Friday, July 30, 2010

A Universal Symbol of Hate


Earlier this week, in its annual tally of hate crimes against the Jews, the Anti-Defamation League announced it would no long consider the swastika as a symbol of anti-Semitism. “The swastika has morphed into a universal symbol of hate,” explained Abraham Foxman, national direction of the ADL. “Today it’s used as an epithet against African-Americans, Hispanics and gays, as well as Jews, because it is a symbol which frightens.”

The swastika, despite its almost comical simplicity, is both chilling and provocative. With its sacred origins in Eastern and Dharmic religions as an ancient symbol of spiritual victory and human existence, it is horribly ironic that today most of us identify it as an emblem of hatred, violence and death. Adopted as a symbol of German nationalism, Adolf Hitler instilled a more sinister meaning, outlining in his Mein Kampf that “in the swastika (we see) the mission of the struggle for the victory of the Aryan man, and, by the same token, the victory of the idea of creative work, which as such always has been and always will be anti-Semitic.” Now, 65 years after the end of the Second World War, the swastika still retains all its potency, conjuring images of pain, terror and murder associated with the Holocaust. The swastika commands a very sudden and solemn acknowledgement of dangerous human hatred, and due to this bewitching quality, “the swastika is shorthand for every racist and bigot on the planet.”

The move by the ADL to classify the swastika as a “universal” symbol of hate will undoubtedly meet with a backlash. While the symbol continues to represent peaceful spirituality and existence for hundreds of millions of people outside of Western culture, proponents of “reclaiming” the swastika will hardly be impressed. The unsuccessful attempts to ban the swastika emblem in Europe met with fierce calls for the awareness and understanding of its alternative meanings, but due to the overwhelming effectiveness of the Nazis’ interpretation, a change in perceptions seems unlikely. As long as hatred will reside in the hearts of the ignorant and deluded, the perverted translation of the peaceful swastika will carry on with all its current vigour.


Culture Served Raw will be back in two weeks!


19 comments:

  1. As much as I wholeheartedly support the ADL's mission, they have gone way overboard -hypocritically so- with this one. I fully agree with you, CSR. When I moved to my little city in the SF Bay Area, I took it upon myself to have a tatoo shop remove the swastika design from its window. City Council gave me the same b.s. response "it's a universal symbol, people don't know what it means." My crusade was unsuccessful, but the shop closed down shortly thereafter.
    Thanks for being both bold and enlightened enough to post this!
    xoRobyn

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  2. The more we pay attention to it, talk and write about it, the more it stays there as a Nazi symbol. Universal or not, let's just ignore the swastika!

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  3. Unfortunately we can't ignore it Duta, as it is alive and well as a hate symbol still - for Neo-Nazism etc. A shame because it wasn't always so. Thanks for the post Culture Served Raw..:)

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  4. What does it mean to call it a "Universal symbol of hate?" It menas different things to different people as most symbols are. Granted it can't be denied that hate groups use it to hate against others but I still support their right to express that. As vile and digusting as their views may be, the universal application of the 1st ammendment is still more important than the harm caused by hateful views.

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  5. For those who read history, the swastika will always be associated with Hitler and Nazism. In that sense it's more than a symbol of anti-Semitism. Now there are not many people left from the generation that fought WW2, and it's scaring to see how little todays kids learn (or how little they absorb from what they're taught) about WW2. Maybe in the future, the Eastern cultures and religions can take back the swastika and it's original meanings?

    Cold As Heaven

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  6. Just looking at it makes me feel weird.

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  7. When I read the title of your post, the first thing that came to my mind was the swastika, then I clicked over here and saw that is indeed what this post is about. So I'd say, right or wrong, for many of us the swastika does symbolize hatred.

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  8. Our first amendment right does have its limits. Speech that incites, or may incite, violence is NOT an inalienable right.

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  9. This is fascinating to me because when I was doing research for my current novel, I learned about the true origins of the swastika. I've used it in my book because the symbol was widely used in India at the time the Taj Mahal was being built. I wonder, though, how many people will tsk me when they read the book...

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  10. It is so sad that such things are allowed to happen this was a symbol of peace and turned into something horrible.

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  11. You write well. Enjoy your time away from blogging! :)

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  12. I agree that it is a shame that a symbol that once meant something positive can be forever corrupted by those who chose to use it for negative purposes. I wonder if the reverse would ever work? What if a group that did universal good were to take back the symbol again?

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  13. As a Hindu it's always upset me how westerners interpret the swastika as a symbol of hate. I gave my brother a bracelet once for brother and sister day and it had the peaceful swastika symbol on it. His co-workers then started to react strangely towards him and even though he tried to explain to them that this was a Hindu symbol of peace it didn't make any difference. He had to take the bracelet off before they'd be normal again.

    Jai

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  14. A similar image bothers me: seeing armies of countries Goose-stepping when they march. China's army does this as do some others. It makes me wonder if they are simply clueless of the impression it conveys or if they are employing the visualization intentionally. I never saw Goose-stepping marching before the Nazis.

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  16. Culture is constantly evolving. Symbols, as well as various words, take on different meanings through time. Because Hitler adopted the swastika as the trademark of his evil, barbaric regime, it was bound to be subsequently identified with evil and hatred. At least, that is the case in Western civilization. Now, consider the symbolism of the cross. Two thousand years ago it was just a device to suspend unfortunate people by their hands and feet, while they died a horrible death. Now, it is the most revered symbol of Christianity. Go figure!

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  18. An excellent post. To Jai, I'm sorry you're so upset about the Westerner's interpretation of the swastika symbol. Still, it exists and with very good reason. I urge you to be sensitive to their feelings instead of angy. If a friend of yours asked you to stop wearing a certain cologne around them because it reminded them of their dead wife, would you? It's just cologne to most people, but something more to them. Millions of people think of cruelty and hate when they see the swastika. Why exacerbate those feelings?

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  19. Don't you cry babies have anything better to do with your time then act like the very people who perverted the symbol to begin with?

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