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The Swastika and Cultural Imperialism

Cultural imperialism is when a more powerful society attempts to assert its culture on others. Not all cultural exchange is cultural imperialism, of course. Culture is learned and shared patterns of behavior. Every time humans interact with each other, culture is exchanged. But when the dominant society is using its power to effect the change, then it is imperialism. Obviously Europe and “western society” is responsible for a lot of cultural imperialism.

The Swastika

One example is the dominance of the western view of the Swastika. I have written about this topic before. The last time I focused on the idea of re-appropriating the swastika. The Swastika has been around since the neolithic period. The Romans also used it. And it continues to be used by cultures around the world, including Buddhists in the far east and Native American tribes in the west. It often represents nature or peace, and usually very sacred, although in Japan it has come into mainstream use as slang.

In a Twitter post, one of the people who I follow, and who used to follow me, claimed that “Nazi symbolism is synonymous with some of the most horrible crimes committed in history.” Here is the full tweet.

Of course, that then includes the Swastika. But why should the bastardization of the symbol be pressed upon the rest of the world? Sure, a European imperialist power decided to treat the Swastika as a symbol of their hatred. Why should the rest of the world have to feel uncomfortable, or even threatened, for using these symbols?

Another person within the thread warned me not to be surprised when I get attacked, if I decided to wear such a symbol. Actually, I have a Buddhist Swastika on it. I don’t wear it for fear of being physically attacked. But should someone feel threatened, simply because they are wearing? Is it the fault of the person wearing something, if that garment instigates an assault? Isn’t that precisely the argument used by Republicans use to excuse rape?

Do I have any stock in all of this debate about the use of the Swastika? Well, I have Jewish heritage. I do practice yoga, and even went through a yoga teacher training certification. While I don’t believe the religious aspects, I have taken a lot from the life lessons of various religions, such as Buddhism. And while I am not Native American I think it’s absurd that someone from a tribe might be in danger of assault, for wearing a sacred symbol. But of course it’s reasonable that Native Americans, living in the west, should abide by European views. After all, if they didn’t want to live under European culture, they shouldn’t have decided to get invaded by Europeans.

Who Cares?

I am not even close to the only one talking about this issue. There are debates going on right now, with people in Japan very upset that their maps are being rewritten, rather than people being educated: Educate the people and keep the ‘manji’ (卍) on Japan’s maps. This situation is evidence enough that people aren’t currently smart enough or educated enough to know the difference, so that damages the argument that people who are using the symbol for religious or sacred purposes will be safe. Indeed, last year a group of protesters demanded that the merchandise with the whirling log on it be removed from a Salt Lake City flea market.


Okay. So am I just being a snowflake here? I don’t think so. Why? It’s not just that there’s a risk of getting offended by people viewing the Swastika as synonymous with crimes against humanity. It’s that there is a real physical danger of using that symbol in public. Sure, we can all say f*** it, when it comes to safe spaces. If you want a place where you don’t have to come across disturbing ideas, lock yourself in your closet. But we should be physically safe, when expressing any idea, including when we display a symbol, which is sacred, and which happened to be bastardized by one European power.

Ironically, the same people who seem to be demanding that we all accept the Nazi meaning of the Swastika are also the ones who yell about cultural appropriation. Well, isn’t the control of this symbol, by European/western society, a form of cultural appropriation? It seems rather ironic, doesn’t it?