Tuesday, December 13, 2005

The Red Cross, The Red Crescent, And Now, The Red Crystal

From Ralph Kostant:

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies has 182 national member affiliates, including, of course, the American Red Cross, but also including the national Red Cross and Red Crescent groups of many other countries. However, Israel’s Mogen David Adom (Red Star of David) has never been recognized by the International Federation, much less accepted as a member, due to the opposition of Arab and other Muslim countries.

That situation is apparently about to end, but Israel’s membership will be of a decidedly second-class character. By a vote of the 192 signatory nations to the Geneva Convention, the International Federation has adopted a third symbol, the Red Crystal, which is a red square standing on its point. (Red Square, hmm.) While Israel will now be permitted to join the International Federation, it may use a red Star of David only in its domestic operations. When participating in international relief efforts, it must display either the Red Crystal alone, or a red Star of David inside the Red Crystal. In contrast, Red Cross and Red Crescent societies are permitted to display a Red Cross or Red Crescent, without the Red Crystal, when they participate in international relief activities. Even with these limitations, over 20 Muslim nations, led by Syria, that paragon of international mercy and cooperation, voted against admitting Israel into the International Federation.

The Red Crystal was not just a compromise device to sneak in Israeli membership. In recent years, the International Red Cross has encountered hostility when conducting relief operations in Arab and Muslim countries due to it Red Cross symbol. Now, Red Cross societies may choose to utilize the Red Crystal when working in Islamic countries.

It is an unfortunate consequence of their lack of Jewish pride that Israeli diplomats and government officials characteristically gush and act like they have received a great gift whenever the world offers them as a “privilege” an inferior version of what every other nation state takes for granted. The Red Crystal compromise is no exception.

However, in an editorial published on December 11, the Jerusalem Post not only suggests that Israel should have felt offended, rather than honored, by this half-gesture from the international community; but also notes the implications of the new arrangement for the Christian world:

Rather than rejecting and combatting hatred, it accommodates violence and
intolerance. It is no coincidence that, after over half a century of tolerating the rejection of the Star of David, the Red Cross has itself in recent years found it increasingly difficult to operate, and began to seek cover.

Though the crystal is being portrayed as the solution to a general problem, namely places where one symbol or another is not tolerated, in practice the intolerance flows almost entirely in one direction: from the Muslim world against the Star of David and, recently, against the Red Cross too. It is almost impossible to conceive of a situation in which a Christian country, by contrast, would take violent offense to a rescue mission operating under a Red Crescent.

By bowing for so long to the utter rejection of the symbol of the Jewish people, and then devising for it a second-class status, the international community legitimized a hatred that is the antithesis of the Red Cross mission and the cause of many of the casualties it treats.

Why should a Red Cross ambulance, whose only mission is to save lives, not be able to operate in Muslim areas? Why does Israel have to beg Muslim countries for the right to openly help their peoples recover from national disasters? Most perplexingly, how has this blinding intolerance become so "normal" that such questions are not even asked?
The Red Cross movement seems to be voluntarily joining the Jews in passively accepting the equivalent of dhimmi status in Moslem countries. Dhimmi is the second-class status that Christians and Jews historically had under Islamic law. Dhimmis were better off than pagan infidels, who were simply given the choice of conversion to Islam or death. Dhimmis, in contrast, were not required to convert, and were allowed to practice their religions. However, they were subject to a head tax, a land tax and various legal disabilities to remind them of their inferior status. Hence a Christian or Jew was not permitted to ride a horse or camel, but only a donkey. Dhimmis were not allowed to carry weapons. Where non-Moslem worship was permitted (and in modern Saudi Arabia and certain other Arab countries it is not), it was forbidden for a church steeple or synagogue roof to be higher than the local mosque. A Moslem was permitted to kill a dhimmi without legal consequence other than a fine. Dhimmis also had to wear distinctive garments or colors to publicize their status—it was the Moslem world that first compelled Jews to wear a yellow garment, such as a turban or badge. The Nazis adopted the device from them, compelling Jews to wear yellow badges or arm bands with Stars of David. (At least it wasn’t a Yellow Crystal.)

But perhaps I am being too harsh and judgmental. The Red Crystal concept has some potential uses in other contexts. For example, the ACLU probably would permit a crystal in place of the cross that once adorned the Los Angeles County seal.

Ralph B. Kostant

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Anonymous Francois Brutsch said...

Good post. However, the issue is much broader: it is in fact for Africa mainly that the Red Crystal is much needed as an alternative to either the Red Cross and the Red Crescent. As I state on my blog , it is a failure of the Swiss diplomacy (and maybe the ICRC) to have highlighted it as a ME issue, almost allowing Syria to derail the Conference. 

Posted by Francois Brutsch

Thursday, December 15, 2005 5:56:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Let me say first that, on the surface and for the reasons espoused by Muslim countreis, disallowing a Red Star of David is absurd. On the other hand, the Jewish population is a very slim minority of the world, and by allowing a red Magden David, you would have to allow similar red emblems for any other world faith that started operations - red Baha'i Star, red Hindu emblem, red Sikh daggers, red Yin Yang, etc. etc. This would serve to dillute the distinctiveness of the Red Cross. It's admittedly a petty concern, but that is a concern espoused by the Red Cross. More importantly, however, I have to contest your claim that "[i]t is almost impossible to conceive of a situation in which a Christian country, by contrast, would take violent offense to a rescue mission operating under a Red Crescent." If there were Red Crescents from Saudi Arabia at Ground Zero, there would have been an outcry. Let's not kid ourselves. Michael Savage would be jumping up and down, Ann Coulter would have suggested mauling the health workers, and a cadre of Republican Senators would push to ban them from the country. This is not a condemnation - if a Red Crescent showed up at the scene of a suicide bombing in Tel Aviv, we can easily imagine their presence raising the tension. It's not nice, and it's nothing to be proud of, but it's human nature and the ICRC has to be realistic about their operations.

Posted by JH

Thursday, December 15, 2005 9:08:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

JH no doubt is correct that some people, including perhaps Michael Savage, would have objected to a rescue team from an Islamic country, displaying the Red Crescent symbol, at Ground Zero following 9/11. I firmly believe that most rational, fair-minded conservatives, and most New Yorkers, and perhaps even Ann Coulter, would have welcomed them. The other distinction, of course, is that the WTC bombings were in fact perpetrated by Islamic fanatics in the name of Islam. The appearances of the Red Cross at disaster sites in the Islamic world occur following natural disasters, not disasters caused by Christian terrorists. [If Sinn Fein sent a "rescue team" to the site of an IRA bombing, I would probably lead the outcry!] There is not even a poor justification for the animus from Moslems in such a situation--they have been wronged by nature, not by Christianity. Their reaction is motivated purely by religious hatred. Ironically, the Red Cross was not a Christian religious symbol in its origin--the symbol was selected by the founder of the Red Cross simply because it is the inversion of the flag of his native land, and the home of the International Red Cross, Switzerland. The Swiss flag is a white cross on a red background.  

Posted by H.H. (Honorary Hedgehog) Ralph

Thursday, December 15, 2005 12:13:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I found this at Wikipedia.org  (which has to be taken with a grain of salt, but nonetheless):

"Other attempts have included Sri Lanka (1957) and India (1977) who tried to establish a Red Swastika and also efforts by the national societies of Kazakhstan and Eritrea to use a unique combination of the Red Cross and the Red Crescent, similar to the combination of both symbols used by the national society of the Soviet Union until its demise. "

Now, first of all, you'd have to be daft to even consider allowing a "Red Swastika" rescue team into Israel (or any Western country) for patently obvious reasons, despite the fact that the traditional Asian use of the swastiska has no Nazi affiliation whatsoever. The question for us to ponder here is whether a modern Muslim abhorrence of the Magen (bad spelling above!) David deserves the same deference as Western abhorrence of the swastika.

The quick and easy answer is, "Duh, of course not ... Hitler killed millions under the Swastika, and all the Jews did was fight for their independence under the Magen David." Fine, good, let's pat ourselves on the back - or do we bring Muslims to the table and discuss it with them respectfully? I think it's nutty, but necessary ... with a big *sigh*

Posted by JH

Thursday, December 15, 2005 3:50:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am certainly in favor of discussing issues with Muslims around the table peacefully. As for the spelling of Magen David, you spelled it like the organization does, Magen David Adom; while I spelled it Mogen David, like the kosher wine. My Ivrit (Hebrew) still has an Ashkenazi (Eastern European) accent. And, unlike the Hedgehog, or devout Muslims for that matter, I do drink alcohol. 

Posted by H.H. Ralph

Thursday, December 15, 2005 7:42:00 PM  

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