Why the swastika should not be banned
ON TUESDAY, the Australian state of Victoria banned any public display of the Nazi swastika. When the law takes effect at the end of the year, anybody who displays a swastika could face a year behind bars and a fine of around £12,500.
With other states due to follow in Victoria’s path, it seems likely that the swastika will soon be banned all across the country, which will mean Australia joining the likes of Austria, Germany, Brazil, Ukraine, Russia, Belgium, Poland, and Hungary in having a nationwide ban on the Nazi symbol.
“The Nazi symbol glorifies one of the most hateful ideologies in history – its public display does nothing but cause further pain and division,” said the Victorian Attorney-General Jaclyn Symes. The move has been welcomed by Dr Dvir Abramovich, chairman of the Anti-Defamation Commission in Australia, who said that “this is one more step forward in protecting the wells and foundations of democracy, our cherished way of life and our country”.
As much as I detest those who wave the swastika in public – or indeed in private – I’m not convinced that banning the symbol will achieve what the well-meaning Abramovich and Sykes wish it to do.
Censoring the symbols of hate does not even begin to eradicate the source of that hate. Instead, a ban simply enhances the exceptionalism, anger, and grievance felt by neo-Nazis and fascists.
They might point out, with some reason, that there seems to be a double standard when it comes to symbols of Communism, such as the hammer and sickle, which are seldom banned, except in Ukraine. Admittedly, Communist symbols are not paraded threateningly through neighbourhoods today in the same way as swastikas are, but – to use the language of Jaclyn Symes – they surely similarly glorify one of the most hateful ideologies in history.
Then there is the uncomfortable truth that in many free societies, it is perfectly legal to be a Nazi. In the United Kingdom, for example, the only way that Nazi and fascist organisations can be proscribed is if they are connected with terrorism, which is why parties like New British Union can exist.
Perhaps shrewdly, I see the oh-so tasteful organisers have eschewed swastikas on their website, and have instead used the lightning flash symbol associated with Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists. However, there is nothing to prevent the NBU from using a swastika if it wanted to.
The lightning flash symbol also reveals a practical problem for those who seek to ban swastikas – other symbols of neo-Nazism are available. It would be pretty obvious to anybody what the politics was of someone who walked down a street waving any of these flags below, all of which are perfectly legal in many countries which have specifically banned the swastika.
In essence, all that happens if you ban the swastika is simply a tiresome game of fascist symbolism Whac-A-Mole.
Finally, and fundamentally, being able to display a swastika is something people should be free to do, even if it is an utterly repellent act. Yes, there should be limits as to where one displays it, and in Britain there already exists plenty of legislation concerning inciting racal hatred that would see you arrested if you walked through a Jewish neighbourhood waving any obvious symbol of neo-Nazism.
Banning swastikas ultimately does not treat the underlying cause of far right extremism, and instead just seeks to cover up the problem – and even in attempting that, such bans fail.
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