Protesters burning the American flag is one of the most ubiquitous sights around the world.
A lot of American flags go up in flames in Pakistan as well.
I have directly experienced this phenomenon first-hand on at least three occasions. The interesting thing is the experiences have been more about glaring ironies than anything revolutionary as such.
My first experience in this respect arrived in 1986. I was an intermediate student at a state-owned college in Karachi where I was also a member of a progressive student organisation and a frequent participant at many anti-Ziaul Haq rallies.
During one such rally held against the support the Zia dictatorship was getting from the United States for its anti-Soviet manoeuvres in Afghanistan, the student organisation decided to burn an American flag.
We were weary about the cops who had started to gather outside the college gates, and expected the usual barrage of tear-gas. But just as a group of radicals from the organisation torched the American flag, instead of the cops, we were confronted by members of the student wing of a well known politico-religious party.
They said that they would not allow the burning of the American flag because the US was a friendly country that was aiding a jihad against the atheistic Soviets.
I won’t go into the details of the jaw-breaking and head-bashing clash that followed, but today whenever I see televised pictures showing members of the same politico-religious student party torching American flags, I am flattened by the irony of it all.
The power of the American Dollar. When it is flowing your way, the giver is given the status of a glorious partner to be praised and hailed, and those opposing it are to be denounced as ‘anti-Islam’ and anti-Pakistan.
But when the flow is diverted or stopped, the same glorious partner then becomes the political manifestation of Satan, ‘murdering innocent Muslims everywhere.’ Then people like me from being ‘KGB agents’ become ‘US agents.’
Today, most anti-American punters and protesters have become unintentional self-parodies. They are conveniently incapable of grasping the irony (if not the downright hypocrisy) of their actions, especially when it comes to burning the American flag.
They have become so intellectually and politically bankrupt that to fill the gaping existentialist holes in their whole thinking, they have created the US as a bogey to beat their bony chests about and obsessively blame.
They have given the concept of midlife crises an ideological twist. Albeit, not a very convincing one.
___________________________________My second experience in this respect came a year later (1987) at the same college.
A group of Sindhi and Baloch nationalist students within the progressive students’ alliance I was part of wanted to torch a Pakistani flag during a demonstration.
Some of us thought that it was not such a good idea because the Zia regime would then get a bigger excuse to crackdown on the organisation with even more brute a force.
I remember one Baloch student (who later went on to join a Baloch nationalist party), reacted by calling us hypocrites: ‘So, being a Marxist means one can only burn an American flag?’ He asked. ‘What’s so not imperialistic and oppressive about the Pakistani establishment?’
In a meeting at the college canteen, we reached a consensus that two flags would be burned (‘to strike a balance’): The Pakistani and the American flags.
But some members (including myself) disagreed. We suggested that instead of flags we should torch pictures of Ziaul Haq and the American President Ronald Reagan along with those of some Afghan militants, such as Gulbaddin Hikmatyar (who was close to our politico-religious opponents at the college).
Our suggestion was vetoed until a fourth option was put forward: Why not torch American, Pakistani and Indian flags!
I have no memory left of exactly who raised this option and why, but I do remember we finally poured out of the canteen and moved towards the college’s common-room outside which the rally was to be held.
Yes, pictures of Zia and Reagan were torched, slogans raised and the cops stationed outside the college taunted. But, alas, out came a Pakistani flag. I thought that was it.
But the feisty Baloch instead of torching it rolled it up and announced that he now had a snake in his hand that would dance. He suddenly ran towards the cops, screeched and broke into this amazing Balochi boogie! It was awesome.
Nevertheless, some students of the opposing party complained to the college administration that we had insulted the Pakistani flag.
But, Lo and behold! As the administration was gazing its collective navel trying to determine what to do with ‘traitors’ like us, an incident took place at the college.