Tuesday, April 27, 2004

New Flag, New Era? 

The Iraqi Governing Council came up with a new Iraqi flag. A lot of Iraqis are critical, either because it looks too much like Israel's flag or that the IGC isn't representative enough to create a flag. But this post is about another criticism, summed up by one Baghdad resident: "The flags of other Arab countries are red and green and black."

Black/Red/Green/White, as a vexillogical theme, originated in the original Arab revolt against Ottoman rule. It soon became a symbol of the Arab fascination with a Western-style nationalism (the type that led to unified Germany and Italy). We remember it best personified in the form of Nasser, as well as such schemes as the "United Arab Republic".

When Iraqis say they prefer the old colour scheme (as opposed to just disliking the new one), it is a statement in favour of the dream of the pan-Arab state.

But if history has taught us anything, it is that pan-Arabism is doomed: Arabs are too geographically dispersed and have too little ties to each other to emulate the sort of state that Bismarck and Garibaldi formed in Europe. Instead, pan-Arabism has become an excuse to legitimize the rule of despots (i.e. Saddam) and has become a factor in the xenophobia of the region.

And what's worse is that it's all a sham anyways. Just look at how Palestinians are treated in Arab countries, and the reaction in Arab countries on April 9, 2003.

That is why, when I first saw the new flag, my immediate reaction was "Finally! None of that pan-Arab bullshit!" And I think that was a factor that the IGC was thinking of as well: this is a flag for "Iraq", not "Iraq, part of some Arab superstate fantasy." The resemblance to the Israeli flag is a major mistake for their part (not that I support Arab anti-Zionism/Semitism, but the IGC certainly things harder for itself), but at least somebody was trying to break out of the old mentality. Unfortunately, though, it'll take a lot longer for the average Iraqi to shake off those antiquated ideas.
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