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US film protests bring boom for Pakistan flag makers

Published Oct 03, 2012 06:29am


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Pakistani shopkeeper Nadeem Mahmood Shah showing a US flag to his customer at his shop in Rawalpindi. — Photo by AFP

RAWALPINDI: As Pakistan's mullahs railed against a US-made anti-Islam film, Naveed Haider's print works went into overdrive, running off hundreds of US flags for angry protesters to burn at demonstrations.

Weeks of protests in Pakistan over the crudely made “Innocence of Muslims” have killed more than 20 people and caused serious damage to major cities, but for Haider business is booming.

When the mobilisation against the US film began, “I knew the tills would start ringing”, said the manager at Panaflex printers, housed in a dilapidated building in Rawalpindi, the twin city of Islamabad and headquarters of the military.

“Whenever we have these demonstrations, I make 10 times as much money as normal,” he told AFP in a tiny room that stank of ink, as two huge rollers spat out Stars and Stripes.

Sold for between 120 and 1,500 rupees ($1.25 to $16) depending on size and quality, the flags have been snapped up for demonstrations against the film in recent weeks, and Haider watched in delight as his products went up in smoke day after day on the TV news.

The boom in the flag market has accompanied a surge in anti-American feeling in Pakistan, which has been battered and bruised by Taliban violence and US drone strikes since joining Washington's “war on terror” in late 2001.

So much so that the United States has replaced traditional rival India as enemy number one in public opinion — at least according to the flag-sellers.

“It's been a long time since I sold an Indian flag,” said shopkeeper Nadeem Mahmood Shah as people piled into his Rawalpindi store to stock up on American flags, as a few tattered old samples fluttered outside.

In Shah's shop 1,500 rupees will get you a three-square-metre Stars and Stripes in cloth, with a guarantee it will catch light with no problems — a key concern for protesters, particularly with TV cameras around.

For Asim, a waiter in a seafood restaurant, burning the US flag has become a vital part of any protest. He has set four alight in a month.

“It brings me such pleasure,” said the rangy 22-year-old. “It's not a crime, but a means of expression like any other.” Protests against the film have led to more than 50 deaths across the Muslim world since the first demonstrations erupted on September 11.

Pakistan experienced the worst of the violence when nationwide rallies mobilised more than 45,000 in September. At least 21 people were killed and 229 wounded, mainly in clashes with police.

Last month, Railways Minister Ghulam Ahmed Bilour placed a $100,000 bounty on the head of the filmmaker, calling on the Taliban and al Qaeda to join the hunt and help accomplish the “noble deed”.

Most young flag-burners are attached to political or religious groups.

Jamaat-e-Islami, one of the country's largest religious parties, actually provides its members with American and Israeli flags “so they can voice their anger”, explained Sajjad Abbas, a party official in Islamabad.

“We have arrangements with printers and we supply them with the cloth,” he said.

A well-drilled setup like this enables political groups to make their statement as cheaply as possible and to quickly exploit even the smallest spike in tension with the United States.

Jamaat-ud-Dawa, blacklisted by the United Nations and the United States as a front for terror group Lashkar-e-Taiba, says it has a “special team” dedicated to making US and Israeli flags for demonstrations.

“They end up costing us 50-60 rupees each,” said Asif Khurshid, one of the group's officials in Islamabad.

The Majlis-e-Wahadatul Muslimeen, a Shia Muslim party active in recent protests, utilises its student wing to organise the flags with partner printers.

“We turn out 500 an hour,” boasted Mazhar Shigri, group spokesman in Lahore, Pakistan's second largest city.

The group's “flag cell” is now preparing a major publicity stunt: a US flag 500 metres long and 60 wide, which will be laid out in October in a busy street, for the ultimate Muslim insult of being trodden under foot.

Shigri revels in the plan: “All the cars and pedestrians can defile it as they pass over.”


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Comments (35) Closed

lalit bagai Oct 03, 2012 10:35pm
right. he would also leave for any other place if he does not get a visa for usa. these include france, danmark, perhaps even isreal. of the last i am not sure
Akeel R Oct 03, 2012 08:45pm
Well said bro..
Canadian Oct 03, 2012 08:41pm
Very true.
Harish Oct 04, 2012 07:14am
Then why economy is weak. Then why Pakistan sells it's sovergnity to Americans in exchange for billians of dollars of aid ?????
gulshan Oct 03, 2012 09:35pm
May be we can do same thing with the old torn up copies of religious books ????????
Buraaq Oct 03, 2012 09:30pm
Very shameful, a sign of how low the society has fallen. They run around burning flags thinking that they are representing muslims and Islam. In reality, they are far from both.
Cyrus Howell Oct 03, 2012 08:32am
Pakistan's favorite sport used to be cricket. Now it is burning American flags.
Yawar Oct 04, 2012 01:19am
Each flag burner should realize that the temporary pleasure he gains by burning one flag can and may result in actions causing laong-lasting physical and psycological misery to millions of muslims. How can we expect the Western world to respect what is important to us when we dont respect what is important to them. I appeal to these demonstrators not make and then fall into traps our enemies want us to fall into.
Haider Oct 04, 2012 03:43am
Make some clothes and clothe your poor.
Sandip Oct 03, 2012 08:52am
flag burning providing employment and profit. Can I export some canadian flags?
roco Oct 03, 2012 01:40pm
killing and burning cinemas is actully taking pakistan forward to 30th century (not 21st century)
Rashid Oct 03, 2012 02:45pm
With all due respect Gulshan, I don't agree on the point of US paid us billions of dollars just to grow as a nation. Almost 90% of that money goes to the army which is fighting the war against the very people created by America. I do agree though that we need to come out of this hysteria about US and start looking at our self as nation to achieve success in technology, education and most importantly is tolerance. Look at Brazil how fast they are growing and we are killing our own people and burning local businesses on a very disgusting film created thousands of miles away which we don't have control over. Film should be condemned but peacefully not by hurting our own people. Please note they don't get affected by killing our own people. We need to start looking at our own interests rather than anything else.
Sue Sturgess Oct 04, 2012 01:33pm
Pakistani stock exchange is 4th in the world? By which measure? Based on the value of trades, it does not even make the top 20
Sue Sturgess Oct 04, 2012 01:29pm
whenever there is any political unrest, it always begs the question ... who will make money from this?
T.M. Reddy Oct 03, 2012 05:38pm
It looks like bring it on...
Sam Oct 03, 2012 05:29pm
Pakistan have greatest CNG reserves.Pakistani stock exchange is 4Th in the world.Pakistan is a very strong country and it can never go into recession or stone age.
hinduismglance Oct 03, 2012 04:58pm
mo Oct 03, 2012 09:21pm
...Pakistan seems to be failing in almost ever area: logic, education, civil society, law & order, economy and development. Now, it seems they're even failing in basic humanity. At some point this country needs to WAKE UP!
Mccracken Oct 03, 2012 12:24pm
We Americans honor our flag that you so freely burn in the hundreds of thousands. Now if a lone pastor burns the Quran that you honor, one pastor mind you, why does all hell break loose and there are riots in the streets?
Asheikh Oct 03, 2012 12:15pm
The kind of technology you are refering to is actually taking us back to stone age.
Umer Hasan Oct 03, 2012 03:25pm
i don't get the point of burning a flag, what are you going to get after burning a piece of cloth which has been printed with American flag? i don't see anything but pollution. So in essence you are damaging your own country by spreading pollution in it. That will lead to future problems.
Sonu Oct 03, 2012 11:01am
I thought it was a joke when I first read it - but I guess the joke is on me. Is this how low Pakistan has stooped to? If you REALLY want to be taken seriously, build your economy and stop doing silly things like this. It only makes people laugh at you.
Salim Kazim Oct 03, 2012 10:45am
Look at the bright side. Least someone is making money out of these Hippocratic's.
imran khan Oct 03, 2012 08:13am
Harish Oct 03, 2012 11:56am
Pakistan seems to be living in STONE age....nobody seem to be having a vision for the nation's future. They are killing their own people. Driving away the investors with the unrest and disturbed environment. India centric all the time rather then doing something to uplift their nation. Now US seems to be the center of all the hate...Grow for your country !
Gulshan Oct 03, 2012 11:48am
Burning a national flag of a country whose taxpayers money, in tens of billions of dollars, has helped us with food, armaments and floods/earthquakesdisaster relief in the last 65 years ??? !!!!!. The consequence of this mullahs instigated hatred will haunt us in decades to come. We have become become a nation of selfish, opportunist, money hungry thankless creatures. But mullahs business thrive on hatred, violence and destruction. What they don't realise is that they are the worst enemy of Pakistan and Islam.
raika45 Oct 03, 2012 12:07pm
I totally agree with you.Factories with left over poor quality cloth sell it to the flag printers who print the American flag on it and sell it for a tidy profit to the protesters who fulfill their wishes to burn them.The mills make money, the printers make money and Pakistan gets a small percentage point increase in the the GDP.Well looks like some good came out of these protests.
Ahmed Oct 03, 2012 02:32pm
Hopefully people in Pakistan seem to be starting to realize - albeit very little and very late but hopefully before the molvis completely take over - what you say about molvis being the worst enemies of Pakistan and of Islam.
civi varghese Oct 03, 2012 11:26am
Technology and science moving very fast.Ignorant men go back to stone age.
khanm Oct 03, 2012 11:12am
Wonder what it would really achieve??????? i would pay the money to poor rather than to burn them
S.S.VERMA Oct 03, 2012 11:07am
Thats befitting a Major Non Nato Ally.........
Khalid Oct 03, 2012 11:05am
The waiter who burnt four US flags would leave Pakistan in four minutes for the US if he get its visa.
Pradeep Oct 03, 2012 08:44am
DJ Oct 03, 2012 01:58pm
Wow American tax payers money which is given to Pakistan as aid is used to burn their own flags... What kind of country is Pakistan?. Why can't it take any action against it's own militants??. If it takes action against their own bad elements, then no other country can interfere in their policy.
J Oct 03, 2012 08:03am
As a Pakistani, I cry a little when I truly understand the depths we have sunk to.