I was taken aback by the reaction of some of my fellow students with respect to the recent graffiti of swastikas on the Alpha Epsilon Pi (AEPi) house. While discussing the incident, a fellow student likened the act to graffiti of male genitalia. His reasoning was that it was the act of graffiti that was offensive and intolerant, regardless of what had actually been spray painted. He was not offended by the swastika, presumably because he was not Jewish, but this response is simply inappropriate. However, the significance of this act of vandalism affects all people, whether or not they are Jewish.
The swastika is a symbol that has several different meanings across the world. But it is undeniable that in Western culture the meaning is predominately one of violence, oppression and intolerance as a result of its use by the Nazi Party. In Germany, the symbol is outlawed. In the U.S., we often see it associated with neo-Nazism and other movements that support the oppression of others.
But the symbol represents much more than the oppression of the Jewish people during the Holocaust. For many, it is a lasting reminder of the death and destruction wrought by World War II. According to a recent study by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C., there were more than 20 million total deaths as a result of the actions of the Nazi Party. Jews are not the only people who account for that number. According to The National WWII Museum in New Orleans, the total death toll for World War II, including the Holocaust victims, comes in around 60 million people. The museum’s website also states that this death toll is just an estimate and the true total may actually be much greater.
While it should be noted that most of the countries involved entered the war for reasons other than their ideological opposition to Nazism, one could also argue that the underlying cause of the Nazis’ aggressions in Europe and the rest of the world was the same kind of hatred that we as a community experienced this past weekend. The symbol and the act represent more than just the Nazi’s particular brand of anti-Semitism. The swastika represents intolerance, the kind of aggressive unwillingness to accept other peoples’ cultures. The kind that has already driven a world to war.
Intolerance of this sort is still abundant in the modern world. Although, to some people, the U.S. may seem isolated from widespread, aggressive acts of intolerance, this summer’s conflict in Ferguson, Missouri serves to illustrate that the U.S. is not immune. Intolerance continues to create violent conflict, even in our own backyard.
A recent New York Times article has helped shed light on the current state of anti-Semitism in the world in response to the ongoing conflict in Israel. Acts similar to the one perpetrated on our campus have given rise to more violent attacks, which have happened in both the U.S. and abroad. Not long ago, in Kansas City, Missouri, a shooter with anti-Semitic intentions opened fire on a Jewish community center. Synagogues in Germany are currently hiring armed guards due to recent anti-Semitic protests, some resembling pogroms from the turn of the century.
I am a proud Jew. But, when I learned about the graffiti on AEPi, I was appalled – not just as a Jewish person but as a human being. The hate and intolerance behind the act should matter to everyone, not just those of the Jewish faith. What happened this past weekend represents that there are those in our community who are not as peaceful as we might think. Hatred in any form poses a threat to the entire community, and acts of hatred towards any person or group of people should matter to everyone in the community, not just the group that is directly affected.
This crime by a member of our community should never be compared to that of a teenager painting male genitalia on a wall. This crime is so much more than that.
– By Goizueta Business School senior Jake Rosen