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How Do You Rehabilitate the Swastika?

Definitely not this way

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Sorry, but no.(Twitter)

We mentioned Monday that this weekend, a banner was spotted representing World Swastika Rehabilitation Day. It donned a swastika intertwined with a Star of David, the symbol of the Raelian movement. The event (obviously) provoked complaints from locals in New York, Long Island, and New Jersey; multipled witnesses tweeted “WTF” and we did the same on the Scroll. After an eye-roll, though, I put aside the Raelian movement’s, um, questionable beliefs and reconsidered the question: Can the swastika possibly be rehabilitated? Especially if there are still anti-Semites actively wielding it as a form of rhetorical violence? Intellectually I knew that the swastika pre-dates the Nazis, and that it symbolizes peace and good luck in many Eastern religions.

Aaand today I remembered why it can’t. I read that a swastika had been painted on a car outside of the offices of Hamodia, a Hebrew newspaper in New York’s Jewish Orthodox neighborhood Boro Park, less than two weeks after a cluster of swastikas were found a few blocks away.

This symbol isn’t just a mid-century relic; the same narrative gets refreshed again and again. These are the moments when annual days of action and accompanying yearly airborne banners ring hollow; to redeem a loaded insignia would require a structural overhaul and hundreds of years of education—not another younger, weaker campaign directed toward one of the largest Jewish populations anywhere. For us, for now, context is everything.

Another Day, Another Swastika Found in Boro Park [Village Voice]

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You could have mentioned the artist ManWoman, who’s basically made it his crusade. He had a mystical vision.

More seriously, I suppose you could use the counterclockwise swastika and point it at right angles so it doesn’t look like the Nazi one. I know it’s still used in Hindu contexts, and they often surround it with other things.

I’m vegetarian and speak no Chinese, which I thought would make for a really awkward and uncomfortable trip to Taiwan. Fortunately, there are Buddhists all over Taiwan, and Buddhist temples proudly displaying their swastika on high are a reasonably common sight.

I walk into a restaurant, the waiter says something I don’t understand at all, I draw a swastika on a napkin, and he smiles an understanding smile and brings me the one vegetarian dish on the menu (which I can only hope wasn’t made with fish broth…). At the supermarket, I just find the ramen with the label covered in swastikas and I’m done. Yes, context matters, but by the end of my trip to Taiwan, the swastika was more than rehabilitated in my mind, and every time I saw one I smiled a little.

I am reminded of the Lenny Bruce bit about the N-word. How we all should go around saying it (and other racial slurs) all the time so it wouldn’t mean anything any more, so it would lose its’ power to hurt.

Didn’t work out that way.


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How Do You Rehabilitate the Swastika?

Definitely not this way

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