The US’s largest drug retailing chain, Walgreens, got into hot water a couple of days ago for selling gift-wrapping paper with a swastika design embedded in it. Hallmark, the manufacturer, has stopped distributing the paper. But Pro-Swastika, a group that wants to restore the original meaning of the swastika—a symbol of peace and well-being in Hinduism and Buddhism—has issued a statement saying it wants the product back on the shelves:
The swastika is still a holy symbol for billions of Hindus, Buddhists, Jains and Raelians… Long before it was unjustly hijacked by Hitler and the Nazis for ill purposes, it was revered for thousands of years as a religious symbol and a sign of good will. It can be found worldwide in architectural features and decorative ornamentation of all kinds, including in Jewish synagogues. It can even be found in many places in Israel.
The group, which is an offshoot of a religious cult, the Raelians, has been trying to restore the swastika since 2006, after learning that Germany tried to have the symbol banned in all of Europe. The group has held five “swastika rehabilitation weeks” (including one this year) and even flew banners bearing swastikas over New York beaches. The Walgreens press release is its latest effort to educate the public.
Pro-Swastika’s previous efforts have not endeared the group to everyone. Brooklyn councilman Mark Treyger wasn’t too pleased about the beach banners, reported CBS News, saying he would “not accept [Pro-Swastika’s] twisted logic.” Graphic designers, artists and tattooists also have tried to reclaim the symbol, often to rather hostile receptions.
But the group is adamant on spreading its message. Pro-Swastika’s president, Thomas Kaenzig, told Quartz that he is writing a letter to Walgreens stating his outrage over recalling the wrapping paper. “As long as we keep associating the symbol with Nazism, we give credit to this ideology—so we want to bring [the symbol] back to its original meaning,” Kaenzig said. He’s won at least one form of support: Three months ago, Pro-Swastika obtained 501(c)(3) status as a charity, which allows it to accept tax-deductible donations to finance its efforts.