Top 10 Controversial Symbols

Script written by George Pacheco Symbolic imagery can be a very powerful ideological tool, but not every image is universally accepted or wholesome. Join WatchMojo.com as we count down our picks for the Top 10 Controversial Symbols. For this list, we're ranking visual, political and ideological symbols that often serve up side orders of hot button controversy or trigger strong personal reactions from the public, as well as those that possess the potential to offend or cause an uproar. Special thanks to our user isaiah colston for submitting the idea on our Interactive Suggestion Tool at WatchMojo.comsuggest
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Script written by George Pacheco

Top 10 Controversial Symbols


Symbolic imagery can be a very powerful ideological tool, but not every image is universally accepted or wholesome. Welcome to WatchMojo.com, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 10 Controversial Symbols.

For this list, we’re ranking visual, political and ideological symbols that often serve up side orders of hot button controversy or trigger strong personal reactions from the public, as well as those that possess the potential to offend or cause an uproar. Although not every symbol may be at the same level of extremity, or may not mean the same thing to every culture, their impact has nevertheless continued to resonate and provoke.

#10: Apartheid Flag of South Africa

The history of this South African flag dates back to 1928, and depicts smaller versions of flags representing the Dutch and English settlers that first colonized the country back in the seventeenth century. Although South Africa officially adopted a new national flag in 1994, the fact that this older flag represents the segregationist Apartheid regime which was once in power there makes it a symbol often associated with white supremacists in the country and around the world. A recent example includes 2015 Charleston, South Carolina church shooter Dylann Roof, whose Facebook page showed him wearing a jacket with an apartheid-era South African flag.

#9: Flag of Israel

The sovereign state of Israel has flown this flag since October of 1948, and since that time the flag has been the subject of much debate. On the one hand, some Israeli Arabs have felt that the Star of David was too specific a Jewish symbol. On the other hand, some Orthodox Jews, the Hasidim, have also taken umbrage to the Star, citing that its appearance on the flag has ‘defiled’ the symbol. Other groups have also claimed the flag’s blue stripes signify a Jewish ambition to take over the Land of Israel between the Nile and Euphrates rivers.

#8: LGBT Pride / Rainbow Flag

Although the history of this flag is comparatively recent to others on our list – as it was only popularized around 1978 – it has seen increased visibility and controversy in contemporary history. The Rainbow Flag is representative of diversity, the Gay Pride movement and tolerance within the gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and trans-gendered communities. Despite the flag’s message of peace, however, there still exists much in the way of resistance and intolerance from those who do not approve of the lifestyles for which this flag flies.

#7: Rising Sun Flag of Japan

This next symbol on our list may possess one of the longest national histories, as the incorporation of Japan’s Rising Sun Flag dates all the way back to the Edo Period of feudalism between 1603 and 1868. The main bone of contention with this flag, however, is a bit more recent, as the flag’s bright red sun on a stark white backdrop is often associated with the Japanese imperialism of World War II. Although these days the flag is associated primarily with contemporary pop culture imagery and ads, for many this Rising Sun Flag still harbors some unpleasant memories and is considered offensive to many Chinese and South Korean individuals.

#6: Washington Redskins Logo

In a story similar to that of Major League Baseball’s Cleveland Indians, the controversy behind the NFL team’s mascot and logo has been brewing for many years. Many Native American rights groups and tribes have protested the lack of racial sensitivity behind the Redskins name and logo, which depicts the side profile of an American Indian with a feathered headdress, and have called for its elimination from team uniforms and memorabilia. The team has even come before court judges with regards to their trademark of the name as recently as 2014, with the U.S. District Court upholding a prior ruling on July 8th, 2015 relating to the cancelation of several Redskins trademarks. This serves as a sign that the logo’s days may be numbered.

#5: Jihadist Black Flag

This Islamic flag is an offshoot of the Black Standard, a solid black flag, also known as “The Banner” or “The Banner of the Eagle,” that was flown by the prophet Muhammad. Using a back flag as its background, the Jihadist Black Flag is inscribed with an Islamic creed or shahada that’s been printed in white. Since its first documented appearance in the 18th century during the Hotaki dynasty in what’s now Afghanistan and Pakistan, the Taliban and Al-Qaeda have been known to use it. The flag’s association with terrorism and the armed jihadist holy war movements has led to its increased level of controversy around the world.

#4: Hammer and Sickle

This iconic symbol of the Communist movement was first conceived during the Russian Revolution of 1917. It has seen an increased level of worldwide visibility during subsequent years though, right up through the Cold War of the 1980s between the United States and Soviet Union. Originally meant to represent the worker-peasant alliance, the symbol’s association with the Cold War sentiment has led to its controversy over the years. However, the hammer and sickle still remains a viable and popular symbol within Russian borders, despite the Soviet Union’s dissolution in 1991.

#3: Confederate Flag

The Flag of the Confederate States of America - otherwise known as the Confederate Flag - became an especially controversial topic in 2015, with South Carolina’s landmark decision to remove it from the State Capitol Building following the Charleston Church shootings serving as an issue of precedent for other Southern states who continue to fly the symbol or incorporate it within their own state’s flags. The "rebel flag,” as it is also sometimes known, has come under fire from many human rights groups and individuals as a symbol of slavery and racism - similar to the burning crosses of the Ku Klux Klan - dating back to the Confederate Flag’s usage by Southern states during the American Civil War.

#2: Inverted Pentagram

Although usage of an upright pentagram can be traced back to many cultures and religions, from East Asian traditions and Pagan nature religions to its adoption as a Christian symbol of the five senses, the inverted pentagram has long been associated with the occult. Indeed, many practitioners and students of the occult have cited its usage by such noted figures as Church of Satan founder Anton LaVey and magician Aleister Crowley, whose habitual referencing of the number "666" earned him the nickname “Beast,” which he expanded to “The Great Beast.” As such, the symbol’s strong demonic imagery and anti-Christian sentiment has incurred controversy over the years, thanks in part to its pop culture appearances in television, music and film - not unlike the inverted Christian cross.

Before we unveil our top pick, here a few honorable, or- depending on your view - dishonorable mentions.
- Vergina Sun
- Eye of Providence / All-Seeing Eye of God
- Angus Flag
- Flag of Rhodesia

#1: Swastika

This symbol’s undeniable association with the dictatorial reign of Adolf Hitler and the Third Reich during the Nazi Party’s occupation of Germany from 1933 to 1945 is the reason why the Swastika takes a predictable top spot on our list - despite the symbol’s early history as a sacred image among Hindus, Buddhists and Jainists (jane-ism). Indeed, the adoption of symbols such as the Swastika and twin lightning bolt by white supremacist organizations in the years following Germany’s defeat by Allied Forces in World War II ensures the their place in the annals of controversy.

Do you agree with our list? What other symbols do you find to be controversial? For more informative top 10 lists published every day, please subscribe to WatchMojo.com.

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