Monday, August 21, 2017

Symbols of the past

There has been a lot of talk about the rise of neo-Nazis in the US, particularly around the horrific "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville on August 11, which culminated in a despicable act of terrorism as a white supremacist plowed his car into a group of counter-demonstrators.

With all the comments about whether Trump did or did not condemn the white supremacists enough (and he definitely should have spoken more strongly against them and their hate-filled ideology), I think that this rally proved how much of an insignificant non-entity these extremists are.

The rally was made of a variety of racist, hate-filled groups, and between them they only managed to get a few thousand people, hardly a threat to the mainstream American community, and even most the extremists were afraid to display recognizable symbols of hate like Nazi flags or KKK hoods.

Although there were a handful of Nazi flags on display, I think that there are more Swastika Flags at Yad Vashem than there were at this Rally, even the American Nazi Party no longer calls itself Nazi or uses a Swastika in its flag. Instead these hate groups have invented or adopted a series of new symbols that are not recognized by the mainstream. This by itself shows that they are afraid to show their true colours as they are aware that the American Public has zero sympathy for their cause.

Given that the trigger for that Rally was over the removal of symbols,  in this case a statue of Confederate leader Robert E. Lee, prompting much debate about how America should relate to memorials from the Civil war, I think that the answer must be not to hide from history, rather to learn from it. Just as Yad Vashem and other Holocaust memorials display Nazi imagery so it can be recognized and learned from, the United States should use icons from the Civil War not only to commemorate those who died (on both sides), but to teach about the causes of the Civil war and the evil of slavery.

Videos of protesters gleefully knocking down historic monuments brings up images of countries who have broken free of an oppressive regime, or worse, of Muslim extremists destroying religious icons that they disagree with. Destroying and hiding from one's past is a lost opportunity to learn from it.

Similarly, we in Israel have a noble and respectable past that we Zionists should be proud of, however there are tragic events that we should not forget, both in what happened to us (massacres or expulsions from Hebron, Gush Etzion, or the Old City to name but a few), and tragedies that befell others in this area  (destruction of Arab Villages during the War of Independence or after the 6 Day War). We owe it to ourselves to not erase or forget history, but to learn from it.