George Washington University’s [GWU] strong attack on an ancient religious symbol considered sacred by at least four major religious, and its banning from its campus a student for only very briefly displaying the image which he had obtained from India, has provoked an international controversy, and held the university up to ridicule, says GWU Professor John Banzhaf.
Washington, DC, April 27, 2015 –(PR.com)– Several major Indian websites – including ummid.com, punjab.com, TheLiveMirro.com, Indian Diaspora, Press Trust of India, and others – have all reported on the controversy, and the events which led up to the University publicly characterizing such images as a “symbols of hatred.” The symbols – sometimes called svastikas – can unfortunately be confused with the Nazi Swastika, although they are different in color, proportion, orientation, etc. from that dreaded image.
The controversy has also spread to Canada where, as the Indian Diaspora put it in an article entitled “George Washington U’s blinkered view of Swastika,” “The religious symbol Svastika is at the centre of a row between students and the George Washington University . . . The matter is now a subject of a formal hearing by the university management, and has caused disquiet in the Indian community here. . . . Prakash Mody, one of the leaders of the Jain community in Toronto, is ‘unhappy at the stand of the George Washington University about banning religious symbol from campus.’”
Interestingly, also according to the Indian Diaspora, there was a similar episode in Canada recently when Mody “filed a complaint with the Ontario Press Council against the Toronto Star newspaper for asserting that the Jain/Hindu Svastika was akin to the Nazi symbol. Mody’s complaint was upheld by the Press Council.” It also appears that the Interfaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington [IFC], a well respected organization made up of many religious leaders from a variety of countries, is also concerned, since it recently referred to this matter on its Twitter account.
The justification that GWU cited in its public statement, and published in the school newspaper The Hatchet, for taking such harsh action – that the symbol “has acquired an intrinsically anti-Semitic meaning . . . associated with genocide” – has also been ridiculed on several other websites. If an Indian svastika can be banned because some might mistake it for the hated Nazi swastika, shouldn’t GWU also ban the Jewish Star of David which could be mistaken for a pentagram, a sign of devil worship and human sacrifice, asked several websites, including ValueWalk in a piece entitled “Should George Washington University Ban Jewish Star, as It Did Eastern Holy Symbol?”
Ironically, there is precedent – although perhaps somewhat bizarre – for doing just that, as reported in a Daily Caller piece entitled “George Washington U. Emulates Satan-Fearing West Texas School District With Religious Symbol Ban.” It noted that Lubbock, Texas, did in fact ban the display by students of the Jewish Star of David because, they reasoned, it could be mistaken for the “‘Seal Solomon,’ . . . one of the most powerful symbols in the Occult.”
Using the same dubious reasoning, they also banned the peace symbol because “This symbol represents peace in the early 60s, but now, among the Heavy Metal and Occult groups, signifies the ‘Cross of Neri.’ However, these efforts were apparently greeted with ridicule, derision, and scorn – a fate which may well also befall GWU’s recent activities,” suggests Banzhaf.
It makes as much sense for a university to ban an ancient symbol of life and love which is sacred to several of he world’s major religious, just because it could be mistaken for a 20th century Nazi swastika, as it would to ban the word “niggardly” just because it might be misunderstood for a racial insult, says Banzhaf.
George Washington University Law School
Public Interest Law Professor John Banzhaf
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