In July 2013, art students at the Chulalongkorn University of Bangkok decided that a mural the height of a two-story building depicting Hitler as a superhero was a great way to congratulate graduating students. “Chula,” as the University is often called, is a highly-regarded institution with worldwide academic standing. Consequently, it is difficult to immediately comprehend how the glorification of Hitler could happen at such a university.
Rabbi Abraham Cooper, an associate dean at the Simon Wiesenthal Center, contacted Chula officials to express outrage and disgust about the mural. According to the Bangkok Post and Marcel Levina, Director of Communications at the Wiesenthal Center, school officials responded apologetically and explained that the students were unaware of the significance of portraying Hitler in heroic terms, and said the students had been reprimanded.
To understand how this episode could have happened, I talked with Rabbi Cooper, who is dedicated to educating all people about the Holocaust and its ultimate perpetrator, Adolph Hitler. Rabbi Cooper personally escorted the Wiesenthal Center’s Holocaust exhibit, “Courage to Remember,” which was translated into Thai and was installed in the United Nations Hall in Bangkok in early 2013. Would students who are aware of the Holocaust and sensitive to the suffering and loss of its victims intentionally glamorize the perpetrator? Did the students who created and hung the mural miss the United Nations Hall exhibit?
In this case, ignorance is the general explanation, Rabbi Copper said. However, he draws a distinction between the fascination with Hitler and Nazi icons in Asia and the actions of neo-Nazis and the growth of anti-Semitism in other parts of the world. In China, he explained, some believe the ugly myth that Jews control the banks.
Likewise, some in Japan, who have expressed irrational fears toward Jews, perpetrate the stereotype of Jewish control of Western media. However, Rabbi Cooper said, throughout much of Asia, Hitler is principally viewed as having been a strong leader. This may help explain why a sports bar owner in South Korea uses Nazi branding, or a Japanese cosmetic magazine advertisement features Nazi iconography, or publishers of Mein Kopf market the book to students via bus signs, or restaurant owners in India identify their establishment with a Nazi-related moniker. “It has nothing to do with Jews,” Rabbi Cooper said.
However, here is the not so fine line, Rabbi Cooper said.
“In Indonesia, a restaurant owner made his staff dress up as Nazis for a theme (event). He also linked his website to Holocaust deniers,” Rabbi Cooper said.
The Rabbi went on to tell me the story of Malaysia’s longtime Prime Minister, Dr. Dato Mahathir bin Muhamad, who was an outspoken anti-Semite. An August 1984 visit to Kuala Lumpur by the New York Philharmonic was canceled when the Prime Minister demanded that compositions by Jewish
composer Ernest Bloch not be performed. These are acts of anti-Semitism, Rabbi Cooper said.
“Anti-Semitism is [generally] not a problem in Asia, and we don’t want it to be, Rabbi Cooper explained to me.
“Japan counts. China counts,” he said. In a speech on August 1, Japan’s Deputy Minister of Finance, Taro Aso, suggested that “Tokyo could learn from Nazi Germany when it comes to constitutional reform.’’ Rabbi Cooper immediately called on Aso to clarify his comments.
Speaking to the Associated Press on behalf of the Wiesenthal Center, Rabbi Cooper asked “What techniques from the Nazis’ governance are worth learning? How to stealthily cripple democracy? The only lessons on governance that the world should draw from the Nazi Third Reich are how those in positions of power should not behave. Has Deputy Prime Minister Aso forgotten that Nazi Germany’s ascendancy to power quickly brought the world to the abyss and engulfed humanity in the horrors of World War II?”
Taro Aso retracted his remarks and Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, Tokyo’s top spokesman for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, told the Times of Israel, “I want to make it clear that the Abe cabinet will never view the Nazi government positively.”
Rabbi Cooper is resolute that this incident is not a case of anti-Semitism and pointed out that he received nearly 400 emails from Japanese students, telling him about Aso’s speech. “Education is required, “he says. “What may be a fad in Asia could blow back. The internet makes the world smaller.”
What can Holocaust Museums such as the Dallas Holocaust Museum/Center for Education and Tolerance do to help people understand? “Contact the country’s consulate general when your hear of issues,” he said. “Let them know, for example, that if tourism is their main business, they can do better. Don’t wait for someone else to do it. Look for people to work with such as ministers of education in these countries. If you see something amiss somewhere, do something.”
In short, don’t be a Bystander.
-Paula Nourse, Director of Marketing, Dallas Holocaust Museum
Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
The Times of Israel
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http://www.chula.ac.th/cuen/cic/oldnews/CU_P022992.html University rankings.
QS World University Ranking recently reveals its new ranking for the year 2011-2012, where Chulalongkorn University ranks at number 171. (last year at 180). There are four criteria of assessment used by the QS; academic reputation (40%), employer reputation (10%), citation per faculty (20%), faculty per student (20%), proportion of international faculty (5%) and proportion of international students (5%).
Asia Life The Other Asia-Pacific, By Jonathan DeHart