Reclaiming the Swastika: Now Is Not The Time

I’ve been hearing some rumblings of reclaiming the swastika symbol. As you may know, Hitler stole the swastika as a symbol for his Nazi party. This was due to a misunderstanding about what an Aryan is (and that misunderstanding is still being used against Indian Hindus today in incredibly racist ways, basically trying to tell Indians that all their wonderful philosophy was created by white people, which is ridiculous). I’ve written before about how the swastika has two very different meanings for two different sets of people.

If you go to India you will see a lot of swastikas. (Straight up and down rather than turned on its side as the Nazi version is). They are often included in images of Lord Ganesha. They represent good luck and balance. In the west they, unfortunately, represent hate and cruelty.

swastika

By KedarnathReddyOwn work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

Now that the world is getting closer, these two groups of people are coming closer together. The Internet has made the world smaller. More and more people who view the swastika as a symbol of luck and happiness connect with people who view it as a symbol of hate and murder.

And it’s really unfair that Hitler stole this lovely symbol and used it for his own agenda.

A few years ago I would have said maybe it is time to reclaim the swastika symbol for Hinduism. To change those connotations. To teach people about what it originally meant. What it still means to billions of people.

However, I no longer think now is the time for that.

Since Trump won the American Presidency through playing on xenophobia and fanning the flames of hate of others, anti-semitism is on the rise again. There have been recent events of Jewish people being threatened using the swastika. It has been used to tell people that their own lives are in danger.

We can’t tell those people that they need to accept us using the swastika all over the place regardless of how they have been tormented with it.

Not only that, but the horrors of the holocaust are not that far in the past. People my age had their grandparents tortured and murdered by people using the swastika symbol. Racists are still getting swastikas tattooed on themselves to represent their hate and intention to torment people who look different from themselves.

I hope that a time will come when the swastika can once again be associated with good luck and joy. That its connection with Hitler is forgotten. But now is not that time. It’s good to let people know that there are other meanings, so if they see a swastika at a Hindu temple or a Hindu event, it doesn’t scare them. Educating people in that way will help. But we cannot deny the way this symbol has been used and is still used today to instill fear.

Now is the time to rally to protect our Jewish friends. We must make them feel (and actually be) safe. We must let them know that we won’t place our desire to freely use a Hindu symbol above their right to feel safe.
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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Peter Anderson

    The rise of the swastika in the U.S. is the result of sore-loser leftists planting false flags. Mostly on college campuses, even inside secure dorms. I remember this stuff from my own college days. In reality, the Trump administration are far better friends of Israel than Obama ever was.

    • Ambaa

      I’m a leftist. I don’t think our fear of the rise in hate crimes and the rhetoric of fear and “othering” that Trump does is being a sore loser. His ideas are legit terrifying.

      • Peter Anderson

        I certainly agree that there is an ideological component to your fears. That, however, does not necessarily mean that they are based in reality. Staged hate crimes are very real and students have been caught doing this. The wave of these on college campuses after the election is telling.

  • Robert_C

    I did not know we lost the swastika. The association with Germany’s 12-year experience with Nazism pales in comparison to the thousands of years it has been used as a universal symbol throughout the world.

    • Hidimbi

      Maybe balance needs to be struck – if you are White and walk around displaying a swastika, expect misunderstandings to occur. But, people should be made aware that it’s not originally or exclusively a hate symbol.

      One of my husband’s Indian colleagues had car puja done, and the pujari painted a big swastika on the hood. Well, he parked the car at work then later security saw it and thought that his car had been vandalized. They called the police then alerted my husband’s co-worker that he’d been the victim of a hate crime… (The coworker had had no idea that the swastika was taboo here).

      On the one hand, if the swastika became associated with brown people from another country, neo-nazis would undoubtedly stop tattooing it on themselves.

      Maybe now IS the right time to reclaim the swastika, just *White* Hindus aren’t the right people to do it.

      • Ambaa

        Great points, Hidimbi!

        Robert, while I do agree with you, I think it is important to know and realize that the pain of what the nazis did is still very fresh

      • Seeker

        Robert I am a “black” Hindu of African decent and I will not display it either. I fear that bigot whites will attack me and also black and browns who wonder what is “my problem”. Not to mention my Jewish friends and acquaintances for whom that sign is like a confederate flag to a black person I would be defending myself on all ends.

        I have used it in articles I have written but it was to a pretty defined audience. Yes the wounds are still fresh and sadly with 45 as occupying the white house it has been given new “power”.

        • Hidimbi

          You highlight a really good point, Seeker. Those who display the swastika for religious purposes may be attacked by bigots who feel it is “their” symbol.

          Because of this, awareness needs to be raised on both sides – non-Hindus need to be made aware of the religious connotation, but perhaps native Hindus (like my husband’s coworker) also need to be informed of the potentially offensive connotation in the U.S.

          I do not feel at all comfortable discouraging Indian Hindus from making the choice to openly practice any aspect of Hinduism in the U.S., but people should be aware of the potential risks they are undertaking before they can make an informed choice.

  • mjm

    there are buildings in america on the national registry of historic places that have swastikas on them.

    lots of swastikas in the west:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Western_use_of_the_swastika_in_the_early_20th_century

    • Kevin R. Cross

      Sure. We also have the fasces, the sticks bound together with an axe, on the walls of the Supreme Court building in Washington DC. They predate the use of that symbol by the Italian Fascists (who even took their name from the ancient Roman symbol).
      But those are all historical artifacts. Maintaining them is important in remembering who we were and what those symbols meant in context to the time they were placed there.
      Using those symbols NOW would include all the negative connotations from the Second World War and the Holocaust. Perhaps a time will come when we can use the fasces again as a symbol of strength, unity and justice – but that is not this day.

      • mjm

        there is no time like the present. why not now? it is not an important symbol to me. but then again i don’t really take any symbol to be that important. i just don’t like the idea of the ‘heckler’s veto’. and the idea that one can use a symbol, because other’s find it offensive, smacks of the heckler’s veto to me.

        anyway, the train, or rather plane has already left the station:

        http://www.proswastika.org/

        http://nypost.com/2014/07/13/raelians-offend-nyers-by-flying-swastika-banner-over-city-beaches/

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g_TP8n04N_k

        • Kevin R. Cross

          Well, an attempt is not a success. I’m not sure I agree with the Wikipedia article that the Fasces emerged unscathed from it’s association with Fascism – there is still a certain stigma to it, especially notable in those unversed in the true length of it’s history.
          I would not necessarily consider this an example of the Heckler’s Veto – rather one of anyone sensitive to the feelings of others being wiling to let a sleeping dog lie.

          • mjm

            “I’m not sure I agree with the Wikipedia article that the Fasces emerged unscathed from it’s association with Fascism” ok. i had never even heard the term before.

            few people are versed in the full history of anything.

            “I would not necessarily consider this an example of the Heckler’s Veto – rather one of anyone sensitive to the feelings” that line is too thin for me to even see.

        • Ambaa

          I’m not saying “can’t” I’m saying to be aware when using it that it brings up a lot of terror in people. That’s not “Oh I’m so offended and I just can’t handle the world at all!” You know what I mean? This symbol is still being used today to tell people that their lives are actually in danger. When it comes to “:political correctness” my belief is that if you have the opportunity to not hurt and offend people, you should take it. But that’s not always possible or practical. `

          • mjm

            well people rarely learn anything unless they are told. i just learned about the Fasces symbol. if no one brings up the different uses of symbols, few people are going to know. i remember when geraldo had a daytime talk show and he had two groups of skinhead on. one group was from the original skinhead faction that wasn’t racists vs the california skins who started the white supremacist nature of what most would associate with skinheads today. anyway the one guy in the non-racist group had a swastika on his arm. when geraldo pointed to, the guy said he was a native american and it was an ancient Cherokee sun god. who knows if he even had that right, but there is the ‘whirling logos’ of the navajoes.

            anyway, this and your car story not withstanding, i think most the time it would be pretty obvious the difference between a racists swaztika and a ‘benevolent’ one?

            no skin off my nose either way. do what you like.

            so did you ever find any muslims other than elwood to talk to?

      • mjm

        looks like that symbol is still all over the place:

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fasces

        “The reverse of the Mercury Dime, the design used until the adoption of the current FDR dime in 1945, features a fasces.
        In the Oval Office, above the door leading to the exterior walkway, and above the corresponding door on the opposite wall, which leads to the president’s private office. Note: the fasces depicted have no axes, possibly because in the Roman Republic, the blade was always removed from the bundle whenever the fasces were carried inside the city, in order to symbolize the rights of citizens against arbitrary state power (see above).
        Two fasces appear on either side of the flag of the United States behind the podium in the United States House of Representatives.
        The official seal of the United States Senate has as one component a pair of crossed fasces.
        Fasces ring the base of the Statue of Freedom atop the United States Capitol building.
        A frieze on the facade of the United States Supreme Court building depicts the figure of a Roman centurion holding a fasces, to represent “order”.[6]
        The grand seal of Harvard University inside Memorial Church is flanked by two inward-pointing fasces. The seal is located directly below the 112 m (368 ft) steeple and the Great Seal of the United States inside the Memorial Room. The walls of the room list the names of Harvard students, faculty, and alumni who gave their lives in service of the United States during World War I along with an empty tomb depicting Alma Mater holding a slain Harvard student.
        The National Guard uses the fasces on the seal of the National Guard Bureau, and it appears in the insignia of Regular Army officers assigned to National Guard liaison and in the insignia and unit symbols of National Guard units themselves. For instance, the regimental crest of the 71st Infantry Regiment (New York) of the New York National Guard consisted of a gold fasces set on a blue background.
        The Mace of the United States House of Representatives, designed to resemble fasces, consists of thirteen ebony rods bound together in the same fashion as the fasces, topped by a silver eagle on a globe.
        The main entrance hallways in the Wisconsin State Capitol have lamps that are decorated with stone fasces motifs. In the woodwork before the podium of the speaker of the assembly is carved several double-bladed fasces, whereas in the woodwork before the podium of the senate president are several single-bladed fasces.
        At the Lincoln Memorial, Lincoln’s seat of state bears the fasces—without axes—on the fronts of its arms. Fasces also appear on the pylons flanking the main staircase leading into the memorial.
        The official seal of the United States Tax Court bears the fasces at its center.
        Four fasces flank the two bronze plaques on either side of the bust of Lincoln memorializing his Gettysburg Address at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.
        The fasces appears on the state seal of Colorado, U.S., beneath the “All-seeing eye” (or Eye of Providence) and above the mountains and mines.
        The hallmark of the Kerr & Co silver company was a fasces.
        On the seal of the New York City borough of Brooklyn, a figure carries a fasces; the seal appears on the borough flag. Fasces also can be seen in the stone columns at Grand Army Plaza and on a flagpole in Washington Square Park.
        Used as part of the Knights of Columbus emblem (designed in 1883).
        Many local police departments use the fasces as part of their badges and other symbols. For instance, the top border of the Los Angeles Police Department badge features a fasces. (1940)
        Commercially, a small fasces appeared at the top of one of the insignia of the Hupmobile car.
        A fasces appears on the statue of George Washington, made by Jean-Antoine Houdon that is now in the Virginia State Capital. Fasces are used as posts of the 1818 cast-iron fence surrounding the capitol building.
        Columns in the form of fasces line the entrance to Buffalo City Hall.
        VAW-116 have a fasces on their unit insignia.
        San Francisco’s Coit Tower has two fasces-like insignia (without the axe) carved above its entrance, flanking a Phoenix.
        The seal of the United States Courts Administrative Office includes a fasces behind crossed quill and scroll.
        In the Washington Monument, there is a statue of George Washington leaning on a fasces.
        A fasces is a common element in U.S. Army Military Police heraldry, most visibly on the shoulder sleeve insignia of the 18th Military Police Brigade and the 42nd Military Police Brigade.
        Two monuments erected in Chicago at the time of the Century of Progress Exposition are adorned with fasces. The monument to Christopher Columbus (1933) in Grant Park has them on the ends of its exedra. The Balbo Monument in Burnham Park, (1934) a gift from Benito Mussolini, has the vandalized remains of fasces on all four corners of its plinth.[7]”

  • Ch Billy

    Hindus are ready to do anything, whether it hurts their sentiments or not, for Loka Kalyanam (the collective well-being of the world). If Jews will be safe by temporarily suspending public use of Swastika by Hindus in USA, so be it. This is my opinion and I hope other Hindus feel bothered by this statement. Remember that I said only temporarily. Any person well-versed in Dharma knows that everything has a right place and right time to be used at. Like Ambaa, I feel this is not the right time.

  • Mister Card

    I mean at the very least you’d be forever saying “Oh don’t worry, this isn’t a racist swastika.” To which I’m sure very few would believe you. Unless in your life that symbol is culturally significant there is absolutely no reason for any white person to use the swastika. I get that it was a peaceful symbol but hey guess what the Nazis ruined it, they ruined a lot of stuff that we’re still recovering from. We will get by just fine without it I think.

  • Daniel G. Johnson

    I wonder if tradition can be kept in adaptation and evolution. Could the symbol’s shape be modified…keep the lines, but curve them as opposed to angular…then add color(s)?

  • Charles

    I’m Jewish, and the hypocrisy of supposedly protecting Jews by doing something that oppresses Hindus, Buddhists, and Native Americans makes me angry. Such an ancient symbol belongs first to those who’ve had it longest. Continuing to associate it only with nazis actually helps the nazis protect their brand. Walking in Brooklyn one day, I saw a Hindu temple a few doors down from a Jewish synagogue, and the temple had swastikas all over it. No problem. About a year ago I saw a Ganesh statuette with a swastika at a big box chain store. No problem. The area has a large immigrant population with many different religions and cultures, some no doubt incorporating the peaceful use of the swastika, and nazis aren’t going to want a Ganesh statue. A true social justice warrior will fight for the rights of all religions. As they say, All of us or none.