Michael Lea, Daily Mail (London), June 10, 2009
A Labour minister has sparked controversy by claiming that an alternative symbol is needed for the Red Cross because of the logo’s supposed links to the Crusades.
Foreign Office minister Chris Bryant said that the historic emblem risked undermining the work of the humanitarian organisation.
His intervention came as MPs debated the adoption of the ‘red crystal’–a diamond-shaped badge–to avoid the religious connotations of the cross and crescent symbols currently used by the international body.
But critics said the new insignia was a sop to political correctness and warned that it may be the first step towards it replacing cross and crescent. Others fear that it may not be as widely recognised on the battlefield.
‘It is, in an effort not to be contentious, possibly too anodyne to serve its purpose,’ Tory MP John Hayes said.
Philip Davies, a Tory backbencher, said: ‘At face value to the layman it seems at best a solution looking for a problem and at worst another example of extreme political correctness.
‘No one has ever suggested to me that the Red Cross refers to the Crusades.’
Shadow Foreign Office minister David Lidington said that use of the crystal over the cross by the British military should ‘be the exception rather than be allowed to become the norm’.
Tory Oliver Heald said the Red Cross symbol was widely recognised and counselled caution that ‘we are careful not to undermine that’.
‘There is also a risk of confusion with many different symbols, and that terrorists may exploit that to mask themselves when carrying out attacks,’ he added.
The founding Conference of the Red Cross Movement in 1863 adopted a red cross on a white background–the reverse of the Swiss flag–as the emblem of the voluntary medical personnel who assisted the wounded on the battlefield.
It was never intended to have any religious meaning and is thought to have been intended as a tribute to traditionally neutral Switzerland, which hosted the conference.
However, the symbol unintentionally raised suggestions that it was somehow linked to the Hospitallers, a military order which took part in the Crusades, the centuries long series of military campaigns waged by Christians from Europe.
Subsequently, a red crescent emblem was adopted in tandem.
Mr Bryant told the Commons: ‘The reference to the Crusades is . . . not lost to some people which, of course, anybody involved in the Red Cross would wholly deprecate.
‘The truth of the matter is that it has been difficult in some places for us to ensure that these connotations of a religious war or a religious crusade don’t undermine the work that the Red Cross or Red Crescent is able to do.’
The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement hope that the neutrality of the red crystal will help improve protection for casualties, military medical services and humanitarian workers.
It was chosen because it is devoid of religious and other partisan connotations.
A treaty which established the red crystal as an additional protective symbol became part of international law in 2006.
It will now receive the same status in UK law as the red cross and red crescent under the Geneva Conventions and United Nations Personnel (Protocols) Bill passed today.
The impartial movement is the world’s largest humanitarian network made up of almost 97million volunteers, supporters, and staff in 186 countries.
Leigh Daynes, spokesman for the British Red Cross, said: ‘The British Red Cross strongly supports acceptance of the Red Crystal emblem.
It would give another option for the protection of humanitarian workers, as well as for the medical services of the armed forces, in situations where use of the Red Cross or Red Crescent emblems might be misunderstood.
‘In these circumstances, the Red Crystal would make our workers and the medical services of the armed forces safer. The British Red Cross will continue to use the Red Cross emblem, which, after more than a century, has served us well.’