November 15th, 2004


Who put the little baby swastika on the floor?

Today our neighbours had a swastika daubed on the paving stones in their front garden.

It took me a few fractions of a second to figure out that it was, in fact, a Hindu-style swastika rather than a Nazi-style swastika. (The difference is hard to see for people unfamiliar with the swastika as anything other than a symbol of Nazism - but Hindu or Buddhist-style swastikas are straight rather than at 45 degrees, and often feature dots placed inside each of the four spokes). Also, the two swastikas in the design were placed on either side of a large brightly-coloured flower, which just didn't seem very fascist. Also the fact it was done in chalk, and still present at 3.30 in the afternoon when the house was full of people implied it was probably supposed to be there.

Nonetheless, I had momentary panic thinking "Oh my God, the neighbours have had a swastika drawn in their garden!!", remembering they are a family of brown-skinned people and wondering what on earth I should do, before I realised it was (probably) harmless.

Part of me still wonders if I should knock on the door to make sure they know the swastikas are there. But knocking on the door of people you barely even recognise to ask them a question about a sign that's been in use for thousands of years seems pretty clueless. (I'm reminded of the time I stopped by a large demonstration of brown-skinned people who were supporting the BNP in great confusion because the British BNP is a far-right we're-not-racist-honest-we-just-want-to-stop-immigration party and I couldn't understand why non-white people would want to support them, to be told "No, we're protesting about the government trying to ban the Bangladeshi National Party.") And besides, how many people would want a neighbour they barely even recognise to knock on the door asking questions about religion? (I know I certainly wouldn't want it.) And the design honestly seems peaceful - I just can't see how a large flower could be hateful. On the other two sides there is a star and crescent, which is clearly a sign of Islam. Do Muslims use the swastika as well? Or maybe the design represents a wish for peace between Hindus and Muslims - which makes sense politically.

Or am I just looking for an excuse not to have to knock on someone else's door and take an interest in them?

The whole thing further emphasises how little I know about most of the world religions. It sucks that my eyes can turn a sign of peace and good luck into something evil, simply because of lack of familiarity with the religious meaning. Has there been a Hindu festival this weekend? I know the Muslims have had Eid, which is the end of the Ramadan fast and roughly equivalent to Christmas - but all I know about that is pretty much what I've learned from the couple of Muslim students I have. I really, really want to do a comparative religion course, looking at maybe 6 or 7 of the major religions in some detail over a year - just to learn more about them. But a) I haven't seen anything like that advertised, b) I have no copious free time, and c) I already know what I believe and don't want to be sold any of the religions - which is often the problem with that sort of thing.

And part of me is just pointing in utter horror and saying "Only you could see a swastika in a neighbour's garden and make a livejournal post all about yourself".
  • Current Mood
    indescribable indescribable