Pi Attitude Zone: Affiliation & Cohesion

Wave the Flag

Flags, particularly national flags, are important to people.  Flags represent shared history, patriotic feelings, nationality, belonging – in some cases something as fundamental as identity itself.

Flags are particularly important to politicians, to whom their national banner can bring some kind of legitimacy.  You rarely see a US politician without his American Flag lapel-pin.  Many have periodically sought to burnish their patriotic credentials by supporting anti-flag-burning legislation in Congress.  In reality, flag-burning in America is as rare as personal appearances by Elvis. 

Banner-brandishing can look like a peculiarly American habit, but Pi has found evidence that it is quite widespread elsewhere, for instance in Latin America and Europe.  There it has less to do with patriotism per se, more to do with supporting the national football team.  (Wait.  “National”?  When England fans are rooting for their side in soccer internationals they don’t wave the Union Jack, but the red-and-white flag of Saint George, thereby dumping their ‘Britishness’ in favor of ‘Englishness’). 

What of England’s arch-soccer-rivals Germany?  Perhaps due to angst about their country’s role in two world wars, Germans have long been diffident about displays involving their black-red-and-gold tricolor flag.  But the Euro 2012 Football Championship changed all that.  From Hamburg to Munich to Berlin, young Germans were suddenly painting their faces black, red and yellow, and waving the national standard without restraint.

So flag displays are just an innocent form of patriotism?  Sometimes not so innocent, as riot police have been finding in the British province of Northern Ireland. Tensions there between republic-minded Roman Catholics and fiercely loyal (to Britain) Protestants have come to a head over loyalist demands to keep the British Union flag perpetually flying over city hall in Belfast, the capital.  The British flag is a potent symbol of civil grievances.  Protestant protesters, furious at edicts limiting the flag-flying to holidays and royal birthdays only, recently took to the streets.  They hurled bricks and petrol bombs at the police, and chanted inflammatory sectarian songs.  These hooligans seem to have no leaders, no coherent political message, and no clear motive… beyond rage. 

This is patriotism's dark side.  Can flag-waving be reduced to a crude message of hate?

Zone: Affiliation & Cohesion Country: Multiple Geographies Product – Other