Ignorance-based Religious Apartheid – In the Heart of America’s Capital


Editor’s Note: Our central mission is to develop, nurture & enhance the US-India partnership. This is one initiative that has bipartisan support from both Houses of the US Congress and has been built by intense efforts of both President Bush & President Obama. So we worry a lot about what can derail this partnership. The greatest danger we see is Religious Apartheid against Indian-Asian religions that is both deep and wide among the US Establishment – Universities, Think-tanks, NGOs and of course US newspapers & Television. Sometimes it erupts in, what seem to us as, vicious acts of religious defamation & religious persecution, like the one that recently erupted in Washington DC. This is complex topic and needs to discussed at length. That is why this article is long. We thank readers for their patience in reading it.


Imagine going to India for a visit, bringing back a symbol of Eternal Peace, a symbol that has been accepted globally for thousands of years. Imagine posting this symbol of Peace in your University academic center only to be accused of a hate crime against your own religion & reportedly threatened with expulsion by the president of your University.

Yes, this has reportedly happened in Washington DC at a University named, ironically, George Washington University (GWU). A Jewish student went to India and returned with a Indian Svastik which he acquired in his trip. The University police were summoned and removed the Svastik and began investigating the incident via GWU’s Hate Crime Unit. Steven Knapp, President of GWU, wrote the following in his message on the University’s website:

  • “Since its adoption nearly a century ago as the symbol of the Nazi Party, the swastika has acquired an intrinsically anti-Semitic meaning, and therefore the act of posting it in a university residence hall is utterly unacceptable. Our entire community should be aware of the swastika’s association with genocide perpetrated against the Jewish people and should be concerned about the extremely harmful effects that displaying this symbol has on individuals and on the climate of our entire university community. The university will embark on a program of education to ensure that all members of our community understand the damage that symbols of hatred do to us all.”

Get this, if you can. The student, yes a Jewish student, is accused of a hate crime against Jews for merely displaying a symbol of Eternal Spiritual Peace that is revered in all Asian religions today and has been accepted as a “good” symbol by the entire world including Jews and Christians for thousands of years.

Understand that the Jewish student did NOT display Hitler’s German Nazi symbol but displayed the ancient Indian symbol of Heavenly Peace. The two are as diametrically different as Mahatma Gandhi & Adolf Hitler. The Jewish student posted the Mahatma Gandhi symbol. In contrast, Steven Knapp, the president of GWU, associated the symbol of Heavenly Peace with the evil Nazi symbol suggestive of genocide of Jews. 

How utterly ignorant is Steven Knapp? Or is it something more than sheer ignorance? Is it Religious Apartheid? We think actions of Steven Knapp reflect Religious Apartheid in GWU, ignorance-based Religious Apartheid perhaps, but Apartheid nonetheless. We lay out our rationale below for readers to judge for themselves.

1. Svastik – What is the stand of Jewish Religious Leaders?

We confess we do not have serious knowledge about the philosophy & practices of Judaism. So we leave judgements about Judaism to established religious & social authorities of the Jewish community. Israel is the world’s only Jewish state and so we are persuaded to accept the Chief Rabbinate of Israel as an important voice about Jewish religious sentiments. The American Jewish Committee is a Global Jewish Advocacy group that has adopted combating Anti-Semitism as its mission. So they count as well.

What do the Chief Rabbinate of Israel and the American Jewish Committee say about the Svastik or Svastika (with a short “a”)? These two groups participated in a joint Hindu-Jewish Leadership Summit in Jerusalem in 2008. Read Affirmation 7 of the Declaration of this religious summit under the stamp of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel and the World Council of Religious Leaders:

  • Svastika is an ancient and greatly auspicious symbol of the Hindu tradition. It is inscribed on Hindu temples, ritual altars, entrances, and even account books. A distorted version of this sacred symbol was misappropriated by the Third Reich in Germany, and abused as an emblem under which heinous crimes were perpetrated against humanity, particularly the Jewish people, The participants recognize that this symbol is, and has been sacred to Hindus for millennia, long before its misappropriation”

Think about this. The American Jewish Committee and the Chief Rabbinate of Israel publicly affirmed and accepted the Svastik as a “greatly auspicious”, “sacred” and “ancient” symbol. In appallingly stark contrast, GWU’s Steven Knapp termed the same Svastik as a “symbol of hatred” and called its display in a GWU residence hall “utterly unacceptable“. 

2. Differences between GWU’s statement & the above Declaration

Notice another stark contrast between the above Declaration by Global Jewish leaders and the posting by GWU’s Steven Knapp. The Jewish Declaration used the term “misappropriation” which clearly distinguishes between and separates the “auspicious” Svastik from the actions of German Nazis. In contrast, GWU’s Steven Knapp used the term “adoption” and went on add that “the swastika has acquired an intrinsically anti-Semitic meaning“. 

As president of an American University, Mr. Knapp is deemed to know the meaning of “adoption” – that it comes from the old French word “adoptare” meaning to “choose for oneself“. The word adoption is defined in English dictionaries as “an act of taking something as your own”, “an act of embracing ideas”. In other words, GWU’s Steven Knapp has put the onus of “anti-semitic” hatred on the Svastik itself and not on German Nazis who merely “adopted” or “embraced” that religious hate or “took” that religious hate “as their own“.  To put it simply, GWU’s Steven Knapp blames the “great auspicious symbol” Svastik and NOT the evil Third Reich. By doing so, Knapp deliberately and consciously went against the “misappropriation” standard laid down by Israeli & American Jewish leadership.

Who is spreading religious hate here? The solitary Jewish student or President Steven Knapp with the entire GWU leadership team? The above is not mere word-play. Understand that a published statement like the one posted by GWU president Steven Knapp goes through meticulous reviews and edits before it is posted. So the word “adoption” was not an oversight but a careful deliberate act of putting the blame of religious hatred on the Svastik, a deliberate conscious act of religious defamation of Buddhists-Hindus-Jains. There is another deliberate defamatory point in the Steven Knapp statement which we will address later.

Let us be clear, crystal clear. The Chief Rabbinate of Israel & the American Jewish Committee have made it explicitly clear that this is NOT an issue or dispute between Jewish & Buddhist-Hindu-Jain religions. They agree that the “Svastik” is a “greatly auspicious” and “sacred” symbol. India welcomed Jews 1200 years ago when they were fleeing persecution in the Middle East. Today, India & Israel are strategic partners to such an extent that Middle Eastern terrorists now use a joint Hindu-Zionist label as justification for their terrorism. Ironically, President Steven Knapp of GWU has now joined the terrorist campaign by trying to create an artificial religious dispute between Jews & Buddhists-Hindus-Jains.

Is this merely “ignorance” on the part of GWU president Steven Knapp or something deeper & prejudicial? 

3. What does Svastik mean? What does it stand for?

The suffix “ka” denotes the “creator of” or “generator of”. So Svastik or Svastika (short or silent “a”) is a generator or creator of Svasti. So what is Svasti? The prefix “su” (सु)  denotes “noble or good” without any trace of anything negative or bad. And “asti” (अस्ति) means a state, a condition. Combining “su” and “a” together in Sanskrut makes the combined letter “Sva” ( सु + अ = स्व). So the combination of “Su”and “Asti” becomes Svasti, the noble or good state (सु + अस्ति = स्वस्ति).  Ergo, the Svastik (स्वस्तिक) or Svastika is a generator or creator of the noble/good state Svasti.

How has Svasti been described in ancient Hindu religious/philosophical texts?

  • “Let all humanity be happily content. Let all humanity be without ill-health. Let all humanity perceive the Noble. Let no one suffer grief or pain.”*

This is why every Shanti-Mantra or Mantra of Peace includes a prayer for us to be delivered to the state of Svasti. A famous one that was a favorite of Mahatma Gandhi requests: 

  • “With our ears, let us only hear what is noble/good; With our eyes, let us only see what is noble/good”**

These Shanti-Mantra or Peace-Mantra only seek a noble supra-material state and not material benefits like progeny, riches and worldly possessions. This is why the traditional Sanskrut benediction has been “Let Svasti be Yours” (स्वस्ति अस्तु  ते).

How on earth can GWU’s Steven Knapp see the Svastik as a “symbol of hatred“?


   Image result for swastik at Diwali photos

Look at these photos of the Svastik. Aren’t these diametrically opposite to the photos of the evil Nazi Symbol? Have you, Mr. Knapp, ever seen German children lighting candles to adorn in the evil Nazi symbol?

4. Svastik – the Ultimate Multi-religious, Multi-cultural, Universal symbol of “Noble/Good”?

What we show below is well-known but completely unknown. Well-known because every serious publication about the Svastik describes this; heck even Wikipedia does so. Unknown because no one really knows this, because no University teaches it.

Since a picture is worth a thousand words, we will simply include pictures below from Wikipedia:

4.1 Svastik in Jewish Literature

 – A swastika composed of Hebrew letters as a mystical symbol from the Jewish Kabbalistic work “Parashat Eliezer.”

 The Indian religious symbol ॐ and the Svastik used with the Star of David by the Theosophical Society in their seal. This “seal” is still used. The current seal also includes the text “There is no religion higher than truth“”

4.2 Svastik in Christian Churches

  –  Swastika symbols on the Church of Christ Pantocrator(13th-14th century) in Nesebar, Bulgaria.
Mosaic swastika in excavated Byzantine (?) church in Shavei Tzion (Israel).


Swastika symbol carved on the window of Lalibela Rock hewn churches, Ethiopia
According to Wikepedia, “In Christianity, the swastika is used as a hooked version of the Christian Cross, the symbol of Christ’s victory over death“.

4.3 Greek-Roman Period

 – Swastika on a Greek silverstater coin from Corinth, 6th century BC.
Etruscan pendant with swastika symbols, Bolsena, Italy, 700-650 BC. Louvre Museum 
  –  Ancient Roman mosaics of La Olmeda, Spain
   Two sauwastikas (opposite-facing swastikas) on an ancient Greek Kantharos, Attica, ca. 780 BC


4 Central Asian & Far Eastern Regions

“In Armenia swastika is called “arevakhach” and “kerkhach” (Armenian: կեռխաչ)[37][dubious ] and is the ancient symbol of eternity and eternal light (i.e. God). Swastikas in Armenia were founded on petroglyphs. During the bronze age it was depicted on cauldrons, belts, medallions and other items.[38] Among the oldest petroglyphs is the seventh letter of the Armenian alphabet – “E” (which means “is” or “to be”) – depicted as half-swastika”

 Khachkar with swastikas Sanahin, Armenia

  Swastika on a temple in Korea

The list goes on and demonstrates that the Svastik has been a global symbol of Noble/Good and eternal light for thousands of years. This is why Svasti is associated with the famous Shanti-Mantra:

  • “Lead us from Untruth to Truth; Lead us from Darkness to Light; Lead us from Death to Immortality”***  

5. Religious Hate & Apartheid in the GWU-Steven Knapp statement?

Read the statement again, this time with our highlights that evidence what we argue is religious apartheid:

  • “Since its adoption nearly a century ago as the symbol of the Nazi Party, the swastika has acquired an intrinsically anti-Semitic meaning, and therefore the act of posting it in a university residence hall is utterly unacceptable. Our entire community should be aware of the swastika’s association with genocide perpetrated against the Jewish people and should be concerned about the extremely harmful effects that displaying this symbol has on individuals and on the climate of our entire university community. The university will embark on a program of education to ensure that all members of our community understand the damage that symbols of hatred do to us all.”

The evil Third Reich was in existence may be for 25 years including Hitler’s pre-leadership campaigns. One evil man, one evil regime that only existed for 25 years is enough to defame a Symbol of Eternal Peace & Light that has existed & worshipped for thousands of years all across the world? One tiny period of history in one small region of the world is enough to destroy thousands of years of spiritual reverence of all other regions of this huge world?

Do all Asians who deeply revere the Svastik today and display it proudly in their homes NOW have to sever that religious practice just because of feelings of a small minority whose feelings may be based on ignorance to begin with? Are religious rights of others such as Religious Asians, so utterly immaterial that they can be trampled and denied on the ignorant prejudices of GWU’s leadership?

Where does this bizarre & evil logic take us?

  • Can Arabs now claim that the “association” of the Star of David  “with genocide perpetrated against the Palestinian Arab people“, the Star of David “has acquired an intrinsically anti-Muslim meaning and therefore the act of posting it in a university residence hall is utterly unacceptable“?  
  • Is the “association” of the Christian Cross with the “genocide of Spain’s Cortez in Latin America” make the Cross a “symbol of hatred” and that “makes the act of posting the Cross in a university residence utterly unacceptable“?  

Actually, the position of GWU’s Steven Knapp is worse than these two awful parallels. After all, the Star of David is an Israeli symbol and the Israel army has been accused of human rights abuses in many American Universities. And the genocide of Mexicans was done by Spanish Christians under the symbol of the Christian Cross. In stark contrast, the genocide of Jews was conducted by German Christians who “misappropriated” the Indian Svastik. And GWU’s Steven Knapp proudly defames the Indian Svastik and tramples upon the religious rights of Indians & Asians for crimes committed by European Germans against  European Jews?   

If this isn’t Religious Apartheid, what is it? Remember “Apartheid” means “the state of being apart“. What GWU’s Steven Knapp has done in his statement is to put Jewish members of GWU in a state apart from those of all others, especially the Buddhist-Hindu-Jain members of GWU? Their religious rights are being trampled, their religions icons are being deliberately defamed in an act of religious apartheid merely to satisfy the ignorant fears of a minority, albeit a minority that runs the GWU administration. 

We wonder whether there is a hidden racial prejudice involved here as well. What if Buddhism-Hinduism-Jainism had been major religions among White Europeans and what if Judaism had been mainly a Black Ethiopian religion? Would GWU’s leadership have reacted with such utter fury & disdain to trample religious rights of White Hindu-Buddhist-Jain members of GWU? And would GWU’s leadership have reacted with such speed & alacrity to uphold the ignorance-based feelings of a Black Jewish community?

The reality is that religion and race are unfortunately but intricately tied together. Religions can convert other races but they tend to remain dominated by & committed to the races that created the religions. Israel itself gets involved in debates whether Black Ethiopian Jews are equal to White European Jews. Saudi Arabia executes Sunni Muslim Indonesian maids for household offenses for which they would not even imprison Arab Sunni Muslim maids. America has itself engaged in slavery & maltreatment of colored people even after their conversion to Christianity. So race is often inextricably involved in religious issues. 

The above reasoning is why, in our opinion, the actions of GWU president Steven Knapp and his colleagues are acts of Religious Apartheid, a state of keeping apart religious rights of GWU’s Buddhists-Hindus-Jains  from those of GWU’s Jews. Actually, Knapp’s actions may be Racial Apartheid as well.

6. Response from GWU

We wrote a polite but determined email to President Knapp, GWU Provost Lerman and Mr. Carbonell, Chairman of the Board of Trustees of GWU. We received the following response from External Relations at GWU:

  • “We received your message to Chairman Carbonell, President Knapp and Provost Lerman, and want to make clear that the university has not banned nor is it attempting to ban religious symbols.  Student organizations and individual students are free to examine and to discuss all questions of interest to them and to express opinions publicly and privately.  They are free to support causes by orderly means that do not disrupt the regular and essential operation of the institution.  We appreciate your taking the time to send your comments.”

We thanked them for their response, informed them about the Declaration about the Svastik by the Chief Rabbinate of Israel in cooperation with the AJC and provided a link to that declaration. Then we added:

  • “This should ideally settle all concerns about the Svastik being a hate symbol offensive to Jews. If you think the American Jewish Committee and the Chief Rabbinate of Israel are responsible Jewish organizations, then you might consider posting this declaration within GWU, on qwtoday.gwu.edu and send it to the people who might be ignorant about the Svastik.”

We have not heard back from GWU. Remember what Steven Knapp wrote at the end of his statement?

  • “The university will embark on a program of education to ensure that all members of our community understand the damage that symbols of hatred do to us all”

What program of education will GWU embark on? Will they post on their website the Declaration by Israeli & American Jewish leaders that affirms the Svastik as a great auspicious, sacred symbol that was misappropriated by the Third Reich? That is the most necessary educatory message that needs to be delivered to the GWU community. What would it say if GWU president Knapp refuses to educate the GWU community about the Jewish declaration about the Svastik?

Let us get back to the response from GWU. It is a form response in our opinion that does not answer basic questions:

  • Is GWU taking back its administrative action against the Jewish student who displayed the Indian Svastik (not the Nazi symbol)?
  • Will GWU allow other students & members, especially Buddhist-Hindu-Jain members, to publicly display the Svastik, the Universal Symbol of Peace & Noble-Goodness within GWU? If not, then GWU will have de facto banned the religious symbol Svastik from GWU, right?

We are not lawyers. We are simple folk who believe in American declarations of religious freedom & freedom of expression. Both to us include the right of Buddhist-Hindus-Jains and all others who admire religious philosophy to display any and all of their religious & spiritual symbols. We abhor and oppose religious apartheid in GWU and in any other American university that welcomes displays of Crescent/Cross/Star-of-David while banning displays of the Svastik.

In our opinion, the actions of GWU president Knapp mirror the abhorrent actions of the Pakistani legal system under their doctrine of Blasphemy, actions of jailing/executing non-Sunni Muslims for their religious expression while allowing similar expression for their own preferred brand of religion. True, GWU doesn’t jail or execute its students for displaying the Svastik but threatening expulsion of a student is tantamount to trying to kill that student’s academic career.

For us, the test is simple. Does GWU President Knapp educate the GWU community about the Svastik Declaration issued by the Chief Rabbinate of Israel in cooperation with the American Jewish Committee? If he does not, then he condemns himself to the charge of Religious Apartheid against Buddhist-Hindu-Jain members of GWU and other members who affirm the Svastik as a religious & spiritual symbol of Eternal Peace & Noble-Good. And that would make him unfit to serve in any academic capacity let alone as President of an American University in the Capital of these United States of America.

The ball is in your court, Mr. Knapp. 


Editor’s PS: Consistent with the tradition of this Blog, we will send this article to the GWU leadership and request a response. Any response received for public dissemination will be printed verbatim.   


*  सर्वेऽपि सुखिन: सन्तु; सर्वे सन्तु निरामयाः; सर्वे भद्राणि पश्यन्तु; मा कश्चित् दुक्खम् आप्नुयात्   

**   भद्रं कर्णेभिहि शृणुयाम देवाः; भद्रं पश्येमाक्षभिर्यजत्राः 

***    असतो मा सत्यम् गमय; तमसो मा ज्योतिर् गमय; मृत्योर मा अमृतं  गमय 





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