Flag Burning

Something very, very weird happened today. I found myself strongly in agremment with the Prime Minister.

For a person who generally finds himself strongly in opposition to little Johnny and everything he says or does, this was disconcerting to say the least. I had to drink a Red Bull just to make sure I wasn’t dreaming (Red Bull’s main ingredient is Taurine, a combination of the words Taurus (Latin for ‘bull’) and urine. You work it out). The issue at hand, on which Howard and I agree, is flag burning.

It appears that the Deputy Prime Minister (a character of so little import that I can’t even remember his name) has been getting all worked up and foamy at the mouth over people incinerating the national flag. He’s started advocating putting laws in place to “protect” the flag, and make such practises illegal. And, in a move that totally astonishes me, John Howard has disagreed.

Now, if I’d had have to laid a bet on this issue, I would have put little Johny firmly on the “a lot of flag burners who’ve got too much freedom” side of the fence in this issue. But, apparently not. He’s said that he respects the flag and evrything it stands for, and abhors the parctise of flag burning, but that it’s one of the freedoms we have to have as a democratic society.

Frankly I’m stunned. This like Ronald Reagan singing The Internationale.

It could be worse though. My reasons for for opposing anti-flag burning laws are somewhat different from Howard’s.

You see, I firmly believe that flag burning should be a basic right of citizenship in a democratic nation. The flag belongs to the people, and the people should have the right to imolate it as the ultimate form of protest. A flag stands for one’s nation, and burning it is the most direct and forceful way to show one’s anger or repugnance at the actions of one’s country or government.

On top of that a flag shouldn’t be respected because it’s a flag. It should earn respect by being the symbol of something worth respecting. Any truly fair and just government should be able to garner enough loyalty and esteem from its citizens that it shouldn’t need legislation to protect it’s flag. A government that enacts such laws can only be doing so to try and force into being the respect that it can’t earn on it’s own.

On top of that, when you enshrining things you start taking them away from the ordinary people. In the US for instance they have laws protecting their national anthem and other such symbols. They talk a lot about free speech over there, but damage or “defame” one of these, and you’ll find out pretty damn quick how far that free speech doesn’t extend. It’s hard to believe, but you can actually go to jail for altering the tune or lyrics of the Star Spangled Banner. No lesser personage than Igor Stravinsky almost suffered that fate when he attempted to re-orchestrate the song back in the ’40s. That’s the kind of insanity that prevails when you start passing laws to “protect” national symbols. Next thing you know it’s jackboots and coal-scuttle helmets.

I’m not always proud of what my government does, in fact I’m downright ashamed of a lot of things the Howard government has done and continues to do, but I am proud to be an Australian. And while I’m not proud of our flag by itself, I am proud (unfashionable though it may be among my contemporaries) of what it stands for (that’s not to say I’d object to replacing the Union Jack in the corner mind you). I’m also proud that I can use our flag. Like the guy in the Canadian beer add I can wear it proudly on my backpack, turn it into a disgustingly loud shirt (if I had that little taste) or, if circumstances require, burn it. I can also change the lyrics of Advance Australia Fair to make a protest song, a comedy routine or just because I feel like it. Heck, I can sing it to the tune of Theme from Gilligan’s Island if I want. And that’s the way it should be.

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