This is why we don’t burn flags

Do you ever get the urge to ruin an otherwise perfect night? Do you ever feel compelled to spoil the mood? Do you ever find it necessary to give American mainstream media something juicy and controversial?

If you said ‘yes’ to any of these questions, then I’ve got just the solution: Burn a flag!

Tuesday’s otherwise peaceful protest turned ugly when [a protester] burned a homemade Israeli flag.

Chicago Sun-Times

Within the last few years, Chicago has been host to dozens of pro-Palestine rallies. If we’re lucky enough, major news sources provide coverage of the protests and give us a five-second segment on the evening news. But only if we’re lucky enough. So my rationale is to make the most of those five seconds. Protest loudly, remain passionate, and maintain professionalism throughout the entire event so that no matter when the cameraman presses the record button, that short snippet of video coverage will be guaranteed to be a positive one.

Here’s another guarantee. I guarantee you that once something goes wrong, even for a moment or two, your local news team will have already prepared a camera and a reporter to document every single detail of the scene. And of course, the five-second segment on your nightly news will show exactly what that camera catches.

I stumbled upon an article today that added substantial amounts of confidence to this guarantee. On Tuesday, June 1, a rally in Chicago was quickly organized to protest the Israeli attack on the unarmed Gaza-bound Freedom Flotilla. More than 1,000 protesters gathered in front of the Israeli embassy to voice their opinions about Israel’s latest lethal move. The demonstration was building in numbers, the voices were building in strength, and everything was going according to plan.

Then a young man decided to change things up a bit. And just like that, he hoisted above his head a burning Israeli flag.

Organizers rushed to the smoke to control the scene. Luckily, it took less than a minute to put out the fire and disperse the crowd that had surrounded the burning flag. The damage had already been done, and Chicago’s very own Sun-Times was there to document the incident in a few simple sentences:

Tuesday’s otherwise peaceful protest turned ugly when a small section of 20 to 30 young men cheered as _________, 23, burned a homemade Israeli flag.

“It’s been way too long since there’s been a suicide bombing in the state of Israel” _________ said, after furious protest organizers extinguished the fire.

Chicago rally protests deadly Israeli raid, Kim Janssen, Chicago Sun-Times

This is why we don’t burn flags. Although the two and a half hour protest proved to be powerful and inspiring, news correspondents focused much of their efforts on the young man’s uncontrolled emotion. So now, when regular citizens watch the news or read the paper, their first inclination falls something along the lines of, Golly, these pro-Palestinian activists are so violent. How hypocritical of them to wish for bombs and violence again peace-loving Israel.

Mission accomplished? Were the documented quotes and scenes necessary?

We don’t need these emotional outbursts to increase awareness, amplify passion, or shed light on the situation in Palestine. We are already passionate. Plus, “we have facts and international law on our side, so why do we resort to this?” says a DePaul University graduate student involved in this movement. I agree wholeheartedly with her.

We all feel the anger and frustration that _________ must have felt, and on a daily basis too. But there are better approaches. For one thing, I’m not anti-flag burning. I believe in freedom of expression just as much as you do. But would you ever stick your middle finger up during a televised interview? Would you show up to a press conference in sweat-stained jogging clothes? No, you wouldn’t because it’s unprofessional and portrays the wrong image. And unfortunately, image plays an important role in public perception. Just ask former U.S. President Richard Nixon about his televised debates with John F. Kennedy.

The lesson to learn is, if you’re ever so angry that you feel a desire to set a flag on fire, especially with television crews around, take a deep breath and write a letter to the President. Write to your Senator. Make a YouTube video blog. Join or even establish an organization dedicated to Palestine. There are a million things to do that can earn just as much coverage and actually benefit the struggle against Israeli oppression. Just don’t burn that flag.

With that said, I do want to make it clear that the Chicago protest was a success nonetheless. Over 1,000 people took to the streets during Downtown Chicago’s rush hour and joined the rest of the international community in condemning Israel for its deadly raid of a humanitarian convoy heading towards besieged Gaza. I was definitely inspired by the large turnout as well as the very passionate statements made by representatives of multiple solidarity organizations. I give a humble thank you to American Muslims for Palestine, the Free Gaza Movement, and all the protesters that made this emergency response a successful reality.

Sami Kishawi

Update: _________ has spoken to the editor, stating that he was misquoted. The Sun-Times has reportedly allowed him to publish his own article.

To see the original Sun-Times article, click


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