Tuesday, February 27, 2007

ambivalent symbols

I have just been sent the following item from Multicultural Matters newsletter, Feb 07.
European Hindus urge EU not to ban swastika
The Hindu Forum of Britain has joined with its counterparts throughout Europe in asking European governments not to heed Germany's plans to use its presidency of the EU to launch an initiative which could ban any display of Nazi symbols. The symbols are already banned in Germany and following the rise of the far right the government there would like to see the swastika banned by all member states.

The issue last came under the spot light two years ago in February 2005 when the HFB, an umbrella organisation of 250 groups of Hindus up and down Britain said that it would fight any European ban on the swastika, which was being called for after Prince Harry's party costume. At the time Secretary General Ramesh Kallidai said: "No one in the West now associates the symbol with Hindu ideology and as a positive symbol of the cosmos."

Although Mr Kallidai acknowledges that German plans are well meaning he said: "The swastika has been around for 5,000 years as a symbol of peace. This is exactly the opposite of how it was used by Hitler. It is almost like saying that the Ku Klux Klan used burning crosses to terrorise black men, so therefore let us ban the cross. How does that sound to you? Every time we see a swastika symbol in a Jewish cemetery, that of course must be condemned. But when the symbol is used in a Hindu wedding, people should learn to respect that. In Sanskrit it means May Goodness Prevail. Just because Hitler misused the symbol, abused it and used it to propagate a reign of terror and racism and discrimination, it does not mean that its peaceful use should be banned."
Well, the ways of displaying it are different - the Hindu way is in a square shape, usually with the arms going clockwise (in the direction of the sun) whereas the Nazi form of the symbol was usually at an angle, and was known as the Hakenkreuz, not the swastika, which is derived from the Sanskrit word for well-being, Svasti, according to the Wikipedia article.

A friend brought back a good-luck banner from India with golden swastikas on it (obviously there as a good-luck symbol) and Rudyard Kipling used to put them on his books, alluding to the Indian meaning. Indeed, 2nd century Jewish synagogues had them in their décor. I think it is difficult for the West to reclaim the original meaning of the symbol, which was representing the movement of the sun through the heavens, but as Hindus have been using it for centuries as a good luck symbol, I don't see why they should be prevented from doing so.

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