Saturday, February 04, 2006

Flags R Us

Jason asked me in the previous post what I thought of the surreal situation happening with Muslims freaking out, waaayyyy out over a series of cartoons in a Danish newspaper. And when I say they are freaking in a way that is completely out of proportion to the act, you have to take into account that probably 90% of them have never seen the actual cartoons. Most just know someone drew a couple of cartoons mocking the Prophet, so they've gone nuts.

There has been plenty written about this. Two local bloggers, Liam and Damian have done thoughtful, well reasoned arguments on the issue. The only thing, in seriousness, that I can add is this: I was once a professional journalist. I may well be again in the future. In my heart, I likely always will be one. Under no circumstances I could I envision me condoning any of the rabid, extreme actions I've seen taken in the news over this. Freedom of speech means having to put up with it even when it infuriates or enrages you. Especially when it does that. It doesn't mean you make death threats or attack embassies.

That also means striking or criticizing religion. I watched Newsworld this morning and they did a streeter asking if it was ok to satirize religion. And some people said it wasn't.

I gotta tell you, the day it isn't ok for me to mock the Catholic church, I need to move to another country. I do that for stress relief.

But the one thing that stuck me during all of this is that whenever the TV cameras should protesters being outraged, they were burning Danish flags. I saw it in Lebanon, the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Yemen and other places.

You know, photos like this one (Photo is by Associated Press, btw).



And the question I have is, where the heck do you get Danish flags in the Middle East?

I mean, you're constantly seeing American flags burned. I always assumed there was some local guy (Abdul's Flag Emporium: Our Flags Burn the Best!) with a small shop whose job it was to make U.S. flags for burning. I imagine there must be a craft to it. Obviously you're not making the flags for durability. Odds are the person buying the U.S. flag is just going to rush right out and burn it.

Still, you don't want it to go up like paper. It has to burn, but just right. A nice, slow burning flag so you get maximum time waving it around on fire so that Western Photographers and Al Jazeera can get their shots. But you still want it to burn brightly. There's a craftsmanship in it that I suspect many of us in the West can't really appreciate.

So I figured there's a few guys like this scattered around different hot spots in the Middle East. Most of their business is in U.S. flags, but just in case another country upsets people, you make the odd Union Jack, a German flag or two. Maybe even the French.

But Denmark? Really? I mean, I would have been hard pressed to find a Danish flag in Newfoundland. Or most of Canada for that matter. So I'm genuinely curious. Where does the average outraged Jordanian or Palestinian get a Danish flag on short notice for burning?

Enquiring minds want to know...

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12 comments:

Jason Bartlett said...

Hmm, I better start my response by saying I work in a Muslim country, so my perspective is a little different.

I think people really need to realize that while the reaction is no doubt extreme, the west really doesn't go out of its way to understand Islam and the importance religion plays in their lives. Hence our cultural sensitivity level is about a -4/10.

Most practioners of Islam and Muslims I've encountered are among the most polite, well mannered people in the world. In the country I'm in they have had marches, and have boycotted products from the countries in mention.

Lebanon, the West Bank, Gaza Strip, little different from where I am. However when it comes to freedom of speech, they get their example as it is shown to them by the US of hypocrscy. Here's democracy, open wide don't make me kill you, then ram it down you throat. I'm sure many of these people would say "Why do we have to have democracy pie and freedom, leave us alone" Again, to a degree I have to sympathize.

I'm not saying violence is justified I just repeat my point, what do we as the west really understand or try to. We try to cram into how we would approach it but really I don't think we have an equivalent and two should our beliefs be the standard for how things are in other places.

Okay second part. Craig, you'll remember this, when our old friends ran a cartoon that was highly offensive to the Innu and lots of stuff ensued. To me the similarities are striking.

At the time, I recall rallying behind my friends and their foolish action, quietly thinking "hmm maybe that wasn't the best thing to do" Now after having spent a few years in the North, I'd proably take one of those friends out and slap him around a little. Proably the Irish one. My point? Why the change? Cartoons in journalism and journalism in general is suppose to serve a higher purpose, even create debate. How could anyone think those cartoons would serve a purpose other then to offend?

The cartoons in question were just insulting and vile. (Incidently, Craig, five minutes on the internet someone could find them)Really, did the idea of provoking debate occur,or just wow I really want to abuse a freedom.

The whole issue of media solidarity is just insane as well. I mean the western media is often so eager to tell the rest of the world it rocks. A "hey look at us and our freedoms, we are so much better, become us." How could anyone think this would convince people that there is something great about your way of life worth adopting?

Crap what a long comment, sorry Craig next time I should just request a guest spot. Incidently you can get all kinds of things at a souk, my best purchase has been my x-box that can play burnt downloaded games. Flags piece of cake, although there is no way I'd ask for a Danish flag right now. Cheers

jason. said...

and I in the future I will edit my work more carefully. I was typing fast. Craig, there are others reading this blog from Qatar? Who?

John Mutford said...

Not that I'd condone a fatwah (?) or anything- that'd be out of proportion, but the Muslims were being antagonized and the original Danish newspaper saying that it wasn't meant to be offensive is a joke. But burning a flag and expressing anger, sure why the hell not? They're entitled to free speech too.

John Mutford said...

I realize the "or anything" in my previous comment is a little too vague. So here's my list of unacceptable and acceptable protests:

Unacceptable:

1. Fatwahs- death warrants or death threats
2. Burning Danish embassies
3. Physically attacking any Danish person


Acceptable:

1. Burning Danish flags
2. Saying that you're really pissed off
3. Cancelling all stage productions of Hamlet
4. Renaming danishes, Qu'ran Pastries*
5. Burning effagies of Marmaduke



*meant as satire

dead dog said...

Gary Younge's clumn/debate in the Saturday Guardian is really worth reading on this. http://www.guardian.co.uk/Columnists/Column/0,,1701986,00.html the quote from Steve Biko at the end resonates with the previous comment.

colette said...

Most practioners of Islam and Muslims I've encountered are among the most polite, well mannered people in the world.
-------
I don't have anything to add on the cartoon debate except to agree with Jason on this. I was only visiting the UAE. We were there on business as well as holiday so, unlike most tourists, we did get to meet Emirati citizens. One gentleman took us out for dinner and to a shisha bar afterwards. It is a basic tenet of the culture that guests are respected and shown the best of hospitality, so long as they return that respect.

towniebastard said...

I should clarify that I have no problem with marching and being upset. I have no problem (although I do mock it a bit with flag burning. I have no problem with protesting the cartoon or boycotting products or, as John amusingly suggested, rename Danish pastries.

I do have a problem with storming embassies and burning them to the ground. I do have a problem with threatening death and terrorist action against innocent people over a cartoon, no matter how stupid and offensive.

I appreciate that most Muslims are unfailing polite, kind people. The ones I have met always have been. About a year or so ago the Mosque in St. John's had a media night and invited reporters to come, tour the mosque and learn more about Islam. It was fascinating and the people were exceptionally kind and patient.

Unfailingly, as it is in any religion, it's the crazies that get the attention. I suspect we're seeing a bit of that with this incident, that it is the fundimentalist burning places and threatening violence. It's not indicitive of how most Muslims are.

I just wish, just like I wish we could do the same, that they could do something to temper and control the more radical elements of their religion, who seem to do nothing but stir up hate and anger.

jason.bartlett said...

Wow, Dead Dog you were dead on with that quote that exactly what it seems like is happening at least to my perspective.

dead dog said...

glad you liked it. gary younge is consistently good. about the only journalist/columnist i can say that for :) (sorry craig:)

towniebastard said...

None taken...no one is more aware of my short comings as a writer/journalist/columnist than I am.

Btw, you've got to put up more than a blog entry a week or people will lose interest. Publish or perish, my dear...:)

dead dog said...

yeah,. yeah, i've been trying to figure out how to download pictures from my pda to go with what i wanted to say. hard week - finished a book! more about that later in another place. btw, i'm told that lots of the 'flags' are spraypainted onto white sheets. which presumably makes them nicely flammable too.

John Mutford said...

How funny. Just checking Damien Penny's site and I came across this in his archives.
Danish pastries