Winter 2004

A ring-bound compendium of hate [EXTRACT]

Signs of Hate

Edited by Matthew Collins and
Gerry Gable. Searchlight Information Service Ltd, £15. Downloadable at: www.opwedge.org.uk

This handbook – actually a plastic ring-binder – is a compendium of hundreds of images of symbols pertaining to the contemporary far right. We’re talking swastikas, Ku Klux Klan motifs, Norse runes, and Odin knows what else. Seven main sections (‘Symbols’, ‘Insignia’, ‘Tattoos’, ‘Jewellery’, ‘Clothing’, ‘Words’ and ‘Games’) constitute a predictably headache-inducing read.

Designers are not the intended readership. The book is produced by the anti-racist organisation Searchlight with the express intention of being ‘a reference book for people at all stages of the criminal justice system and those, such as teachers and youth workers, who deal with young people who may be offenders or on the verge of offending.’ It goes on to say, ‘It is highly advantageous if those dealing with these youngsters can recognise the signs of racist beliefs.’ But signs are designs, and the book raises uncomfortable questions about whether they should ever be part of a designer’s repertoire. In Steven Heller’s excellent but controversial book The Swastika: Symbol Beyond Redemption?, he argues that this particular symbol is too loaded even to be used ironically. But what of less-well known symbols? What does it mean, for example, when the Viking sun-wheel – favoured by rabid Euro-Nazis – turns up quite innocently in a much-used font by (anti-fascist) Jon Barnbrook?

There is a great deal of of excellent information, and you can see how useful it could be for its target audience. Do these symbols constitute a ‘language’, as argued in relation to Russian criminal tattoos in ‘Written all over the body’ (Eye no. 53 vol. 14 pp.4-5)? It is true that in order to understand the more obscure codes, you would have to be well versed in neo-fascist lore. Far-right publications and websites cater to this, and are constantly finding new ways to brand their cause. [...]

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