A major New York Jewish organization co-hosted an event in New York this week to debate a subject that most in the city assume has long been settled — whether the swastika is good or bad.
While the notorious hooked-cross symbol has long been associated with the evil of Nazism and hate, it has for even longer been revered by Hindus and Buddhists, who argued Monday that swastika was misused by Hitler and its image should be rehabilitated.
“This is the most important symbol in Asia. The swastika is a noble symbol. It’s a sacred symbol,” said T.K. Nakagaki, president of the HEIWA Peace and Reconciliation Foundation, during the zoom conference Monday night, which was co-sponsored by Jewish Community Relations Council of NY and various Hindu and Buddhist groups.
“There is a lot ignorance about this symbol. It’s a taboo. People think it’s a hateful symbol and that if you use it you’re an evil person.”
But Nakagaki said that’s wrong.
“Education doesn’t teach what the swastika means. Hitler clearly stole the symbol from the East,” Nakagaki said at the event, entitled “The Swastika in American, Jewish and Asian Cultures.”
“Why can’t we return the swastika to its rightful place? The Nazis used it in the wrong way. We have to recognize both — the good side and the bad side.”
In both Hindu and Buddhist cultures, swastikas are sacred symbols carved into temples and used for ceremonies.
The swastika in Hindu culture dates back more than 5,000 years and is used :”to express luck and happiness during ceremonial events,” said panelist Ravi Vaidyanaat Sivachariar, director of religious studies for the Flushing, Queens-based Hindu Temple Society of North America.
Vaidyanaat said people from western cultures have to be taught to understand and respect how important the swastika is to eastern cultures — way before Adolf Hitler misappropriated it for evil purposes..
“We have to involve every faith. I’m not against anybody. I don’t want anyone to be against me,” he said.
Panelist Steven Heller, co-chairman of the School of Visual Arts and MF Design said he respected Eastern belief but emphasized the swastika should continue to be shunned in Western cultures.
“It is one of those cruel ambiguities. For some it means something good, for others it means something abhorrent,” Heller told The Post after the event.
“The symbol, whatever you call it, Swastika or hooked-cross, has become adopted and co-opted as a symbol of racial and ethnic prejudice and white superiority . . . I am convinced for Americans and Europeans it must be maintained as a taboo sign,” he said.
Neo-Nazis and white supremacists still use the swastika to foment hate including anti-semitism in America and elsewhere.
“This does not mean it is invalid for other cultures in Asia, Africa, Native America,” said Heller.
During closing remarks, JCRC executive director Michael Miller said every symbol is “a world unto itself.”
“The world is circular. It’s not a square. What is essential is that we communicate with each other,” Miller said.
“Shalom. Shanti. Peace.”
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