Leave Swastika,Ban race theories

published on January 18, 2007



German initiative to ban the swastika is a meaningless gesture that leaves untouched the greater evil of Nazi era academic race theories.


In a fit of self-righteousness, Germany , which holds the rotating presidency of the European Union, has announced that it will make Holocaust denial punishable in the member states of the EU, including a ban on Nazi symbols like the swastika. Unfortunately, the Honorable Justice Minister, who has come out with the proposal has got both his history and his priorities wrong. If he is serious about banning the evil of racism, he should leave the Indian sacred symbol alone and ban the teaching of Nazi era race theories that continue to flourish in Western academia in various guises.


It is important to note that Hitler and the Nazis appropriated their ideas and symbols from European mythology, not India . Hitler’s Aryans worshipped Apollo and Odin, not Vedic deities like Indra and Varuna. His so-called swastika was not really the swastika, but ‘Hakenkreuz’ or the hooked cross, which has no counterpart in India . It appeared in Germany for the first time when General von Luttwitz’s notorious Erhardt Brigade marched into Berlin from Lithuania in support of the abortive Kapp Putsch of 1920. The Erhardt Brigade was one of several freebooting private armies during the chaotic years following Germany ’s defeat in World War I. They had the covert support of the Wehrmacht (Army headquarters) .


The Honorable Minister should also note that the notion of the Aryan race was nowhere as important in India as it came to be in Europe . In the whole the Rig Veda, in all of its ten books, the word Arya appears only about forty times. In contrast, Hitler’s Mein Kampf uses the term Arya and Aryan many times more. Hitler did not invent it. The idea of Aryans as a superior race was already in the air— in Europe, not India . Swastika had nothing to do with it, but racism did.


But far more serious is the Honorable Minister’s ignorance of the persistence of Nazi era race theories in Western academia. The fall of the Third Reich did not put an end to academic race theories that formed the core of its ideology. While avoiding overtly racial terms, scholars in disciplines like Indo-European Studies continue to uphold scientifically discredited and historically disgraced theories built around the Aryan myth.


 Some academics have resorted to media campaigns and political lobbying to save their theories and the discipline from natural extinction— a tactic that came to the fore when California education authorities attempted to remove these theories from their school curriculum. A singular feature of this neo-racist scholarship is the replacement of anti-Semitism by anti-Hinduism.


Of particular concern to the German Government should be the lead being taken by some scholars of German origin in perpetuating these justly disgraced Nazi era ideas. In this context, I would like to draw the Honorable Minister’s attention to the activities of the Harvard based German linguist Michael Witzel, who led the lobbying campaign to save the Aryan theories from being axed from California schools.


 If Germany and the EU are serious about correcting historical wrongs, they should eradicate the ideas that gave rise to this hateful ideology and not engage in cosmetics like banning a harmless symbol.


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