Times of Israeli bloggers Lynette Nusbacher and Zahava Englard recently debated whether Twitter should ban the #卐卐卐 hashtag, which has been trending on the popular microblogging site. Following is a formatted version of their
Lynette Nusbacher: I am thinking about the way #卐卐卐 is trending on Twitter, and I’m feeling just a bit ambivalent.
If anti-Semites are going to hook up online, an open environment like Twitter seems like a good place for it, where I can see it. Also, it shows the rest of us that concern about anti-Semitism has a basis in reality.
I’m definitely not happy with the idea of banning the hashtag because: ( 1) a new anti-Semitic or White Supremacist hashtag will arise, and (2) dealing with things we don’t like by banning them is more a Nazi thing than a free world thing.
Zahava Englard: Let’s not get confused… It’s a Nazi thing not to ban white supremacist hashtag. Not the other way around.
Lynette: I’m open to argument. Explain.
Zahava: Dealing with Nazism is not a matter of dealing with things “we don’t like.” I don’t believe I have to explain the consequences of Nazism. Suffice it to say that it would most definitely be “a free-world thing” to ban Nazism. If we cherish our freedom, we must take pains to safeguard it. Although it should be, freedom is not always in the natural order of things.
Lynette: Not having Nazism and Nazis, yes; banning a Hakenkreuz hashtag isn’t the same thing, though.
What do you see as the positive result of banning the hashtag?
Zahava: It lets society know what is acceptable behavior and what is not. Symbolism is just as important here… And just as offensive and harmful. It will always be humankind’s responsibility to curb evil wherever it exists and in whatever form it exists.
Lynette: The symbolism thread of argument is an interesting and powerful one. There’s also the tit-for-tat idea: If the swastika is banned on Twitter then sure as shootin’ there’ll be a demand for the star of David to be banned.
Zahava: The star of David does not symbolize or promote evil. The swastika does.
The Swastika symbol is one that promotes hatred and the extreme limitation of human rights in the most evil manner. It signifies genocide. It must be nipped in the bud before it is allowed to spread its ugly tentacles.
Lynette: Symbolism is important, I agree; and there’s no question that the Hakenkreuz is a powerful symbol. It was chosen by the pre-Nazi right-wing militias in Germany because of its powerful visual simplicity along with its mystical associations. Its meaning has sharpened since the Second World War, losing its connection to some ideas of Nazism and becoming entirely a symbol of anti-Semitism and white racism.
Symbols can be used to hurt people, but so can any other sort of tool. A powerful symbol is a powerful tool.
You can hurt somebody with a hammer or a saw or a knife, but those tools are so useful that we can buy and sell them freely. Without these powerful but potentially dangerous tools we couldn’t build houses. If they are used carelessly or with evil intent they are dangerous, but like symbols or speech they are so useful that a free society accepts the risk in return for the much greater benefit.
Zahava: Freedom of speech must also have boundaries if freedom is going to survive. It’s time to stop making excuses in the name of freedom of expression. As ludicrous as it may sound, rapists can say they were “merely expressing their anger.” Murderers can do the same.
Lynette: Rapists who say they are merely expressing their anger are lying, and I can prove it: “Look, there’s a victim hurt. You may have been expressing anger, but you also caused harm.” Likewise, murder will out. But if the murderer uses a brick to commit murder it doesn’t necessarily follow that bricks are evil.
The swastika can be used to promote hatred, but it can also be used to describe hatred. A discussion of Nazi ideology is not the promotion of Nazi ideology.
Zahava: For the purpose of education, in a classroom, sure: no one should be against teaching about Nazism, and all the symbols that went along with it. However, that is purely for educational purposes that hopefully will prevent our world from seeing anything like the Holocaust occur again.
That’s not what we are talking about here. We’re discussing how the use of the swastika went viral on Twitter with the propagation of evil at its core, and coupled with that, the depraved anti-Jew messages and Holocaust “jokes.”
I wonder: If there were symbols depicting black slavery in America that likewise ridiculed African Americans and which served to perpetuate that black stain on American history, and if those symbols were to go viral on Twitter, would that be acceptable as well?
Lynette: Do other racist messages trend freely on Twitter? Yes. Michael Moore’s sarcastic #ifonlyiweremexican tag was taken up by the irony-impaired and used to mock Mexicans and Mexican-Americans. The anti-Obama #votewhitehashtag is repulsive but uncensored.
Are racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, anti-disability or anti-Semitic messages acceptable in that I accept them? No. Are they acceptable in that I have to accept them as the price of all of our free speech?Generally, yes. If messages really are incitement to crimes, including genocide, then no.
If there were no use for a symbol of evil, then I might be happy to see it banned. But just as the Nazi swastika can be used to tell the harsh truth about Nazism, even to mock Nazism, a hashtag using the same symbol can have its uses.
You can use a Twitter hashtag for evil, for good, or for something neither evil nor good — like dopey jokes. “I did Nazi that coming” may not be Mark Twain material, but it’s hardly incitement to genocide.
There is nothing to stop you or me from using the trending #卐卐卐 hashtag to put out Holocaust education messages once a minute until the silly jokes and anti-Semitic statements are drowned out. Maybe that should have been the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s response.
Let me prove my point:
It’s not exactly Elie Wiesel as a statement about the Holocaust, but it’s a message that will show up instantly in the “trending” column for millions.
Zahava: But the swastika is being used now on Twitter to promote hatred. Would it be an acceptable message on TV or in the movie theaters? Twitter, and Facebook as well, cater to the public just as television and movies; and, therefore, Twitter and every other social network medium has a responsibility to curb behavior that is dangerous, highly offensive in no uncertain terms, and incendiary to society as a whole.
Lynette: Anti-Semitic messages have been propagated on television and in cinemas for years. I might want to shape the way Shylock or Fagin are presented, especially to children, but would I ban “Merchant of Venice” or “Oliver Twist”? Of course not.
Banning works of art, whether they are sublime or banal, is smashing tools that can be useful. It is, in the words of J.R.R. Tolkien, orc-stuff.
Zahava: I don’t consider anything that contains content which spreads or breeds hatred against any given group to be art. The swastika is the symbol of genocide, plain and simple. It’s too clear-cut for me to agree to rationalize its use.
Lynette: Would banning #卐卐卐 stop any anti-Semitic speech on Twitter?
The way to stop anti-Semitism or any form of bigotry is to change people’s minds; not to paint over the sign.
Zahava: That other racist symbols will pop up…probably. So we fight racism one step at a time. We don’t condone or rationalize it away.
Because it doesn’t go away.
When left unchecked, it grows and grows. Part of educating people in an effort to stop any form of bigotry is by “just saying no”!
Dr. Lynette Nusbacher is a strategist and devil’s advocate. She is a core partner in Nusbacher Associates, a strategy think-tank. She is Senior Lecturer in War Studies at Royal Military Academy Sandhurst and has been a senior national security official in the United Kingdom.