Swastika – Reclaiming the Global Symbol from Nazi Distortion

Swastika basically means Well Being, Good Existence or Good Luck. Though the word ‘Swastika’ came from Sanskrit, its origins can be traced in different cultures across the world. The Swastika is known as Wan in China, Manji in Japan, Fylfot in England, Hakenkreuz in Germany and Tetraskelion in Greece. The earliest known Swastika dates back to 12,000 years and was found in Mezine, Ukraine. One of the earliest cultures that have used Swastika was the Vinca Culture, around 8,000 years ago.

There is no one, concrete symbol of the Swastika. Different cultures exhibit its variations, but all look alike. For Hindus and Buddhists in Asia, the Swastika has been an important symbol for thousands of years and it can be seen everywhere, from temples to books. In Chinese, Japanese, and Korean cultures, the Swastika is also a homonym of the number 10,000 and is commonly used to represent the whole of creation. During the Tang dynasty, Empress Wu Zetian (684–704) decreed that the Swastika would be used as an alternative symbol for the Sun. Further, Swastika has been widely used by Europeans, Africans, and even Native Americans.

US graphic design writer Steven Heller in his book “The Swastika: Symbol Beyond Redemption?” has stated how the Swastika was enthusiastically adopted in the West, and given examples of Coca-Cola, Carlsberg, the Boy Scouts, the Girls’ Club of America, and even American military units and RAF planes, as late as 1939. It was also used by the Finish Armed Forces and Latvian Armed forces. 

When the Nazis came into power in the 1930s, most of these uses of the Swastika stopped. Heller explains that the Nazis drew inspiration from 19th century German scholars who had translated old Indian texts and noticed similarities between German and Sanskrit languages, which made them believe that they and Indians must have shared ancestry. This gave rise to the concept of the Aryan race. 

While creating the flag, Hitler incorporated the hakenkreuz and revered colours of the German nation (red, white, and black were the colours of the flag of the old German Empire). Adolf Hitler in his 1925 work Mein Kampf, writes: “As National Socialists, we see our programme in our flag. In red, we see the social idea of the movement; in white, the nationalistic idea; in the hakenkreuz, 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”.

Acts of Nazis, wherein they imposed wars and killed millions of people around the world, bred hatred not only towards Nazi Germany, but also against the symbol of Swastika. It has been more than 70 years since the end of World War II, but the negative impact of the symbol is still being felt. In order to clean their image tarnished by the Nazi rule, the Germans banned Swastika at the end of the war in the country and have, time and again, unsuccessfully campaigned for a ban on the Swastika across Europe.

The brunt of Nazi Germany was borne by a lot of people, but two communities in particular were singled out – Jews and Romanis.  Around 6 million Jews and 1.5 million Romanis were killed. Since it came into existence, the State of Israel has been at the forefront of condemning all acts of Nazi Germany by way of reparations, bringing war criminals to justice, and highlighting the evil face of Nazi Germany in front of the world. In doing so, they have also targeted the Swastika and rightly so because the symbol of Swastika is associated with crimes committed upon Jews. Romanis have not been as successful as they are still treated as outcasts in Europe.

The Israeli media and western liberal media never miss any chance to highlight the wrongdoings of Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany, and the things associated with the Third Reich. The Swastika is one such thing. Further, though Nazi Germany has been dead for 70 years, the Swastika continues to inspire extremism as well as induce severe discomfort, especially in the West. The most common example is of the Neo-Nazis. Here are some more recent examples –

  • On 4 Mar 2019, a group of high school students in California, USA assembled to do the Nazi salute while standing around cups arranged in the shape of a Swastika.
  • On 20 June 2019, Neo-Nazis reportedly painted Swastikas on the walls of an occupation bunker in New Jersey, USA after D-Day commemorations.
  • On 4 July 2019, a Jewish café in Melbourne, Australia was targeted in an anti-Semitic attack and vandalised with a Swastika.
  • According to a report, the town of Lysses in Pennsylvania, USA has become a hot bed for White Nationalism, Neo Nazis and the Klu Klux Klan.
  • As per a report, 100-year-old Swastika tiles were recently removed from IU Intramural Centre in Indiana, USA.
  • On 15 July 2019, Police seized machine guns, assault rifles and an Air-to-Air missiles, along with other Nazi memorabilia from a Neo-Nazi Group in Italy.
  • According to a report, a theme park in Germany has closed a certain ride due to complaints that it resembled rotating swastikas.

While it is important to keep a tab on and target the activities of Neo-Nazis, it is also important to make sure that the numerous versions of Swastika which denote good are also segregated from the one version which denotes hatred towards others. 

It is high time that Eastern civilizations reclaim their symbols. Swastika is derived from a Sanskrit word ‘Swasti’, which is composed of Su (good, well) and Asti (it is, there is), therefore it basically denotes Good Happens. Unfortunately, currently, the symbol, thanks to the Nazi version, is being is used to perpetrate only bad things. In order to denote the bad deeds, we must revise the term for this specific version, and call it ‘Naashtika’. ‘Naash’ in Hindi means destruction (Bad) and Asti means (it is, there is). By doing so, not only will we learn to balance the good and bad associated with one entity, but also bring more understanding and tolerance between Western and Eastern civilisations. Let us not make the Swastika a victim of our follies, but the beginning of reconciliation.

Mark Kinra

Mark Kinra is a corporate lawyer by profession and geopolitical analyst at heart. He primarily works on South Asia, specializing in Pakistan.

The views and opinions expressed in the article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Tilak Chronicle and TTC Media Pvt Ltd.

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