The Swastika Debate

Do you know the origins of the swastika?

For those of you that might point to World War Two, and more specifically the Nazi party that instigated the war, you’d be wrong. The original symbol actually has origins dating back thousands upon thousands of years, long before it was quite literally twisted and framed in white and red. A sacred symbol in Buddhism and Hinduism, among others, the original word svastika can be literally translated into “that which is associated with well-being,” a meaning that is certainly a great deal more positive than the eventual Nazi connotations.

The reason I’m bringing this up is due to a kerfuffle or two I’ve seen over the Internet. Now, this alone isn’t unusual; the Internet pretty much breeds conflict, the more public the more vicious. The subject of the argument, however, sparked my interest.

Of the two parties involved, the first had a Buddhist swastika on their site signature, which meant it would be displayed when they made a post. Now, something you should know about the traditional swastika is that it is not displayed in the white background and red circle of the Nazi counterpart, and unlike the latter symbol, it is not twisted slightly to one side, but rather stands upright. Furthermore, the individual’s signature also had clear links connecting the one who bothered to click on them to a site explaining the swastika’s Buddhist connections.

The second party, needless to say, insisted that the symbol was horrible and should be stricken from the signature. Of course, he didn’t say this to the mods of the site, rather he posted it on his blog, denouncing the site in the process.

The comments section was decidedly mixed; some supported the first party, others the second. I, personally, agreed with the first party, but I can imagine that plenty would take the side of the second, so here is my reasoning behind my personal viewpoint.

Freedom of expression has always been a prickly subject. Should the KKK be permitted to speak out against blacks? Should Neo-Nazis get to wear their signs and spread their messages? The conflicts have been many, and the answer is always muddled.

Fortunately, that doesn’t apply here.

Let’s say we ban the Buddhist swastika from all chat sites, forums, etc, etc. What would that accomplish? The Neo-Nazi pockets on the Internet would still be there, as would the Neo-Nazis, and so in the end the people who would really suffer would be the Buddhists.

The Nazi swastika has a lot of stigma attached to it, a lot of blood and dark memories. But pretending it doesn’t exist, and trying to destroy any and all signs of the symbol it was based on, will only give the red-circled incarnation all the more power. Before World War Two, the swastika was used without stigma, but now due to the recency effect, anyone who things of it will automatically be drawn to focus on the more recent, and therefore more severe, incarnation. And now, because everyone who tries to use it in some other context might find their very character attacked, and even censorship awaiting them, the swastika will never shake off the horrible implications attached to it.

The crucifix symbol was representative of a barbaric, torturous process that had a multitude of individuals dying in a particular slow, painful manner. But now, thanks to Christianity, it’s a symbol that inspires the masses, and in plenty of lore and fiction it’s been considered a protective talisman. If the same crucifix symbol had been at the forefront of some similar massacre, maybe even if used by whatever party instigated it specifically to attack Christianity, should the Christians be forced to choose a new symbol to represent their faith?

Did the symbol itself grow any more good or evil?

Whether or not the Nazi swastika should be a subject of censorship is a debate I’m not quite willing to stick my head into today. But that does not apply here; the Buddhist swastika was here first. If you see the symbol, please don’t jump to conclusions; just lock your jaw, clench your teeth, and focus on it and the ‘well-being’ it tries to portray.

Maybe, in time, the Nazi symbol will lose a little bit of its power because of it.

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