Not Reclaiming the Swastika

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An insignificant little video, less than a minute long and almost a month old, really got noticed this past week. In the video, European retailer KA Design introduces the “new swastika.”

The video starts by informing us that the swastika is a 5,000-year-old symbol of peace. This is true. The symbol has been used by Hindus, Buddhists and others for millennia.

The video continues that the Nazis appropriated the symbol, rotating it 45 degrees, and turning it into the trademark for racism and hatred. Also true.

Then the video laments that by doing so, the Nazis “limited our freedom” of expression by depriving us of this ancient symbol. Well, maybe. I do have some books and magazines from before the 1930s that use a swastika pattern without it having had political significance.

The video concludes, “The swastika is coming back, together with Peace, together with Love, together with Respect, together with Freedom. Introducing the new swastika.” Followed by an ad for T-shirts featuring a rainbow-colored swastika paired with a variety of feel-good buzzwords.

Uh… No.

First of all, the video is disingenuous. They state that the Nazis rotated the swastika 45 degrees, from its original “box” shape to the more familiar “diamond.” This is true. But if we’re taking the swastika back to its roots, why are two of the three designs offered in the traditional Nazi configuration rather than the original Hindu fashion?

But let’s address the main issue. Did the Nazis deprive us of use of the swastika as a symbol of peace and love? Sure, but that’s the least of their crimes. More significantly, they invaded and looted nations, waged war, destroyed families and murdered 11 million people. If they ruined the swastika’s significance, it wasn’t even an afterthought. It was an unintended consequence.

So who gets to decide if and when we “take back” the swastika? Largely, that decision belongs to the Jews.

Let’s look at an analogous example: the N-word, which will not be written here. No epithet for Jews carries anywhere near the baggage of hatred and oppression as that word has for African-Americans. And you know who gets to determine how, when and by whom that word can be used? Black people. They get to decide how to reclaim, tame or declaw that particular form of hate speech, not white people (who wielded it) or any third party (who don’t have a dog in that particular fight).

Similarly, it is up to Jews, against whom it was used, to determine if, how and when to repurpose the swastika. That decision does not belong to the Nazis’ spiritual successors (who ruined it in the first place) nor to any third party. It certainly doesn’t belong to a T-shirt company! And the Jews – who rarely agree on anything – say “Never forget!” We are not prepared to let that icon lose its sting.

You will note that I said the Nazis killed 11 million people. That’s not a typo. They killed six million Jews – we were their primary target – but they also killed five million other people. Romani. Poles. Slavs. Trade unionists. Freemasons. The physically- and developmentally-disabled. Political dissidents. Dissenting Catholic and Protestant clergy. And yes, homosexuals.

The rainbow motif is a familiar symbol of the gay pride movement but gays, like Jews, were a target of the Nazis. Seriously, what kind of messed-up cross-promotion is a rainbow swastika supposed to be? It’s as offensive as a star-spangled red, white and blue swastika, or a blue-and-white swastika adorned with a six-pointed star.

The Times of Israel covered this campaign last month, prior to the video’s more recent surge. They reported that some people did in fact applaud the attempt to reclaim the hated symbol. You know who? The Daily Stormer, whom TOI identified as “an online community serving neo-Nazis and white supremacists.” Apparently the Daily Stormer’s editor approves of the effort because he himself has “been trying to do this for years.” Now what does that tell us?

KA Design’s motivations are unclear. Are they sincere in their attempts to reclaim this symbol? Are they, like the white supremacists, try to normalize the swastika? Are they just trying to sell T-shirts by being provocative? Are they trolling the Internet by doing something outrageous? It doesn’t matter. The decision to repurpose a symbol of hate lies with the victims, not with marketers. And we, the victims, say no.

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.