In Austria, A Bid to Outlaw Symbols Including … The ‘V For Victory’ Sign?

By Patrick Goodenough | October 5, 2018 | 4:51am EDT
Kurdish demonstrators in Berlin, Germany use a familiar hand signal as they protest beneath a portrait of imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

( – In a sign of the censoriousness of our times, Austria’s interior minister wants to ban a series of symbols used by controversial groups in the Middle East and Turkey – but may find it a bit tricky when it comes to hand signals, considering they include such common and innocuous gestures as the “V for victory” sign.

A month ago Twitter was briefly diverted by a supposed covert “white power” hand signal during day one of Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. What at face value appeared to be randomly splayed fingers were viewed by some as a sinister gesture.

Touching thumb and forefinger while keeping the remaining three fingers raised has long been used to indicate “good” or “okay” or “zero.” Now a deeper and more ominous meaning is being ascribed.

In Austria, Interior Minister Herbert Kickl may kick off a similar kerfuffle with his plans, according to a report on the Turkish edition of Euronews.

Austria, like Germany and several other countries in Europe, already criminalizes the straight-arm salute associated with the Nazis. Now Kickl, a member of the far-right anti-immigration Freedom Party in the ruling coalition, wants to ban symbols associated with radical groups from Islamic countries, including Turkey. (Austria, with a population of 8.7 million, is home to some 360,000 Turkish nationals or people of Turkish origin.)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan makes the Muslim Brotherhood hand symbol while addressing a meeting of his ruling AK Party on Sunday, October 8, 2017. (Photo: Presidency of Turkey)

Hand gestures among the targeted symbols reportedly include:

--the four-finger salute (“rabaa,” named for a mosque in Cairo) used by Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood and its supporters – notably including Turkey’s Islamist President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. British Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn faced criticism recently for using the gesture during a visit to a London mosque.

--the upward pointed forefinger sign, long used to indicate “number one,” but which ISIS and other Sunni jihadists have appropriated, apparently to symbolize monotheism.

--the hand symbol popularized by Winston Churchill during World War II as the “V for victory” sign, and later used by anti-war activists to symbolize “peace.” It is often used by members of supporters of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has waged a separatist armed struggle in southeastern Turkey for decades, and is viewed by Turkey and the U.S. as a terrorist organization.

ISIS and other Sunni jihadists have taken to using a single, raised index finger as a symbol of their cause. (Screen capture: YouTube)

--The “gray wolf” sign popularized by a Turkish ultranationalist youth group last century, in which the thumb tip touches the middle and ring fingers while the index and pinky fingers point upward.

Kickl aims to extend a “symbols law” on extremist groups, first adopted in 2014, to include symbols associated with “political Islam and other violent ideologies and contradict democratic values,” according to Austrian media reports.

The coalition government wants the plan evaluated over a four-week period, and then enter into force from next March. It proposes that violators should face a fine of up to 4,000 euros ($4,605) or one month imprisonment, with the punishment for repeat offenders increasing to up to 10,000 euros ($11,515) or six weeks’ imprisonment.

Kickl was quoted as saying the targeted symbols are “anti-constitutional and contradict our basic democratic values and therefore have no place in Austria.”

Turkish demonstrators use the 'gray wolf' hand sign associated with ultranationalists, during a 2007 election campaign. (Photo by Carsten Koall/Getty Images)

“By banning extremist symbols, we are taking an important step against the establishment of dangerous intolerant parallel and counter-societies, especially the increasing popularity of radical Islam in Vienna,” the Austria Press Agency quoted Freedom Party leader Heinz Christian Strache, who is also vice-chancellor in the coalition government, as saying earlier.

“Neither the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood nor the fascist Turkish Gray Wolves can have their place in Austria, and certainly not their deplored symbols in public, because our freedom and democracy are not self-evident, but must be defended against extremism every day,” Strache said.

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