A Thai Singer Wore a Swastika. Was It Prejudice or Ignorance? | Modern Society of USA

A Thai Singer Wore a Swastika. Was It Prejudice or Ignorance?

A Thai Singer Wore a Swastika. Was It Prejudice or Ignorance?

HONG KONG — A Thai singer prompted a social media outcry over the weekend by wearing a swastika T-shirt to a performance, a reflection of what critics say is a lack of sensitivity in Asia to the horrors of Nazi behavior.

The 19-year-old singer, Pichayapa “Namsai” Natha, quickly apologized in an Instagram post. And an Israeli diplomat said in a Twitter thread on Sunday — International Holocaust Remembrance Day — that the episode had arisen from a “lack of knowledge and lack of awareness.”

But the episode wasn’t the first of its kind in Asia, a region where awareness of the Holocaust is patchy, Nazi swastikas resemble an ancient religious symbol, and some people see Adolf Hitler as a model of authoritarian strength.

And it is not likely to be the last.

Simon K. Li, the executive director of the Hong Kong Holocaust and Tolerance Center, which he described as the only organization focused on Holocaust education in East Asia, attributed controversies over Nazi iconography to a combustible mix of ignorance and possibly prejudice.

“From time to time we hear, ‘Could it be pure ignorance? Could it be cultural insensitivity, or any possibility of an apparent anti-Semitic act?’” he said. “Sometimes it could be a combination of the three.”

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum notes that the word “swastika” comes from the Sanskrit term “svastika,” which means good fortune or well-being.

“Unfortunately, when it comes to genocide education, it’s like a blank page in the region,” he said.

Mr. Li said that he had also noticed a disturbing trend in which people see the Nazis as the epitome of strong, nationalistic leaders, and that the relative anonymity of social media helped fuel pro-Nazi hate speech online.

On Sunday, an Israeli diplomat in Thailand tweeted that the singer from the band embroiled in the country’s latest Nazi-related controversy, BNK48, had apologized personally to the Israeli ambassador, Meir Shlomo, and spoken with him about “the importance of history in general, and the awareness to the Holocaust and anti-Semitism in particular.”

Thai society is apparently attracted to Naziism and swastikas, but with “next to no knowledge or interest in their history,” said David Streckfuss, a Thailand-based scholar and the author of the book “Truth on Trial in Thailand: Defamation, Treason and Lèse-Majesté.”

He added that the Thai government of the 1930s had a deep fascination with Hitlerian architecture and ideology, and that recent military-run governments in the country, including the current one, occasionally showed a “passing and peculiar fascination” with Hitler and other strongmen.

Mr. Streckfuss pointed to a 2014 government propaganda video that included an animated sketch of a child painting a portrait of Hitler. YouTube pulled the video amid a public outcry, and Israeli’s then-ambassador to Thailand, Simon Roded, called it a “trivialization and misuse of Nazi symbols.”

“If we learn anything from this incident,” Mr. Roded said at the time, “it is that Holocaust education, especially its global messages of tolerance, should be introduced into the Thai curriculum.”

Asia isn’t the only place where ignorance of the Holocaust is widespread. A recent poll of more than 2,000 British adults found that 45 percent of respondents did not know how many people were killed in the Holocaust, and that one in 20 did not believe it ever took place.

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