Nathaniel Zelinsky: The Peace Sign in the Middle East

[Nathaniel Zelinsky is a member of the Yale College Class of 2013. At Yale, he studies political science and economics. Nathaniel is interested in (and writes about) politics, modern conservatism, public service, and the V for Victory symbol. Besides blogging for the Huffington Post, Nathaniel frequently writes opinion pieces for the Yale Daily News and has appeared on National Review Online.]

Last week, I wrote a short piece here on the history of the V for Victory, known to many as the"peace sign," and its usage in the recent Egyptian protests. More recently, demonstrators in Jordan, Iran, and Bahrain have begun displaying the gesture as well. Thus, the"V" has truly taken the Middle East by storm.

Just a sort history to recap: The V for Victory was born in the dark days of World War II as a method of Allied propaganda. Popularized during the war by Churchill, the V lived on as a politician's salute of sorts. Clean-cut college protesters flashed the sign as they marched against the Vietnam War. The hippies joined the anti-war movement, co-opted the V, and added to it their own connotations of peace.

Most likely through television and media coverage of the Vietnam era, the V made its way to the Middle East. Palestinian terrorists, when released from Israeli jails, flaunt the sign as a symbol of defiance and triumph. Iraqi women displayed the gesture in 2006 as they left polling stations. Iranians used the V in 2009 as they resisted a corrupt election.

When I wrote a week ago about the V in Egypt, I frankly thought the symbol would die out there. If anything, the opposite happened: The V has become a calling card of the wave for reform in the Arab (and Persian) world.

In Bahrain, cheering crowds rage against the government with their fingers spread wide. (See here). In Teheran, women proudly protest Ahmadinejad, expressing their dissent with this universal sign of peace, morality, and victory. (See here). The same story appears in Jordan, Sudan, and elsewhere.

There are three lessons we can draw from this now widespread use of the V:

1) The V is an egalitarian symbol used by both sexes. In a part of the world that often stunts a woman's ability to speak, this gesture empowers young girls and old mothers. The V for Victory is a positive step forward toward equalizing the gender playing field in the Middle East.

2) The peace sign is just that, peaceful. The remarkable thing about the Egyptian revolution was that so few people were hurt. When violence did occur, it came from the Government, not those flashing the V. Those who use Winston Churchill's symbol reveal their true nonviolent tendencies.

3) The V for Victory is a pan-Arab-Persian sign. It crosses borders, ethnic groups, languages, and religions. Moreover, it permeates these societies at each class level. This gesture reveals the extent to which the Middle East -- so often pictured as a fractured, broken land -- has potential for unity.

I remain hopeful today that the V for Victory will lead the Middle East into a new era and will continue to be a cultural touchstone for the world.

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