I’m Going to Set Your Flag on Fire

In Paris just a few weeks ago, a few men attacked employees of the controversial magazine Charlie Hebdo in response to mocking images of the Prophet Muhammad. The headlines in the following days largely defended the magazine’s work as an expression of freedom of speech. Another theme in the discourse following the attacks was criticisms of Islam and confusion when some Islamic communities in France did not come out in full condemnation of what had happened because the magazine had incited the violence with their offensive work. Charilie Hebdo had been warned. For many people, it’s hard to imagine why mocking images of Muhammad would be offensive enough to incite physical violence. Jesus is found in cartoons, T-shirts, dashboard ornaments, portrayed in offensive ways, yet Christians don’t make headlines for murdering the creators of this content. Same with other kinds of religious or important figures.

I tried to think of a parallel that Americans might understand.

  • Don’t let it touch the ground
  • It should never have any mark, insignia, letter, word, number, figure, or drawing of any kind placed on it or attached to it.
  • It should never be used as a receptacle for receiving, holding, carrying, or delivering anything.
  • It should never be used in advertising
  • It should not be used as a costume
  • It should not be turned upside down for display
  • It should not be bunched up
  • It should not be used to decorate or adorn
  • Don’t let it tear

To what do I refer? Old Glory. The Star Spangled Banner. The Stars and Stripes. The Grand Old Flag. The [U.S] American flag is the Prophet of American Civil Religion. Want to start a fight? Insult the flag. Refuse to pledge allegiance. Turn your back on the colors that don’t run. Interrupt the hymn (anthem) during church (sporting event). Question whether or not it belongs in your church’s sanctuary. I’ve seen how angry people get about their flag. It’s not hard to find examples.

Here’s a hypothetical situation: Remember “Pastor” Terry Jones and the Koran burning party he planned? Imagine instead he had planned a flag burning party. It doesn’t take much to convince me that there might have been violent responses to such a thing. I can easily imagine threats against his life, church, ministry, and more. Or if something did happen, it’s not hard to imagine interviews on the local news with people saying, “Well, it’s never good to hurt someone, but he was kind of asking for it by burning the flag.” People take the flag that seriously.

Americans and Muslims share a lot in common in the level of respect for their religious/civil religious figures. The vast majority, as strongly as they might object to offensive displays, would never hurt or kill another person over it. Some might. On the one hand, these parallels are simply interesting to note, and innocuous.

What is scary to me is that extremists in one of these groups of people have access to the largest military on earth and unchecked stores of nuclear weapons.



One comment

  1. Micah Bales (@micahbales) · January 22, 2015

    Great post, Brian! This is a really helpful comparison… And it says a lot about where our real priorities lie as a culture.

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