MONTREAL, June 27, 2012 /CNW Telbec/ - Displays of swastikas at various locations in the western world on June 23, World Swastika Rehabilitation Day, triggered a mixed bag of reactions.
The displays were organized by the International Raelian Movement (IRM) and representatives from Eastern religions that have favorable views of the ancient symbol of peace and good will that was hijacked by the Nazis.
"A majority of the complaints came from the New York - New Jersey area, where a banner showing a swastika within the Raelian symbol was flown over Manhattan, the Jersey shore and Long Beach Island," said Raelian Guide Thomas Kaenzig, coordinator of Swastika Rehabilitation Day. "But why should this symbol that still signifies peace and good will for more than 1.5 billion people worldwide, offend people in Manhattan?"
Explaining that the complaints were made largely by members of the Jewish community, Kaenzig pointed out that restoration of the swastika's original meaning is overdue.
"Should Buddhists, Hindus and Raelians have to hide this symbol because another group used it inappropriately 70 years ago and committed crimes?" he asked. "If so, then shouldn't they also be offended by the Christian cross? After all, innocent people were executed by fanatical Christians during the Inquisition and by the Ku Klux Klan. Both used the cross as their symbol. And what about the atomic bomb victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki? Shouldn't they ban the American flag? The list of horrific crimes associated with the use of symbols is long, but only the swastika has been banned."
Kaenzig said negative emotions regarding the swastika by people under age 70 are obviously linked to cultural indoctrination and education, not to direct experience.
"It's time people were re-educated to understand the original meaning of this oldest and most recurrent symbol in the world," he said, adding that the Raelians and members of other religious groups who organized the June 23 events did so to inform the public.
"Our hope is that, despite its recent misuse by the Nazis, people will no longer be offended by what many cultures still consider a benign, peaceful symbol," he said.
"It's encouraging that we got a good reception where you might think the symbol would upset people the most - in Tel Aviv, Israel. People there were quite receptive to our flyers and the display of the old swastikas in their streets."
Kaenzig explained that many swastikas can still be found in the old synagogues of Israel, and that Israeli Jews are very aware that the Jewish people themselves used the swastika as a peaceful symbol before it was misappropriated by the Nazis.
"The Jewish community on the U.S. East Coast doesn't have the same awareness as its Israeli counterpart," he said. The fact that New York Jews found our banner outrageous shows that there is still plenty of work to be done in that region."
He said the reaction in Karlsruhe, Germany, was also less than favorable. "We had a large group there, but it was not welcomed by the authorities," Kaenzig said. "The police clearly stated that signs displaying swastikas could not be shown at any time in the streets. Marcel Hoffman, leader of the Raelian Movement in Germany, decided to challenge that statute by holding pictures of ancient swastikas still existing in Germany because they predate the Nazi era. The police decided to charge him, and we hope he will have a chance to defend his viewpoint in court."
Despite these adverse reactions, others were at least able to see the point of Swastika Rehabilitation Day, Kaenzig said.
As one New York area reader put it after reading a mainstream media article about the June 23 display:
"I doubt they were flying the Nazi flag, as you have depicted. They were surely just flying a plain banner with a swastika on it, which — just as they say — was for thousands of years a symbol used universally, including by Jews. Some of the ancient shul mosaics in Eretz Yisroel have swastikas, and there were seforim printed with swastikas as a decorative motif. Until the Nazis used it, it had no bad associations. So now for us it's a painful reminder and we shun it, but if these people hold it dear, we can't really expect them to keep it in hiding just to spare our feelings. They want to expose it to sunlight and demystify it, so it will seem just as innocuous as it was before the war; I doubt it's possible, but I can't blame them for trying. After all, would we stop using a mogen dovid if the Japanese had used it as their symbol instead of the rising sun? "
"That's an excellent question," Kaenzig commented. "Would the Jewish community have accepted the banning of their symbol if another group had hijacked it and then committed crimes?" asked Kaenzig. "And what would the Jewish community do if the Palestinians were to someday ask the international community to ban the symbol used by their torturers?"
Elsewhere, the June 23 events got a much better reception, according to Kaenzig.
"On the U.S. West Coast and in Australia, our flying banner didn't trigger any complaints that we know of," he said, adding that those promoting the day on Venice Beach in California were, in fact, enthusiastically welcomed by locals acquainted with the symbol's traditional meaning to Buddhists.
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