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  • Writer's pictureKaren L

What Do You Think?

Recently, I read an article, "When is a Swastika Not a Swastika?" Immediately, anger raised its ugly spectre in my head. A cursory review of the literature reveals that well-known symbols do have different meanings. However, people recognize the current interpretation of a symbol not the ancient one. The cross, skull and crossbones, triquetra, and peace sign have multiple meanings which brings me to the swastika.

I appreciate that the swastika is purposed by different cultures. Swastika means well-being in Sanskrit and was a sacred representation for ancient Greeks, Romans, Celts, and Anglo-Saxons. Currently, it is a holy image for Buddhists, Jains, and Hindus.

Adolf Hitler adopted the ancient symbol of the swastika or hakenkreuz and tainted its meaning for the indefinite future. For the Jewish people and those of other western faiths, it has become a potent reminder of hate, oppression, and death. Today, there are millions of individuals throughout the world who shudder at the sight of the swastika which represents a dreadful time in recent human history.

Why then, I ask, would two Jewish state representatives from California introduce new language to a hate crimes bill decriminalizing the display of the Hindu swastika? Obvious use of the sign in religious rites should not be punished. However, I have visited Hindu temples in the United States, and I have never seen its use. On the other hand, I have observed the symbol in ancient art in other countries.

Most importantly, do California state representatives have time and energy for this trivial matter when there are pressing needs in their state? These assembly persons are Jewish, or so the article reports. I do not believe that Tikkun Olam translates to codifying the multiple interpretations of common symbols, especially given the rise in hate crimes.

If a Hindu was punished for displaying a swastika for religious purposes, that individual should be exonerated. Religious freedom is for all. But I daresay most Hindus living in the United States understand the significance of the swastika. And certainly making a legal distinction between the swastika and the hakenkreuz is ridiculous. How many Americans comprehend the German term? And think of the misguided--filled with hate--who will claim a religious privilege to display a swastika. And our children--how confusing. A hakenkreuz is not ok but a swastika is a demonstration of Hindu faith?

Hakenkreuz--hooked cross (German)

Tikkun Olam--repair and improve the world (Hebrew)

© 2022 Karen Levi

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