Critics Use Nazi Symbolism to Attack Bush Administration

Criticism of the United States overseas seems to be intensifying by the day.

And it recently reached a new high, or a new low.

To relay their dissatisfaction with President Bush and his supporters, critics have begun using Nazi symbolism, eliciting condemnation that could possibly lead to legal action.

Two weeks ago in northern Germany, Hamburg police began investigating the award-winning German-Turkish director Fatih Akin after someone reportedly called the police after seeing him wearing a T-shirt inscribed with the name "Bush" in which a swastika replaced the letter "S."

According to a law established at the fall of the Third Reich in 1945, the display of Nazi symbols, except in educational contexts, is illegal.

"Using the swastika is a punishable crime in Germany," said Werner Schmidt, spokesman at the German Consulate General in New York, "just like performing the Hitler salute."

Akin said that he was not using the swastika to express anti-Semitism but rather to make a broader political commentary.

"Bush's policy is comparable with that of the Third Reich," he told the German current-affairs magazine Spiegel. "I think that under Bush, Hollywood has been making certain films at the request of the Pentagon to normalize things like torture and Guantanamo. I'm convinced the Bush administration wants a third world war. I think they're fascists."

While Akin's choice of how to make his statement may be illegal, a large portion of Germans agree with Akin's broader commentary about the Bush administration, according to polls and some foreign policy analysts.

"It used to be unthinkable that Germany and the U.S. would go their separate ways," said Charles Kupchan, senior fellow at the Council for Foreign Relations," under former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder. "That has been irretrievably altered."

Findings from the Pew Global Attitudes Project concur with Kupchan's analysis.

According to the poll, before Bush was elected, 78 percent of Germans had a favorable opinion of America. In this year's survey, that figure had dropped to 37 percent.

But Jörg Geier, editor of the Atlantic Review, a publication designed to foster transatlantic relations, said Akin's commentary failed to hit the mark.

"There is frustration amongst some segments of the population with the political agenda of the U.S," said Geier from his office in Hamburg, "but the symbolism [on Akin's T-shirt] is totally misleading and it achieves different results to the ones he had hoped to express."

Akin said that people who are upset about his use of the swastika are not looking at the whole message he was trying to send.

"You have to look into the context," Akin told German international broadcaster, Deutsche Welle. "The swastika is not there on its own but as part of the word 'Bush.' One would have to be pretty stupid not to understand that."

During the same week, in another context, Nazi symbolism was also put on display in the United States.

In this case, the Nazi joke involved MSNBC's "Countdown" anchor Keith Olbermann and was part of his long-running feud with Fox's Bill O'Reilly.

Waiting for a recent press conference to begin, Olbermann joked with photographers before holding up a mask of O'Reilly's face.

"And, of course, there's a more familiar one," he said, holding the mask in place and then giving a 'Heil Hitler' salute, the Miami Herald reported.

In response to the gesture, the Anti-Defamation League, a body that defends Jewish people against attacks, wrote a letter to Olbermann and MSNBC expressing their dismay at the talk-show host's action.

When Olbermann failed to reply, the ADL posted the letter to its Web site.

Abraham Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, said he believed that in both cases the use of Nazi symbolism contributed to a trivialization of the Holocaust.

"The trivialization of the Holocaust has been going on for quite a while," Foxman said. "If that period of time is to have any impact … [we must] keep accurate that which is horrific and that which is a poor joke or ignorance."