Respectful Insolence

Back in October, I wrote about an appalling case in Germany, in which a German anti-Nazi activist named Juergen Kamm was fined €3,600 for selling left-wing garb adorned with modified Swastikas designed to mock neo-Nazis because he ran afoul of a law in Germany that forbids the use of Nazi symbols, regardless of context. It turns out that the appeal recently went to trial, and the ruling demonstrated a degree of common sense that we seldom see coming from the European Union lately, as reported in the Telegraph:

Anti-nazi groups in Germany yesterday won the right to display the swastika after the country’s highest court overturned the conviction of an activist who sold items that mocked the symbol.

Juergen Kamm was fined 3,600 euros by a lower court in Stuttgart in September for “selling unconstitutional symbols” of crossed-out swastikas on T-shirts, lighters and stickers through his mail order company Nix Gut (Nothing Good), in breach of a law prohibiting its use except in specific educational and artistic contexts.

But the federal court of justice in Karlsruhe, western Germany, found that Mr Kamm had committed no crime because the items “clearly and unambiguously” carried an anti-Nazi message and did not “did not go against the spirit of the law”.

Judge Walter Winkler rejected claims that the ruling could be exploited by far-Right groups to wear a form of the symbol.

“The court is convinced of the fact that members of extreme-Right organisations would never make use of items that make a mockery of their ‘holy’ symbols.” The earlier conviction of Mr Kamm, 32, who describes himself as a Left-wing punk, had sparked outrage among politicians.

Indeed. How on earth could anyone make the argument with a straight face that neo-Nazis would use this sort of ruling as a loophole to display their despised iconography and emblems? To do so, they’d have to alter symbols like the Swastika to mock the Nazis, to mock Hitler, to mock everything that they unfortunately for us hold sacred. it was rather silly for prosecutors even to think that. They’re not stupid people; surely they realized this.

Of course, it’s still an affront to free speech that even the hated Nazi symbol of the Swastika is banned. Bans on speech not only do not work, but they tend to fuel the martyr complex of racists, even glamorizing despicable beliefs as “dangerous” and a “forbidden fruit” to those who think of themselves as contrarians or nonconformists, such as Holocaust deniers. As I’ve said before several times, it’s more than 60 years after the fall of the Third Reich. There was a valid reason for these laws in the immediate aftermath of World War II; there were still many Nazis in the German government and still many Nazis among the German populace. Such is no longer the case today.

Comments

  1. #1 ThomasHobbes
    March 21, 2007

    There was a valid reason for these laws in the immediate aftermath of World War II; there were still many Nazis in the German government and still many Nazis among the German populace. Such is no longer the case today.

    Indeed. Setting aside the fundamental rights argument for a minute (I realize that, yes, this is the most important and controlling argument here), the cultural acceptability of Nazism is very, very low in modern Germany. Not that that changes the fundamental argument, but sometimes people defending these laws try to argue that there’s a latent undercurrent of Nazism that will spring up if these laws are ever repealed. It just isn’t so.

  2. #2 Kristjan Wager
    March 21, 2007

    Technically speaking, Swastikas are not “speech”, but I get what you mean.

    It could be argued that Swastikas are implicit threaths towards specific groups of people (Jews, Roma, Homosexuals), though I haven’t heard that argument be used yet. That’s basicly the only reason I can see for keeping the ban, though I understand the historical reasons for it.

  3. #3 Christina
    March 22, 2007

    I had a friend who led tours in Spain for German high school students. Somehow one group she was leading came across a stall at a fleamarket that had historical items for sale- including items with Swastikas on them. She said all of the students were absolutely fascinated with seeing these and some of them bought them. Assuming that these students weren’t neo-Nazis, it just demonstrates how the forbidden in any form can have such appeal- especially to young people.

  4. #4 valhar2000
    March 22, 2007

    What sort of items were those that had swastikas on them? That symbol is pretty unpopular here as well, though it is not actually forbidden. You can, however, get harrased anywhere you go for displaying it.

  5. #5 valhar2000
    March 22, 2007

    Perhaps it will give some of you hope to know that the Falange (the Spanish version of Musolini’s fascism) is alive and well, and not forbidden. I don’t think they have managed to put anyone in parliament in the last 30 years, but they do show up in the voting booth, and they are just as non-sensical as they were in the 1930s.

  6. #6 Ben
    March 22, 2007

    I applause the judges in Karlsruhe for judging the right way and I dont think Nazis might like their symbols crossed out.

    I am from Germany and I disagree that we should abolish that law. Not because I dont like free speech, but becaus I think that you have to have laws to stop the fascists.

    If they have a flag, a rune or do the “Hitler-Gruß” (Greeting with your right arm up – I dont know the exact term in english) they will be persecuted and locked up.
    They are not allowed to deny the holocaust, they may not agitate against our constitution and thats alright with me.
    We cannot deny them their right to say: I dont like foreigners or I want a Nazi-government, but we can put them in jail for waving their Nazi-Flag or for saying: Holocaust has never happened.

    A German Police Chief has stopped a Nazi-Rally by taking their clothes and boots away, which they used as uniform, because you may not wear uniforms on a demonstration in Germany.

    Don’t get me wrong, they arent the majority, but right-wing violence and activities do increase and are a problem. I don’t want them here, but I have to tolerate their opinion, but I don’t have to tolerate that they spit on the graves of my ancestors who died as regime-enemies or as soldiers for a country that willingly sacrificed their lives.

    I dont want to see people waving the Reichs-Kriegs-Flagge or that damn Svastika. Why should we let them do that? Because less people would become Nazis? Come on you dont believe that. People all over the world follow that nationalist bullshit and try to blame other people for their own problems. Even in the United States. Arent they all from the same social background? Dont they all share the same problems, e.g. unemployment, poverty etc.?
    They dont become Nazis because they are attracted by the forbidden fruits. It is something they can identify with, they like the idea of a strong leader, of power and that all their problems will be gone once their political leaders gain control.

    We may have problems with immigrants, but they are our own fault, because we missed the chance to integrate them. And still most of them do very well here. And I like it that way.

    BTW: I wonder what you will say once you read about that German judge who denied a maroccan woman the right to get a faster divorce, because her husband had the right to hurt and to murder her according to the Koran. That’s what I call stupid judgements. Of course that judgement has been revoked…

    Excuse any spelling or grammar mistakes. I haven’t written a longer text in English for quite some time.

  7. #7 Berlzebub
    March 22, 2007

    Ben said:

    I dont want to see people waving the Reichs-Kriegs-Flagge or that damn Svastika. Why should we let them do that? Because less people would become Nazis? Come on you dont believe that. People all over the world follow that nationalist bullshit and try to blame other people for their own problems. Even in the United States. Arent they all from the same social background? Dont they all share the same problems, e.g. unemployment, poverty etc.?

    I can respect your views on Nazism, but your argument about the social status of those who support this view is flawed, at least in the U.S. We had a congressman who was (is) a member of the Klu Klux Klan (an arian superiority group) and still is a holocaust denier. I’ve personally known many affluent (wealthy) people who had racist views. Racism, bigottry, and sense of superiority knows no bounds of class.

    The swastika, iron cross, and all of those things were just symbols. Originally, the swastika was a symbol for life, IIRC, in the Orient. If you ban symbols that are used for ill reasons, you may eventually run out of symbols for any legitimate use. Hiding your children, and your adults, from the mistakes of the past is not the answer. The only way for us to overcome racism and other annoyingly short sighted views is education, and history is part of education.

    Plus, it could be argued that by hiding the children from the meanings of these symbols, it could be easier for them to be indoctrinated by the remaining Nazis.

    “Those who forget the past (or never learn it) are doomed to repeat it.” (Sorry, I can’t remember who said it.)

    -Berlzebub

  8. #8 Berlzebub
    March 22, 2007

    Correction:

    “We had a congressman who was (is?) a member of the Klu Klux Klan (an arian superiority group) and still is a holocaust denier.”

    I’d heard that he was a former member, but considering some of the things I heard from him I believe that was for political maneuvering.

    -Berlzebub

  9. #9 Kristjan Wager
    March 22, 2007

    Who are you talking about Berlzebub? Byrd is certainly a former member, but I suspect you are talking about David Duke.

  10. #10 Orac
    March 22, 2007

    Byrd is also, as far as I know, not a Holocaust denier. David Duke most definitely is.

  11. #11 Ben
    March 22, 2007

    I did not say that we should hide the children from the meanings, I was talking about keeping those who agitate against the very basis of our country at bay.

    I do not know if you have been to Germany, but if you had you would probably know that were facing our history every day. Everyone who went to a school or watches the news, reads a newspaper, goes on the internet or just talks to his grandparents is aware of our history. We dont deny it, we live it. And trust me, you dont want to enter a discussion on fascism and free speech in Germany you can only lose.

    Well you are right about the fact that fascism does not know any social boundaries. I was a little unprecise there, but let me straighten that out: The violent voters and supporters of fascism, those that use those old symbols – they come from the lower classes. Thats statistically proven.
    Of course there are people of wealth and power that share the same ideas and values, but they do it on a different level.
    And I would not limit the problem of fascism in the US to the KKK. There are plenty of Arian Support Groups, Combat 18, Blood and Honor and whatever. They are everywhere, all over the world.

    And of course the swastika has a long history. But actually you are wrong: If it turns left its a symbol of life and hope and whatever, but turning right it means destruction and death. It’s history is a rather difficult topic and actually I do not want to argue about that. The symbols are a symptom of a disease and as long as we cannot treat the disease we will have to treat the symptoms.

    The true problem is that we have a society (both in the US and in Germany) with a latent racism. People always look for a scapegoat. And very often it’s the foreigners who take the blame for low wages and unemployment. No wonder George W. Bush addresses those fears by improving the border-protection.

    And we all know that this is wrong, because it is not the foreigners who work their ass off, but it is the lazy ass worker who doesn’t want to work for 5$ an hour. Furthermore and most of all major corporations like Wal-Mart are to blame because they do employ the illegal immigrants and they support the decrease of wages and the loss of social aid programs.

    Thank you for your opinion and for reading.

  12. #12 kamagurka
    March 23, 2007

    As a German, I am proud of this ruling. However, it kind of balances out with the shame I feel that this actually had to go to a higher instanced.

  13. #13 Martin R
    March 24, 2007

    The free speech / hate speech issue is really thorny. I certainly wouldn’t want to see swastika banners carried in the streets of Stockholm on the day of the death of Carolus XII. But I recognise the absurdity of protecting democracy by curtailing free speech.

  14. #14 Kristjan Wager
    March 24, 2007

    I think that the marches and counter-marches on the deathday of Carolus XII are the only time where the Swedish police are actually more happy about the anarchists than the other side. Of course, that doesn’t keep them from arresting all the Danish anarchists that travel to Lund to fight (read: beat up) the Nazis.

The site is undergoing maintenance presently. Commenting has been disabled. Please check back later!