For years, military medics and humanitarian aid workers have relied on the protective power of the red cross and red crescent as they braved battle zones to help the wounded. Soon they’ll have a third emblem at their disposal to tout their neutrality: the red crystal.
Planned changes to Geneva Conventions governing the rules of war will allow use of the crystal – a diamond-shaped red frame on a white background – as a new protective emblem stripped of any religious or political logo significance.
The crystal could be a boon for aid workers and medics operating in a war-torn country like Eritrea, equally divided between Christians and Muslims.
It will also have concrete implications for one of the world’s biggest humanitarian networks, settling a long-running dispute over Israel’s membership in the Red Cross Red Crescent movement and unfreezing valuable American funding that has been held back over the issue.
The Red Cross logo is not a Christian Cross
Whole thing’s ridiculous, really. The Red Cross is not a ‘Christian’ cross at all (more of a plus sign really – a cross usually has a longer descending ‘arm’). The Red Cross symbol is actually the reverse of the flag of Switzerland and represents neutrality, as opposed to ANY religious affiliation. The idea was developed in 1863, during a meeting in Geneva, the main focus of which was the caring wounded on the battlefield. The following year, the Geneva Conventions were also formulated. The Red Cross symbol was, for quite some time, known as the Geneva Cross. Originally, there were no rigid restrictions on the use or design of the medical logo and it was defined only as a ‘red cross on a white background’. (Never would pass by the marketing weasels today).
Use of the Red Cross logo codified in law
As the movement grew, the use of the Red Cross symbol was written into various laws. For example – Section 706, Title 18, U.S. Criminal Code, part of which reads as follows:” Whoever, whether a corporation, association or person, other than the American National Red Cross and its duly authorized employees and agents and the sanitary and hospital authorities of the armed forces of the United States, uses the emblem of the Greek Red Cross on a white ground, or a sign or insignia made or colored in imitation thereof or the words ‘ Red Cross’ or ‘ Geneva Cross’ or any combination of the words ” Shall the fined…. ”
The Crescent isn’t technically a symbol of Islam
In the 1870s, however, The Ottoman Empire refused to use the Red Cross symbol (but would still recognize the symbol when used by others). Instead, they would use a red crescent (which, it can be argued, is NOT a symbol of Islam, because in the purest sense that religion forbids the worship of symbols). There was additional confusion when other countries started using the Red Sun (later nixed right after the Iranian revolution). IN 1949, Article 38 of the First Geneva Convention recognized three distinct emblems – the Red Cross, the Red Crescent and the Red Sun and lion (later discarded).
Red Star of David
For over 50 years, Israel has been requesting the addition of a Red Star of David, arguing that since the Christians and Muslims have their ‘own’ symbols (which, to be completely accurate, they don’t). In Israel, there is a Red Star of David used by The Magen David Adom, Israel’s only official emergency medical, disaster, ambulance and blood bank service. The name actually translates to “Red Star of David” but it is NOT recognized by The Red Cross or The Red Crescent (which DOES seem a little petty).
The Red Cross counters, with some validity I would argue, that by allowing every religion to adopt a variation of the red cross, they would be defeating the original purpose – that of a universally recognized symbol for neutral medical and disaster assistance. So they’ve now decided to adopt ANOTHER universal symbol – the diamond or lozenge (called crystal). They like this one because it makes the acronym universal (RC – Red Crescent, Red Cross and Red Crystal)
However, any country is not mandated to use the new mark, but is mandated to recognize it as a symbol of the Red Cross. All fairly complicated stuff and no doubt will take years to change formally. After reading all of this, I’m still of the ‘if it’s not broke, don’t fix it school’.
PC correctness be damned.