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Over the past few weeks campus has been a hive of discussion following the leaked photos of the controversial Snowsport Society white tee shirt social, and everyone has their two cents to add into the mix. With that in mind one of the issues brought up was the use of the swastika drawn on some of the aforementioned shirts, with the symbol causing offense to several minority groups. The impact that the swastika has as a symbol associated with, among many other things, anti-semitism, or the hatred of Jewish people. As a symbol its use in this context came as we know from the Nazi regime in Germany over the course of the second world war, and has since become the calling sign for white supremacists across the world. What few people actually know is that the symbol they’re talking about is actually the Hakenkreuz, an inverted and diagonally flipped swastika, which is the result of Nazi appropriation of the swastika from Hinduism and other Indian religions. For millennia the symbol had been associated with good fortune, the goddess Kali, divine Buddhist teachings and the sun. Not racism or genocide. It is still used to this day, visit any Hindu temple and you will find depictions of the gods decorated with swastikas, now often with added dots to differentiate from Nazism.
For many years now there has been a push within the Hindu community to reclaim this symbol for its actual meaning and bring it back from the people who would use it to discriminate against others, subverting the core values of Indian religions. It is important for us to do this because we need to remove the power that this inverted and abused version of the swastika has, in order for us to try to move on and past history. This is obviously very difficult, you can’t simply say something isn’t offensive anymore and its connection to the genocide of millions is just washed away. Of course you can’t. If anything given recent information about anti-semitism in the Labour party and the social that spurred this article, it is evident that the swastika and anti-semitism are both very much present factors in how Jewish people exist and are perceived in our society. The swastika unfortunately because of what was done under its insignia will probably always mean to most people in the west something to do with unwavering blind hate and discrimination. As someone who has the swastika form part of their religious iconography the conflict is very much evident and difficult to reconcile.
With this conflict acknowledged I still believe that we should work towards allowing this ancient symbol to return to the communities that it belongs to instead of it remaining the north star of white supremacists and neo-nazis around the world. Recognising the differences in the nazi version of the symbol and the traditional version is also important, with the former always being held on a diagonal while the Hindu swastika is always held horizontally. While this issue will always be difficult and uncomfortable, I implore you to, when you next look at a swastika remember that the version you are familiar with is a perversion of the symbol of good fortune, gods and goddesses and peace, that was stolen from Hinduism by people with evil intentions.