Symbolism As Ideology

Christina Engela's picture

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.

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.


(Posted Sour Grapes)

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According to BBC news,

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

... Because it was their symbol first and it was the Nazi's who co-opted it?  I'm not sure that skinheads and neonazis get to keep an ancient symbol that have been used by dozens of cultures for thousands of years.  Yes you're right that the symbol won't be easily reclaimed and that for some it will always be equal to genocide.  But you're acquiescing to that power if you're unwilling to allow those who first created the symbol (and for noble purposes) to continue using it themselves.
The swastika question is completely different than your later examples of Christians or Muslims continuing to use their own symbols after they themselves caused their meaning to be associated with oppression and intolerance.
Finally, isn't there room for an understanding that the cross and the crescent don't have homogeneous meanings within their own faiths?  This is true of all kinds of symbols.  Think of the American flag and how it means different things to different Americans.  How protesters have thrown the flag's meaning on its head by using it to QUESTION the notion of freedom? Symbols have power, which is in no small part due to their ambiguity and availability to be appropriated, reclaimed, and f****ed with.  Rather than close down their meanings, we should encourage this kind of expansion.

  Lisa, Well, if my

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Well, if my religious or cultural symbol was used to symbolize the murder of 6 or more million people and a violent conflict that destroyed half a continent, and millions more lives - I certainly wouldn't want to be associated with it again. Would you?

Leave it to the skinheads and wanabe murderers - they have claimed it and defiled it in such a way that it could never be reclaimed. Like the cross and the crescent, or the bible and the koran, or any symbol that has been used to wage a war or commit crimes against humanity - you could never wash all the blood stains out of them and make them clean and new and meaning something else. Not unless the human race forgot its past, or the road it has traveled.

And in terms of Christianity and the cross - the cross was a Roman symbol of punishment and control long before it became the symbol of the Roman Church and Catholicism, and later the symbol of Protestantism as well. You could say it still is a symbol of punishment and control.

Following your expansion on symbols meaning all kinds of things to different people, perhaps it shows that one day we will get to a time and place where nothing will mean anything anymore? That is rapidly becoming the case with me ;)

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