. Is it because Nazi symbolism is offensive to those who suffered because of the Nazis? Yet surely it is not the symbolism which offends German people, Jewish people and the peoples of Nazi-occupied Europe, but the actions of the Nazis. I find it difficult to accept that the swastika brings more painful emotions to these people than the words of fascists who condone the murder - the genocide - perpetrated by the Nazis. Is a Jewish man today more horrified by a flag than by the certain knowledge that a group of people wanted his kind dead just sixty years ago?

On reflection, it is understandable if some people are deeply offended by the sight of the swastika. But surely they must be able to accept that it is an insoluble part of modern European history and can not be thrown into the dustbin. I would hope that the people of today's Europe would learn the lessons of that part of our history than simply ignore them.

So in short, history is something that can not be ignored. History tells us something about ourselves. History tells us where people went wrong. History tells us how we can do it better. If we go through the excrutiating process of banning a symbol of history, we are in danger of failing to learn these lessons.

As fascism, in its various forms, rises in voice and stature throughout Europe and the rest of the world, a ban on Nazi symbolism appears to have some justification. But one danger we must face is the certain knowledge that no fascist movement is going to copycat the symbolism of the Nazis, even though they may have ambitions of copycatting the brutal, murderous, genocidal actions of those awful people.

Abolishing this apparent last strand of Nazi history may make us slip into a false sense of security. It may make us think subconsciously that fascism is something that belongs in a textbook. It is not. Fascism is still around, and it is rising again. The British National Party say so. Jean-Marie Le Pen says so. Anyone who has seen nationalist rhetoric emblazoned on derelict estates says so. If the peace-loving democrats suddenly start to believe that fascism has gone, then we are in danger of ignoring the worrying return of racism and bigotry.

The next time a despotic fascist begins to threaten the peoples of Europe, he will certainly not be wearing jackboots on his legs and the swastika on his arm. But he will most likely be preaching the same values of that odd little Austrian with the square moustache! And we should be ready for him with a collective knowledge of the vile brutality of his doctrine.


Post a Comment

<< Home