Editor’s Note: On May 2, 2015, we wrote our first article about the GWU case titled Ignorance-based Religious Apartheid – In the Heart of America’s Capital. The article was followed by letters to GWU Board of Trustees, India Caucus of the US Congress and to prominent Foreign Policy Think Tanks. This is our second and concluding article on this case.
Finally, the Administration of George Washington University came to its senses and reportedly canceled the suspension of a Jewish student for displaying the world’s most widely worshiped symbol of Heavenly Peace. The blame in this case was never with the Jewish student. It was entirely on President Knapp who, hopefully in his utter ignorance, had termed the Symbol of Svasti as a symbol of hatred and associated it with the German Nazi genocide of Jews.
To those who don’t yet know what Svasti & Svastik are, a quick refresher – Svasti (Su +Asti) is a Sanskrut word for the state of Heavenly Peace. 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.”
The suffix “ka” (“a” short) denotes “creator/generator of“. So Svastik means the Creator/Generator of Svasti. This is why the traditional salutation in Sanskrut has been “Svasti Astu Te” or Let Svasti Be Yours, an ancient version of May God be With You.
The Indian Svastik has been adopted for the past 3 millennia as a Symbol of Goodness. It is found in Greek-Roman, European, African, Christian, Jewish temples/churches and in all Asian religions – Buddhism/Jainism and Indian.
And GWU President Knapp had termed this Svastik a symbol of hatred and suspended a Jewish student who had brought back a small bronze Svastik from his trip to India.
This week, GWU reportedly canceled the suspension of the Jewish student. So the immediate problem is resolved but this horrific incident at & by the president of a major American University shows the dangers of ignorance, utter unadulterated ignorance, that exists at the top of the US Academic space. That is the bigger story and we touch on that today.
1. The stand of Global Jewish Authorities vs. Ignorance of GWU
We refer readers to Affirmation 7 of the Declaration a Hindu-Jewish Leadership Summit. This affirmation was signed by the Chief Rabbinate of Israel and the American Jewish Committee and reads:
- “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”.
The Jewish student at GWU acted entirely in the spirit and letter of this Jewish declaration. Yet he got suspended by GWU President Knapp who invented a false Jewish-Asian conflict where none exists. More than likely, President Knapp was ignorant of both the history & meaning of Svastik as well as of the above declaration by global Jewish authorities.
That ignorance is the real problem. Dr. Knapp is as well-educated as any President of an American University. And his GWU bio describes Dr. Knapp as a specialist in “the relation of literature to philosophy and religion“.
Think about it. The Svastik definition, its meaning, & its use over the past 2,500+ years is purely about the relation of a literary symbol to philosophy and religion. And Dr. Knapp, despite his specialization in this matter and despite his degrees from Cornell & Yale, completely misunderstood the wisdom of the Jewish Student.
We do not intend to be unduly harsh to GWU President Knapp. His rush to erroneous & appallingly harsh judgment might be unique to him but his ignorance is probably symptomatic of the ignorance that pervades the entire US Academic space.
And that is a very big problem for America.
2. Central Role of the US Academic Space
The US Academic Space pervades the entire American establishment. There is an open door between US Universities and US Government, US Think Tanks. This is true of Finance, Foreign Policy, Social Studies and Business. Academics are routinely brought in by US Government & US Industry for consultations and Career Diplomats & Corporate Executives move to Universities to serve as Adjunct & Full Professors. The US media draws on the US Academic space in formulating their opinions and generating their content.
One unfortunate outcome of this reach & influence has been an institutionalization of power within the US Academic Space. If you look, you will find that almost all US campuses think and act alike now. This is one reason we have begun looking at the US Academic space as a cartel. And like any other cartel, the members of the US Academic Cartel all adhere to similar thoughts and ideologies.
Today’s prevailing ideology is social, cultural, and religious bigotry. In some cases, the bigotry has morphed into outright hate. And this hate is often directed at Asian Culture, Literature, Philosophy and Religion. This is mainly due to ignorance and also due to lack of blowback from Asians who are generally passive and timid.
This is why GWU President Knapp was so quick to jump on the Jewish student who did something everyone should be proud of – he displayed a symbol of Peace to educate and to begin an academic discussion. For that, President Knapp suspended this Jewish student and went so far as to contemplate the banning of the Svastik. Dr. Knapp and his leadership team at GWU did not care that they were contemplating trampling on the beliefs & rights of Buddhist/Hindu/Jain students of GWU. These Asian people just didn’t matter to him and his leadership team, or so it seems.
Sadly, the GWU leadership is not unique and their religious apartheid against Asian religions is not unique either. That is the prevailing philosophy in the US Academic space today. That was amply demonstrated by the Association of Asian Studies (AAS) when they celebrated a professor condemned by Hindus for what they considered to be a hateful book against Hindus. The AAS leadership excluded all academic discussion of the contents of the professor’s book and also banned any discussion by Indian legal experts about the relevant Indian Law. These actions led us to examine the methods & approach of AAS. That analysis led to terming AAS as a cartel.
3. Consequences of GWU-AAS approach on America’s Global Standing & on US Foreign Policy
America is not the Soviet Union, America is not WWII Japan and America is not China. Soft power has been a longstanding pillar of America’s global stature. That soft power has been based on America’s ideals. That was easy until now. The power center of the world was the US-Europe alliance – an alliance that was supported by a common ethnic kinship, common religion and common culture.
The power center of the world is shifting to a balance between Asia and Europe. China and Japan are already major economic powers. India should join that group in the next decade or two. The Asean economies are vibrant in growth and trade. America is trying to pivot to Asia to participate, influence and manage this vibrant region to America’s continuing advantage.
But this is not a region that shares any ethnic kinship, religion or culture with American mainstream. In fact, America often comes across as a successor of European empire building colonialists who ravaged Asia and committed unrivalled acts of religious savagery not seen before in Asia. As Asian countries become richer and more successful, they are turning towards their own religions and culture, while American policy remains oblivious and sometimes contemptuous of this turn.
Fortunately, America has been lucky in her adversaries. Imagine today’s China shedding its concept or racial superiority over other Asians; imagine today’s China portraying itself as a compassionate, friendly leader that is dedicated to defending Asian religions & cultures against a Christian-Jewish America that is contemptuous of Asian religions. Such a China would be a much greater competitor for America in what is likely to become the most vibrant economic region in the world.
This is the greatest danger we see to America’s continuing success in Asia in general and with India in particular. People in India are beginning to understand the deep Religious Apartheid that exists in America’s Universities, religious apartheid that makes US University Administrations engage in violently contemptuous trampling of Indian Culture, Philosophy and Religion. Such contemptuous trampling was evident in the velocity with which GWU President Knapp suspended that informed well meaning Jewish student for displaying a small bronze symbol of Heavenly Peace – the Svastik.
This GWU episode is not an isolated case. It is symptomatic of the deep ignorant rot that pervades the US Academic Space – US Universities, US Think Tanks, US Activist Groups and US Media. And that is dangerous to America’s standing & success in Asia.
That is why it is incumbent on every American, regardless of national/ethnic origin, culture or religion, to speak up against acts like the one at GWU. That is our opinion.
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