Is the Red Cross a Neutral Symbol to Afghans?

Journalist Michael Yon has written about the cultural importance of our MEDEVAC helicopters showing Red Cross symbols on them in a Muslim society. Here is a photo of a poster displaying banned symbols

Mark of the Beast

Photo courtesy of Michael Yon

From Yon’s article:

An Afghan friend translates:

*Destroying the cross is an Islamic obligation*

1. Christians want to publish and spread their unholy and cursed religious logos and signs in different shapes and appearances in clean and holy Muslim society.

2. These Christianity signs (Crosses) have affected our Islamic society too

– even our mosques and our Menbers are not safe from those Christianity signs (Crosses).

(Further note from my Afghan friend explaining “menber”: When you enter a mosque, the menber is a chair in the most forward point. After the prayer is done, a mullah sits on that chair and enlightens people. Talking rubbish about how to be a good muslim or other nonsense. That chair is higher than the regular ones in terms of height. It’s higher in order to enable the mullah to see all the folks and the folks seeing mullah – even the ones sitting far away. Menber is the written name of it.)

3. The respected Ulemas agree over the fact that destroying these crosses is an Islamic obligation and on whatever object or surface where there is a cross, praying is a sin.

4. —– had a gold cross in his neck and prophet Mohammad told him to remove that ‘idol’ from himself and is narrated from Aisha that prophet Mohammad never allowed anything in his house with a cross on it and used to destroy or throw it away.

6. For further explanations, refer to …. / …. / …. (Names of references given)

*Some of the names on the crosses:*

1. Cross of George

2. Cross of Andrew

3. Cross of Lauren

4. Cross of Jerusalem

5. Cross of Anthony

6. Cross in shape of the Nazi logo

7. Catholic Cross

===End of Translation===

Predictably, naysayers immediately pummeled Yon as spinning a fantasy. But was he?

The Red Cross symbol is the inverse of the Swiss flag in honor of the lengthy neutrality of Switzerland and the home of the International Committee of the Red Cross which administers the Geneva Convention. The basis of the Swiss flag is somewhat uncertain but there are three leading explanations:

War Flag of the Holy Roman Empire

War flag of the Holy Roman Empire (Reichssturmfahne) during the 13th century

Triangular field ensign used by Swiss confederate forces from ca. the 1420s

Field ensign used from ca. 1470 and during the early 16th century

(Image source:

In each case there was a history associated with the design that includes an element of the Christian religion.

In early 1863, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) adopted the red cross on a white background as the distinctive emblem to be used to mark medical vehicles, buildings and personnel granted protection under the provisions of the new Geneva Convention.

Only 13 years elapsed before the Red Cross symbol was embroiled in religiously based contention by a Muslim nation. During the war between Christian Russia and Islamic Turkey in 1876-1878, the Ottoman Empire used a white flag with a red crescent in lieu of the Red Cross symbol because it believed that the Red Cross was offensive to its Muslim troops.

In 1929 Egypt petitioned the ICRC to formally adopt the Red Crescent and a flag bearing a red lion and a red sun as alternatives to the Red Cross symbol. They were accepted.

In 1949 the Netherlands and Israel each petitioned for approval of new symbols, but were rejected, as was a request to revert to the Red Cross as the sole authorized symbol. Israel refused to sign the Geneva Convention based on the rejection of it proposal to use the Red Star of David (used within Israel) as an internationally authorized symbol.

In 1980 Iran waived its right to continue using the red lion and red sun in favor of adopting the Red Crescent symbol.

In 1999 the ICRC established a working group to address comprehensively the question of which symbol or symbols should be authorized officially for future use. The goal was to avoid any symbol with any national, political or religious connotation. Member nations rejected the abandonment of the existing Red Cross and Red Crescent symbols in favor of new symbol.

So, a new religiously neutral symbol was designed consisting of a red square rotated 45 degrees (to stand on a corner) on a white background.

In 2005 – 2007 the ICRC took the steps necessary to formally adopt the Red Cross, the Red Crescent and the new Red Crystal as official symbols to be used by signatory nations. Muslim signatory nations fought the approval because it would pave the way for Israel to join the ICRC. Upon the approval of two signatory nations the symbol was officially adopted and Israel joined the ICRC. Israel reserved the right to display the new Red Crystal with a Red Star of David within it for use within its national borders.

Red Cross Approved Symbols

Is it reasonable to believe that Muslims in Afghanistan are more culturally tolerant than those in other Muslim nations? Would the Taliban avoid exploiting a historical distrust of any group that displays a symbol that includes a cross?

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