Flags on fire: symbols of a nation

If the reader kindly permits me, I’ll wander off the chosen path and hop back to a swell summer evening in August 2007. Location is the Chaos Communications Camp, a somewhat anarchist but always interesting gathering of hackers, freedom fighters and eccentrics alike which takes place every four years in a field near Berlin.

During one of the many evening festivities, a small number of fire breathers were invited. This skill, which originates from India dates back to the days when man and dragon lived together in peace and exchanged skills. It consists of using the power of breathe, combined with a mixture of alcohol and fire to propel gigantic flames into the sky.

At the Camp, a number of Germans decided it interesting to burn their national flag. While not considered an “acceptable” act, most Europeans are actually relatively unemotional when it comes to this image of national unity, and the net result was an even more crowdy and active crowd, bouncing around on electronically generated music.

Inspired by this turn of events, one of a small group of Americans ripped the American flag of his tent, ran onto center stage, dipped it in alcohol and set it afire. The result was quite different. Some of his American friends started yelling, others ran away, and I’m pretty sure that through the shadows I could discern at least one taking out a hanky and dipping his wetted eyes.

This just to illustrate that flags mean very different things to different people. Where countries are “constructed” by external powers, as is often the case in the Middle East, they together with a somewhat secular regime form one way of binding together a nation instead of just a state (the latter entailing a type of “peoples” as opposed to inhabitants of a defined geographic region).

Along the way, it was interesting to observe how many national flags are put to center stage, especially in the Middle East:

Turkey. Flags on the water.


Syria. the image of the ruler, combined with the nation’s colours makes for a powerful signal as well


Jordan. The world’s largest unsupported flag pole – at 126.8 metres – is right in the middle of Amman, hosting an impressive version of the Jordanian flag.


Israel. The Israeli flag on a house on a settler road, right in the middle of Palestinian Authority controlled area. The houses in the back are Palestinian-owned, the road is protected by Israeli Defence Forces. Just an illustration of the on-the-ground difficulties of the peace accords.


Palestine. Little flags draping the main drag of Ramallah, headquarters of the Palestinian Authority and most well-off city in the West Bank.

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