An Inappropriate and Offensive Swastika

Further to yesterday’s madness, Google now appears to apologize for the “Swastika Situation“. Here’s Google’s response

We have an automated system to identify and remove inappropriate or offensive material in Hot Trends. In rare cases, when such material is missed, we manually remove these results from our Hot Trends list. We apologize to any users who were offended by this situation.

So let’s see what is problematic with this entire approach. This is quite another kind of censorship. You want to believe that people are not searching for certain things, that those searching for certain things are necessarily “evil” and not merely curious, and that some people have absurd interests, and that’s not normal.

Let me be honest here. I have a morbid sense of curiosity. I have spent hours on wikipedia reading up gory details about the vaguest of things. Why exactly is my curiosity offensive to anyone? Should I pretend I am this naive person who wishes to know nothing about how immensely screwed-up people can be?

I hate Nazi sympathizers and holocaust deniers, I wouldn’t want to be friendly with them. I wouldn’t want to talk to them. I would wish copious amounts of bad luck on them. I wouldn’t want to work with them. I wouldn’t want to be kind to them. But so long as they don’t engage in hate crimes or hate speech, I cannot criminalize them; unless they actually breech someone’s rights. And I wouldn’t censor their presence. Because that misrepresents. And misrepresentation is far more dangerous than someone hating someone. Because you need to know if a certain dark cloud of hatred is descending on you. If this is symbolic of a resurgence of a particular kind of hatred – then we need to know about it, and not hide behind this curtain of political correctness. Unless you know about it, you cannot nip it in its bud.

The other issue. Google appears to decide what is offensive based on a very Euro-American centric world view. While they apologize for it, I am not sure why Google actually removes inappropriate or inoffensive material. Who decides what is offensive? How is appropriateness determined? Both of them are rather cultural constructs. So whose culture are we supposed to adhere to?

I am offended that it was manually removed from the lists. I am offended that that part of my culture is designated inappropriate. How many other things don’t we see on various lists because it’s already determined that they are offensive? Is there an open list somewhere which tells us what terms are automatically excluded? So we at least know what data we cannot expect to see…

I realize how horrendous the holocaust was. How terrible the persecution of the Jews was. How a certain symbol came to be associated with terror, death, intolerance and violence. However, that symbol also has another meaning, and it’s important for that meaning to be acknowledged as well.

PS – This was a very difficult post to write. I hate Hitler and everything he stood for. I hate the fact that the world was so oblivious to the tragedy of so many people – the Jews, the Roma, the disabled, the homosexual – and literally chose to overlook the holocaust even as it was happening. But I think certain symbols were criminalized unfairly. You cannot let one madman rewrite history. You need to take the symbol back. The fear comes from the “popular” association with the symbol, so change the popular association.

21 Comments

Filed under Culture, Marketplace and All Things Current, Social Software, Technology and Internet

21 Responses to An Inappropriate and Offensive Swastika

  1. Not sure Google can afford to piss off so many Indians and Chinese…

  2. Pingback: Within / Without » Searching for the Swastika

  3. What was the Nazi position on Sangam Literature?

  4. Nilu: Considering Sangam Literature was “Dravidian” – and not necessarily composed by the “Aryan” – (what an idiotic distinction anyway) – my guess it that the Nazis would have burned them.

  5. insufferablejake

    very well said neha. this is scary. It appalls me to think that are or will things removed from my view because somebody else decides that it is not appropriate for me. i want to be the sole decider of whether something is appropriate for me or not. this smacks of 1984.

    its a pity that google wants to play it so politically correct. and not even in a global sense.

  6. Neha,
    “But I think certain symbols were criminalized unfairly.”

    Mere generalizations and stereotyping of a belief/symbol.
    Similar phase through which Islam is passing these days.

    -Nikhil

  7. Then the Swastika should be banned for two reasons — it’s North Indian and Nazi.

  8. insufferablejake

    hey nilu, i think there’s some space left on that techcrunch article for your comments. check it out, you’d fit right in.

  9. No. I like trolling familiar places.

  10. RC Sharma

    If this Arrington freak had it in his powers, he would confer Nobel Peace prize on Nilu. Nilu can still try and enlist the Jews.

  11. insufferablejake

    Duh. I know you do. Its precisely why I said that you would feel ‘familiar’ and right at home there.

  12. Everyone: If you pay attention to Nilu, you’re doing exactly what he wants. :) So now on, ignore what he says – even if you think you have something terrifyingly witty to say. Only I am allowed to respond to him on this blog.

  13. Where are all those politicians who started crying foul when offensive communities popped up on Orkut? Don’t they think this is maligning one of the main symbols of Hindutva?

  14. Amey: This has very little to do with Hindutva. This is what scares me when I feel like speaking in defense of a cultural symbol. This is more about a cultural symbol than a religious one. I do not consider myself a religious person, but I love what religion has enabled – music, literature, architecture, art and the whole lot.

    Nobody is maligning anything here. They just need to come to terms with the multiplicity of meanings. The last thing I want is our politicians to get involved in this. There are far bigger, more urgent and real issues at hand. And politicians can’t do much – this is about the “perception” of a symbol – and you cannot force perception!

  15. The bloody irony that I see is that Hitler chose a symbol to represent himself & his evil views & nobody wants to give a damn what that symbol actually means, just because Hitler used it makes it unholy! What about Jallianwala Bagh where a cousin of Hitler, working for a bunch of pissants who shared Hitler’s idealogy, gunned down hundreds of innocents & this was just 15 years before Hitler! Why the hell that darn flag & their symbols outcast??!!

    Is it for a bunch of jerks to decide what is evil & what is not??!! Something bad happens to them & they decide to ban the whole symbology but if they do the same then its nothing bad mate, part of life!

    And as for Arrington, well I don’t really think he gives a damn about swastika or being an anti-nazi or something, he just cares about the sensation he created & didn’t want anyone pricking his inflated sensational story!!

  16. Why the hell that darn flag & their symbols outcast??!!

    Meant to say:

    Why the hell weren’t/aren’t that darn flag & their symbols outcast??!!

  17. It is not a question of taking the Swastika back from evil Hitler. It is more about waiting till his victims’ memories fade.

  18. Anon

    Well said Vinod Joseph. It lies not with us but posterity and charity from Jews and aggressive/assertive activism from us that will elevate the Swastika from the gutters on the world-stage and restore to the Swastika its rightful place in the Indo-Aryan triad of symbols. The current occupants of the Indo-Aryan triad religious motifs are

    a) the Cross
    b) the Crescent
    c) the Sickle and Hammer

    The Sickle and Hammer has been temporarily dethroned. The place is up for grabs. Right now we have to make haste for a new ideology is upon us. The Semetic ideology is upon us with a startingly new revelation.

  19. Dear Anon, you don’t make any sense whatsoever.

  20. It’s funny, we hear such outrage in the west over the “Great Firewall of China” and yet Google can censor things at will without people calling for free speech…