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Should the Swastika Be Banned?

By Diksha Sahni, Wall Street Journal (Blog), January 13, 2012

New Delhi, India -- The Swastika, a Hindu and Buddhist symbol later associated with Nazi Germany, sparked fresh controversy as local authorities requested a store in a New York borough to stop selling Swastika-shaped earrings because they deemed them offensive.

<<  Sam Panthaky/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images
Hindu religious men gave final touches to a folk art piece shaped in the form of the Swastika on Oct. 24, 2011.

“Let me be clear – a swastika is not a fashion statement. It is the most hateful symbol in our culture, and an insult to any civilized person,” Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer said in a statement, adding that selling the earrings amounted to a  “hate crime.” Arguing that the sale of the Swastika earrings was “shocking to the sensibilities of all New Yorkers,” he demanded a recall of the earrings.

In an interview with Fox News, the store’s manager said the design of the earrings was “not a Nazi symbol.”

“I don’t know what’s the problem. My earrings are coming from India as a Buddhist symbol,” she said. In Hindu culture, the Swastika is depicted as an equilateral cross with its arms bent at right angles. In the Nazi version, the Swastika is tilted. The earrings could’ve been either.

Experts say that it is difficult to date the origin of the Swastika, with some of its earliest uses dating from the 3rd century B.C.

Deepak Mehta, associate professor at the Department of Sociology, University of Delhi, said that before it became a symbol of Nazi rule, the Swastika stood for the principle of “shakti,” or power and energy.

“Before its use in the Nazi regime, the meaning of the Swastika was always abstracted in different cultures. With the Nazi regime, the symbol became more visual and its association with Hitler’s regime more potent,” Mr. Mehta said. For Adolf Hitler, the Swastika was a symbol of Aryan supremacy.

But banning the symbol is unrealistic.

“The symbol in its Nazi association is typically associated with bloodbath, but a ban isn’t a way forward,” said D.N. Jha, former head of the history department at the University of Delhi, adding that spreading awareness on the different cultural meanings of the symbol is what required.

At the same time, he said it would be difficult for the Swastika to ever shed its Nazi connotations and that to try and find a way to “redeem the symbol would mean re-writing the history.”

Mr. Mehta agrees: “The use of the symbol in the Nazi regime is much too close to contemporary history. To take those meanings out and differentiate between the auspicious use and the use by Hitler is very difficult now. You can’t do that anymore.”

This is not the first time the non-Nazi use of the Swastika has sparked controversy. In December 2010, visitors to a museum in California complained that the Swastika had been woven on a traditional Hindu tapestry on display there. In 2007, Hindus in Europe protested against a German proposal to ban the symbol across the European Union.



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