Opinion | Never again: On the Thai fondness for swastikas

BNK 48 based in Bangkok, Thailand, with overseas sister idol group of AKB 48, performed for the first time in a large commercial facility in the center of Bangkok on June 2, 2017. (The Yomiuri Shimbun via AP Images)

BANGKOK (The Nation/ANN) – History’s darkest moments, and the lessons learned from them seem to have bypassed Thailand.

The all-girl pop band BNK48 went into damage-control mode on Sunday and apologized because one of its singers at a rehearsal wore a T-shirt bearing the Nazi swastika.

The management’s apology followed a tearful show of remorse by the offending singer, Pichayapa “Namsai” Natha. It was a poor fashion choice based on ignorance of history, she said. “I am saddened and feel seriously guilty. Please forgive me.”

The Nazis, seeking to exterminate the Jewish race, were able to murder six million of them before allied forces defeated the German army and brought World War II to an end.

Seventy-three years later, on the eve of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, a Thai pop star was wearing the Nazis’ best-known symbol on her chest, with photographers all around.

We are indeed willing to forgive Pichayapa, but we do wish someone would encourage Thai youngsters to at least learn about history’s darkest moments along with humankind’s greatest achievements.

Yes, the failure of the Thai education system is underscored yet again, but why is it that Nazi symbolism, in particular, holds such allure for Thais and other Asians? And after incidents like this make headlines around the world, why do the swastikas and Hitler salutes keep appearing?

It could be a matter of sheer indifference. A close examination of our culture reveals a general lack of caring for non-Thais. Ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity have occurred on our borders without causing much domestic outcry.

In the killing fields of Cambodia, the Khmer Rouge regime of the late 1970s brought about the deaths of perhaps two million citizens. In Myanmar’s Rakhine state, nearly a million Muslim Rohingya were terrorized to such an extent by government forces and demonic Buddhist bigots that they fled the country.

Few Thais gave much thought to the killing fields or fretted for the Rohingya. The Jews endured their Holocaust more than seven decades ago in far-away Europe – not that distance seems to be a factor contributing to indifference. One recent survey found that 2.6 million Britons – in a nation of 66 million – doubted the facts of the Holocaust.

The display of regret from BNK48’s management was a commercial necessity, but also seemed a heartfelt response to cries of dismay from the Israeli and German embassies in Bangkok.

The swastika print was “inappropriate”, the band acknowledged, causing “distress” to people affected by the Holocaust. “In the future, we will take better precautions and make every effort to ensure that an incident of this kind never happens again.”

There is room for skepticism here. Show business is an industry for which bad publicity is still valuable publicity, and it is difficult, after all, to believe the young entertainer had no inkling at all her attire would be provocative.

But her managers did, whether knowing the significance or not, employ the words “never again”, the vow with which all Jews express a collective determination to protect one another from harm.

Non-Jews who hear those words spoken with emotion will never forget the experience, nor forget what caused them to be uttered. To lose sight of our humanity, and to be unaware our existence rose from a meaningful past, is to become indifferent to a brother or sister’s suffering.

By The Nation