You know, something that doesn’t make its way into the news, textbooks and serious academic journals is our life experience and the conversations we overhear in life. I have heard horrible things coming out of the mouths of cab drivers who were driving me in a personal capacity. I have heard horrible things coming out of the mouths of colleagues and fellow students. I will write about one such incident today which seems relevant given the rise of the right wing and the intolerance reflected in the rhetoric against immigrants in our country and in other western countries.
I was at a certain location the other day where teaching occurs when I overheard a conversation behind me between my two male, white colleagues. They had spotted a Religious Education book which was marked with symbols. It had a cross for Christianity, of course, and various other such iconic symbols. For Hinduism, there was the ancient symbol of power which is the Swastika.
One of my colleagues was telling the other white man that the Swastika should be removed from the cover of the Religious Education book. He said that it was associated with the Nazis and therefore was a bad influence on the children that it was intended for.
My other colleague, to whom he was addressing his remarks, to give him credit, argued against his position. He pointed out that it was unfair for all of the other religions to keep their own iconic symbols and for Hinduism to be singled out and censored. It wasn’t the fault of the Hindus that Hitler had corrupted their symbol of power and made it bear a horrendous meaning.
The point of this little anecdote is to elaborate the ignorant position of the white, male censor. First of all, it can be pointed out that all of the symbols on the Religious Education book have negative connotations, since all of the religions have had wars conducted in their names, as well as various imperialist projects. Yet the white male censor does not raise any conscientious objections on those grounds. Secondly, it can be pointed out that the white male censor knows nothing of history before he makes his ignorant decision to censor the symbol of power of a religion. The Swastika has been a powerful symbol across the centuries in a number of different cultures, not just Hinduism. Hitler’s corruption of the symbol (it is actually constructed differently to the Hindu Swastika in Nazism, as a matter of fact) is unappreciated by the ignorant white male censor in his mission to supposedly educate and protect the children in our country from adopting the wrong course in life. Thus his position represents the splendid isolation of this country’s thought and its disregard for history and world culture, particularly the cultures of the ancient world.
I just want to stress the sheer intolerance of the white male censor’s position. When he ignorantly saw the symbol of a different culture that he knew nothing about, he looked at it solely from the point of view of a white Western male and assumed that his position was completely sound, even though he knew nothing about the matter and even though he was preventing another religion from having its own unique representation on the pages of the Religious Education book. What is striking about the act of censorship is also the fact that people don’t learn about Hinduism in our Religious Education classes (I never learnt anything about Hinduism in my own Religious Education classes) and therefore there is an established prejudice against an ancient religion of syncretism, idolatry and differing thought from Western frameworks which the ignorant white male censor follows.
I hope this little anecdote will go to show how casual ignorance, censorship and intolerance is in our country and also demonstrate how our education in this country has failed its students. It keeps on churning out specimens of bigotry and narrow-mindedness like the white male censor that I have described and we are also at a historical situation where such people make up the majority of those holding power. The irony is, that we were in an educational context when the remarks were made, in front of students, when the white male censor was supposedly aiming to combat fascism.