Monday, July 12, 2010

Symbolism As Ideology

Symbols mean different things to different people. I suppose this view depends on how these symbols - and what they symbolize and represent, affect you personally.

According to BBC news, Hindus now want to reclaim the use of one of their traditional symbols - the swastika. Why on Earth they would want to do this, I have no idea - but I don't think they will ever shake the Nazi association with that symbol... even though it has been used by Tibetans and even Vikings to symbolize other things altogether since the times of pre-history.

Apparently the swastika's ancient meanings were something to do with good luck and good fortune - something entirely different to the modern meanings of both those who used it, and use it today - and those they used it against.

I think it has to do with living memory. People affected directly by the negative implications of the symbol, still live today - as do their children, and their children. We see it everywhere in history, in documentaries, in laws, in politics, in the changed world we live in - and are reminded of it. We can't forget it - and I don't think we should.

We know what happens when people forget lessons learned in history - some bright sparks come along a few years later, have the same "bright idea" thinking they are being very original - and then repeat the same screw-ups a second time.

Look at Holocaust revisionists for example - some smart people who like to claim today that (despite the MOUNTAIN of photographic and tangible evidence) the whole thing either never happened, or that "someone else" was responsible for it all - like the victims of course. Yes, I can see the logic behind the victim-blaming mentality. After all, the victims aren't around to argue the point.

Among the leaders of this field at the moment is an American homophobe called Scott Lively, a man who has spent some time masquerading as a Christian evangelist and blaming the Holocaust on the same people who were murdered in the very genocide that he tries to blame on them. He does so in his book "The Pink Swastika", and in the talks he presents wherever ignorant folks will open a forum up to him and his genocidal propaganda. And yes, if you've been paying close attention to current events, you will recognize his name - he has been to Uganda several times in the past few years - actively campaigning for the death penalty for gay and trans people in that country.

And his work has been paying off, because the ignorant, uneducated masses of Uganda - who these days, are coincidentally very, very serious about that other Western import - Christian fundamentalism - have embraced his liturgy of lies with open arms. As a matter of interest, some people have been vanishing mysteriously in Uganda lately, among them a pastor who dared to preach against homophobia.

The Time Saving Agency” by Christina Engela
The TSA liked having fresh agents on the job with a clear mind and steady hand.  Time travel wasn’t for the faint of heart.  The pay was good enough, but as Scrooby had decided long ago, that even if he didn’t get paid for it, the thrill alone was payment enough.  Then again, the TSA realized they couldn’t afford to have disgruntled employees with the power of God at their fingertips, so the pay was very, very good.

Things happen at a certain time in a certain way, which in a sense, is what it’s all about.  If it didn’t, then things would be completely different. Johnathan Scrooby was extremely tense. His job at the Time Saving Agency was a tough one.  Billions of lives depended on him not screwing up.  Once, he’d screwed up in only a small way and people wore those little yellow smiley faces on t-shirts for decades afterwards.  And that was just a small screw up.

A week ago, the American War of Independence was fought in Mexico. Yesterday Napoleon managed to dig a tunnel across the English Channel, invaded London and everybody at the Agency ended up speaking French for a while. Sorting that out had been… well, challenging. Mon dieu.

Something smelled funny in the Anals of History.  Things were not as they were supposed to be. Someone somewhere was tinkering with the works. Somehow, he had to go back and fix it or who knows what might happen this time.

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People of Lively's ilk are on the increase around the world - wherever religious extremism is allowed to flourish, and in my view it is due to ignorance and especially willful ignorance of those who agree with them. People ignore the facts, throw in some religious references, and choose to believe what other people tell them - because it suits their prejudices.

It's okay to hate, after all - just as long as the hate is directed at a minority whom they think nobody cares about. And we all know where that road leads.

And so I believe the swastika, regardless of whatever other religious or cultural significance it may have around the world - will never shed its image as a symbol of persecution, oppression, cruelty and genocide. In fact, if it ever did, I fear humanity will have forgotten what it has been associated with in the past - and that in itself will be the real tragedy.

Symbols are therefore very important. They change the world, they keep it the same. To quote from the movie "V for Vendetta" - "The building is a symbol, and therefore destroying it is also a symbol".

Take as an example the Muslim crescent moon. For centuries in Europe it was a symbol to be feared, a symbol of conquest and cruelty and it symbolized a fanatical enemy that would force people to convert to their religion under their rule. Today we face similar fears, with people flying planes into buildings or blowing themselves up for the "cause" of the same symbol and its associated religion. People in the West today live in fear of it.

It's the same with the Christian cross - most see it as the symbol of their faith, a symbol of salvation and Christianity and goodness (even though the symbol of original Christianity is actually the fish) - but after the Crusades, do you think Muslims will ever forget what it means to them? They still speak about the Crusades as the arrogant invasion that plunged the Middle East into a series of wars that still continues to this day. They talk of it as if it was yesterday. Even the Gulf Wars were referred to as "another crusade". That's quite a legacy - and I wonder if people calling themselves Christians today even realize what that means to other people when they thump their chests and brag about it to the world.

Even today, this ideology of conquest continues, a driving force behind the cross as a symbol not solely of faith and "light" - but of "conversion", "transformation", "church-planting" and ultimately, world domination. Worse than the staid old conservatism, a new wave of fundamentalist so-called "revival" is sweeping across the world and raising a fanatic Puritan army whose intended purpose is to truly conquer the world under the flag of theonomy.

After the world's Christian and Muslim fundamentalists get their way, and are one day finished wiping out all the gay and trans people and everyone else they can turn their hate on, do you think those who are left, and those who come after us will think anything good of their symbols? Do you think they will revere the ideologies and symbolism behind it? Should people today, who suffer oppression and persecution under these fearsome facades now?

The cross and crucifiction were originally a method of execution, by the way.



  1. I hope the author is quite aware that the crescent moon is not, nor has ever been, a symbol of Islam. In fact, reminders of the 700+ year African and Muslim presence in Western Europe is largely architectural. Not that I'm a proponent of organized religion, but Muslim conquerors in Europe strictly forbade forced conversion, which most casual historians should be aware of. Much more, from your comments on the Crusades as well as your clear lack of foundational knowledge on the swastika (do you fear Buddhists as well?), I'm guessing you actually don't know much about any of these religions.

    Hitler is widely considered the absolute 'evil' amongst white Westerners because he was one of their own killing their own - Germany was an educated, industrial world power. What about indigenous Americans, Africans, and Asians? What of the Algerian tortured by the French, the Palestinian ethnically cleansed by the Israelis, the black South Africans evicted by FIFA and their own government?

    When we get over the shock that white people don't only kill brown and black folk, these symbols will be less meaningful. Hindus and Buddhists should not apologize for the actions of a Western dictator, nor should Muslims have to answer for the actions of a few idiots. You, however, should apologize for your deeply flawed assumptions. You have GLBT allies of these faiths and from all nations and races that do not appreciate being colonized by your Western paternalism any longer.

  2. Sophia,

    Funny that the crescent moon is on the flag of every Muslim theonomy, on every Muslim organizational standard I have seen, and has been used as a standard for every Muslim army since the middle ages... Regardless of all that, it is used in general by Muslims as a symbol - and has been associated with Islam by the rest of the world. That, I believe, is the point.

    How does my article demonstrate "a lack of foundational knowledge of the swastika"? I know what it means today - whatever it used to mean is now irrelevant - made so by Hitler, the Holocaust and modern skin-heads and neo-fascists all round the world. I'm not sure of the relevance of FIFA (a true evil in it's own right, some would say, haha) to the topic, but genocide is still genocide, no matter how "civilized" a country or power is, was or will be in future.

    I never brought race into the article, and I certainly never suggested that Buddhists (or Hindus, lol) have anything at all to apologize for - and I certainly fear no religion, least of all theirs. They at least do not preach a doctrine of world transformation, conquest and domination.

    I would suggest that you stop reading between the lines - and imagining that I am in any way a "western paternalist" - or that I will ever apologize for calling things as I see them.

    My business here is to defend human rights, GLBTIQ rights, and to discuss or warn against religious fundamentalism and the war of the latter on the former.

    If this upsets you, then might I suggest the old proverb which says, "if the shoe fits, wear it".