Thai educators grapple with Nazi imagery

Some malls sell Hitler regalia and a prominent university displayed a mural lionising Hitler, leading to complaints.

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    Thai educators grapple with Nazi imagery
    Many Thais who use Nazi-style images do not understand their historical significance, educators say [Al Jazeera]

    Bangkok, Thailand - After a deluge of incidents, Thailand is currently in discussions to re-work its national curriculum to include Holocaust education.

    Thailand has recently witnessed a shop in a mall in Bangkok selling Nazi clothes and accessories, parading students in Chiang Mai performing the "Sieg Heil" Nazi salutes wearing SS uniforms, the discovery of a fried chicken restaurant called "Hitler" and a mural apparently lionising Hitler displayed on the campus of one of Thailand's oldest and most respected schools, Chulalongkorn University (CU).

    Thailand's association with Nazi imagery is not new. Chetana Nagavajara, a professor of German literature at Silapakorn University, said the Hitler mural at CU "could have happened at any institution".

    Decades ago, a "Nazi bar" was set up in a popular Bangkok entertainment district, with waiters dressed up as SS officers and saluting customers. Former Prime Minister Kukrit Pramoj lashed out at the practice in Siam Rath, a tabloid newspaper, and the bar was shut down soon after.

    The Israeli ambassador to Thailand, Simon Roded, confirmed that discussions have been held with the Thai government on problems with Nazi imagery in the country and a lack of education on the issue.

    "We were surprised to learn of the minimal attention devoted to teaching World War II history, including the Holocaust, in the Thai education system. Frankly, it is a concern for us," he said. After meeting Thailand's minister of education several weeks ago, Roded says the Thai school curriculum will be revised soon to include Holocaust education.

    Where does it come from?

    Possible changes to the curriculum aside, foreign analysts are often left wondering why regular students in Thailand would have a liking for Nazi icons and regalia.

    "I think they just don't know any better. World history and geography instruction are woefully inadequate in Thai schools," said Jason Alavi, the principal of an American English-language school in Bangkok. "The vast majority of Thais I have known have very little real, useful knowledge of the details of the rest of the world. It's just not a strong point in the Thai curriculum."

    As a nation that relies on tourism, you cannot afford to have such ignorance. Truth and education are the best disinfectants against bigotry and lies.

    - Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Center

    Patra Jirawisan, a Thai who lives in the US, agrees. "I certainly understand the hurt feelings, but these Thai youngsters really do not have bad intentions. They are simply ignorant."

    Phil Williams, owner of ajarn.com, a popular education website in Thailand, said, "Youngsters will always dress to 'shock' or to be different. Call it a rebellious streak or whatever. Look at the punk era, with fashion followers wearing safety pins and ripped bin liners."

    Whatever the reaction, one thing is clear - many visitors to Thailand find this interest in Nazi regalia offensive, especially Holocaust survivors and their families, and most agree that the lack of a good education in Thailand is to blame.

    After criticising the Hitler mural at CU, Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in New York said: "I find the Thai people to be wonderful people, and every effort in the shrinking world we live in today should be made to provide your children with the broadest possible education. As a nation that relies on tourism, you cannot afford to have such ignorance. Truth and education are the best disinfectants against bigotry and lies."

    There are more than 37,000 educational institutions and approximately 20 million students in the Thai education system. Eight core subjects form the national curriculum: Thai language; mathematics; science; social studies; religion and culture; health and physical education; arts, careers and technology; and foreign languages.

    "The study of history in the Thai school system revolves primarily around the history of Thailand and its long line of kings. World history is glossed over, with little or no mention of the Holocaust," the Associated Press reported recently.

    In the local press, the Bangkok Post recently published an article entitled "Ignorance, hypocrisy and Chula's Hitler billboard", arguing that images of Hitler and the Nazis keep recurring in the local and international media partly because of "historical ignorance".

    "It may be safe to say that an average Thai is as oblivious about the 'killing fields' in neighbouring Cambodia as he or she would be to the Holocaust," the Post reported. "If we want our values to be taken seriously by the international community, Thai society - beginning with the academe - has to set itself straight and strive to be more socially literate about the world and our history."

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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