Friday, February 04, 2005

When in doubt, ban it 

Not too long ago I blogged about the controversy surrounding Britain's prince Harry sporting a Nazi costume, and the subsequent European Union initiative to ban Nazi regalia. The totalitarian double standard being one of my pet hates, I wrote that I don't expect the EU to show equal outrage at the public display of hammer and sickle, the symbol of another murderous regime. It seems, though, that at least some in the (enlarged) EU do (hat tip: Dan Foty and Jeffrey A. Norris):

"A group of conservative European Union lawmakers from eastern Europe called Thursday for a ban on communist symbols, including the red star and the hammer and sickle, to match a proposed EU ban on the Nazi swastika.

"The group from Estonia, Lithuania, Slovakia, Hungary and the Czech Republic said the communist symbols should be included in any ban because of the suffering caused by Soviet-backed regimes in eastern Europe.

" 'We would like to have an equal treatment of the other evil totalitarian regime of the communist system,' said Jozsef Szajer, an Hungarian member of the European Parliament... 'If we decide to ban one, we should decide to ban all of them,' said Jan Zahradil, a Czech member of the EU assembly."
As you can imagine, I am very sympathetic to this "equal treatment" argument - if we ban Nazi symbols, then to be consistent we must also ban communist symbols. I am skeptical, however, of the reflex (by no means restricted to the European political culture) to deal with the problem by banning something Although Nazi and communist symbols seem like a clear cut enough cases (although to many, the latter obviously is not), once we start banning some symbols we will create a push (even if only a half-serious one) to ban others.*: witches, heretics and atheists will want to get rid of the Christian cross, the symbol of medieval "genocides"; Greeks and Balkan Slavs will want to do away with the Muslim crescent as a painful reminder of Turkish oppression; Arabs will argue against the Star of David; and in the United States voices will be raised for criminalizing the display of the Confederate flag, perhaps least successfully, since the American commitment to freedom of speech is much stronger than the European one. And all this even before we get to the claims of descendents of indigenous victims of European colonialism against anything from a crucifix to an Union Jack.

It doesn't seem, though, like the EU is going to go down the slippery slope - but for the wrong reasons:

"[EU Justice and Home Affairs Commissioner Franco] Frattini's spokesman, Friso Roscam Abbing, said the EU head office was not at this time pushing for a similar ban on communist symbols. 'He is completely aware of the pain this (communist rule) has caused,' Roscam Abbing said. But including the hammer and sickle alongside the swastika 'might not be appropriate' under the anti-racism rules being negotiated, he said, noting the Nazi swastika was seen as a symbol specifically associated with anti-Semitism."
I would have thought that the problem is the symbols' association with mass murder, but for the EU it's obviously only racism. Racism, of course, is one of the left's pet issues; murderous regimes aren't, hence the recent crusade against totalitarian emblems is likely to degenerate into another politically correct farce.

* That's even before we get to the practicalities of a ban: what about history books or works of art? Never mind the new ones - what are we going to do about all the old photos? And if you only ban public display, will there be an exemption for actors? If so, what if neo-Nazis are shooting a film? The list goes on.


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