MUMBAIInternational press reports that twenty-three year-old Puneet Sabhlok, a novice restauranteur, wanted a catchy café name to sell his $3 to $4 plates of crostii tonno, pear and ricotta salad and pannacotta. So he went with Hitler's Cross. He put a swastika in the logo. "Hitler is a catchy name. Everyone knows Hitler," he explained in an interview.
The café opened this week in a remote suburb of Mumbai. At first, business was brisk. But as word spread, revulsion followed. Before long, India's Jews, joined by diplomats from Israel and Germany and the Anti-Defamation League in New York, were working to shut the place down. Abraham Foxman, the U.S. Anti-Defamation League's national director, issued a statement saying the restaurant "denigrates the memory of the victims and does a dangerous disservice to the Mumbai community by downplaying the horrors of the Holocaust."
Thursday, after meeting with a Jewish community leader here, Sabhlok agreed to rechristen the restaurant. The pannacotta will stay, the swastika will go. "I never wanted to promote Hitler," Sabhlok said. "I just wanted to promote my restaurant."
Indeed, the episode was treated in the local media as a cheap publicity stunt. But it seems also to reflect a curious and growing fascination with Hitler in a country whose pluralist traditions would appear to make it unlikely soil for Nazi ideas.
"This is part of a bigger problem," Daniel Zonshine, the Israeli consul general in Mumbai, said in a telephone interview.
"In India, it's a bit more than in other countries," he added. "India was far away from the Second World War. I don't think that many refugees from Europe came to India during the war. So the knowledge that people suffered is less here than in other countries. I definitely see it as part of my job to try to do something about that."
Mein Kampf is a hot seller at many Indian streetside book stalls. When a German writer, Georg Martin Oswald, came to India recently on an exchange program, he wrote in an online diary of being stunned at the book's popularity.
Newspaper surveys have found that significant numbers of Indian college students rate Hitler as an ideal model for an Indian leader. A 2002 survey by the Times of India, an English-language daily, noted that Hitler signified discipline, efficiency and nationalism to the students. Hitler also holds appeal for some Hindu nationalists who dream of a more assertive, conquering India cleansed of its Muslim population.
Actually, this story catches my eye for several reasons, but I want to discuss the Anti-Defamation League's viewpoint today. Foxman suggests that the name denigrates the memory of those who died at the command of one Adolph Hitler. Does it really? Can we not actually confess that this politically correct knee-jerk reaction to every cause celébre under the western sun does not actually benefit the bereft descendants of those who were once wronged, the general population, or the former oppressors. Even if it did any of that surely it does not require a reaction by some well-meaning but terminally agitated social arbiter on things as minor as the name of a restaurant? Why not abolish the accursed one's name altogether? Then only the aggrieved class, in this case the Jewish Anti-Defamation League would be allowed to utter Hitler's name at all. Ah, much better now? Hardly.
Sure. Some 150 years later, many of those who live today to despise the institution of American slavery, and who among us does not, clamor to wipe away all knowledge of those who lost the war, but they have been only partially successful, and of course I reference here those who have staked a claim against the Confederate battle Flag.
By and large, I find this war on the reification of fallen symbols of zero value to anyone who instead values truth and honesty. The dead are gone, and those alive can never care as much as those who suffered under those symbols in historic time. There is always another agenda at work in this second case. As long as there is statistically negligible violence conducted in the name of these symbols, then I suggest these thought police should dissemble, refocus and then find real threats to stymie.
Now, in considering the sales of Mein Kampf in India, the author failed to note that the book has also been an Arabic language best seller throughout ALL Islamic countries given the axis connecting the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, Hassan al-Banna (1928), and the Nazi regime, and the fact that Muslims make up nearly 15% of India's population. In fact, the book has been the number one best seller of all time in these lands. So let's not blame the Hindu populations, who had their own peace symbol either intentionally or coincidentally stolen, only slightly reworked, and forever tarnished by the Nazi regime. Where is the justice in that? Why struggle with old symbolism? For how long?