It is with assumed relief that it will soon be against the law to sell or display Nazi paraphernalia or memorabilia in Victoria, Australia. This is a positive step towards the eradication of items and materials aimed to perpetuate evil. There are many of us who will be grateful to see the imposition of a law to ban such items.
It’s one thing to ban tangible items, have them confiscated and possibly destroyed. But how do authorities ban someone from brandishing their body in the form of a tattoo with the symbol that without question embodies evil?
I am deeply disturbed by what I witnessed in a suburban Melbourne street after a night out with friends. Two men walked past our group, both wearing black. The one in question had a shaved head and wore 3/4 black pants with bare calves. No sinister embellishments caught our attention as they passed, however as they walked away from us the symbols were clearly visible. The 3/4 pant man with calves exposed was evidently not expressing a fashion statement but a clear statement of conviction for all to see.
I have been involved in education for over 35 years. More specifically, Jewish education and recently Holocaust education. I have led groups of students on March of the Living Holocaust education programs to Poland, been involved in the development of the recent Victorian Department of Education Holocaust education curriculum and sit on the Board of The Victorian branch of Courage to Care a NFP educational organisation developing and facilitating educational programs with a focus on upstander behaviour to combat prejudice, stereotyping and discrimination. The list goes on. Despite this, I was gobsmacked, speechless and dumbstruck.
With introspection, I question not only my desire to confront but also my right to confront.
It’s clear to me why this person chooses to display his beliefs on the backs of his calves. He can, it’s his right. So, confronting him on this point is moot. As far as I know this person has not acted upon his obvious prejudice ideologies, yet he may have or may do so in the future.
Had I thought it wise to confront and question why he holds these beliefs, there’s no doubt in my mind that the response would be with strong conviction, perhaps in a worst case scenario, even violence. Would have I been swayed by an argument that just as a Christian may wear a cross around his neck or a Jew a Magen David to display their beliefs, he too has a right to display his beliefs on his calves? I think not. This is entirely different and the two should not be paralleled. I don’t believe that anyone would argue with this stance, however, this man probably would, and my fear is that there are most likely more.
The tattoos display a clear position of his mindset and persuasion. That said, disregarding any likely confrontation, what should I have done? Do I have a duty and responsibility to act? How? I am aware of many avenues through which I can voice my concern, such as this one for example, but to what gain? Am I not preaching to the converted?
On the one hand I can continue with the work that I do, reach as many young people as I can to educate and demonstrate how to contribute to preventing another Holocaust or Genocides ever happening again. I can teach young minds that prejudice and discrimination create a world where the principles of ‘us’ and ‘them’ prevail and damage. With every program that I facilitate, I ensure that I ask the students how many races they think there are in the world. There is never a time when I get a unanimous ‘one’! I do this to demonstrate how skewed our view of the world is. Many have bought into the rhetoric of 19th century scientists who subscribed to the belief that the human population can be divided into races according to colour of skin, country of origin, traditions and religions and that some were superior to others, with distinctive abilities and dispositions, which in turn created a political ideology in which rights and privileges were differentially distributed based on racial categories. My aim is to blow this theory clear out of the water and to dispel any such baseless thoughts by a simple anatomical and physiological visual that clearly displays that there is only one race, the human one.
There’s no doubt how important that work is, however, how do the messages of this work reach the ears of those who have clearly bought into the ‘us’ and ‘them’ rhetoric? There will never be a law that enforces anyone with those beliefs to attend a Holocaust or Genocide museum or to listen to the story of a survivor. A law banning tattooists to tattoo this symbol on anyone will just create an underground market.
Unfortunately I am unable to end this piece with a happy ending or a resolution. Perhaps this piece marks the beginning of a crusade, a march for others to join to change the narrative of those who uphold the principles of bias, baseless hate, buy into the theories of ‘us’ and ‘them’ and who strive to create a world that is divided and divisive.