Category Archives: Europe

Noor Anayat Khan: The Princess Who Became a Spy

Noor Anayat Khan: The Princess Who Became a Spy

She was a Sufi pacifist who fought for Britain and died at the hands of the Gestapo
by Boyd Tonkin

February 20, 2006
The Independent

This is the story of a young Indian Muslim woman who joined a secret organisation dedicated to acts of sabotage, subversion and terrorism across Europe. A fierce critic of British imperialism, she worked with passion and audacity to damage and disrupt the forces of law and order. Captured, she proved impenitent and uncontrollable. She died a horrific death in custody. And now, perhaps, is the right time to revisit the life of Princess Noor-un-nisa Inayat Khan, George Cross, Croix de Guerre with gold star, MBE: the British secret agent who was kicked into a “bloody mess” on the stone floors of Dachau concentration camp through the night of 13 September 1944, and then shot with Noor Anayat Khan: The Princess Who Became a Spy . Yet Noor the spy became a tigress whose bravery and defiance startled – and outraged – her German jailers and torturers. A few responded differently. When told during his postwar interrogation about her death in Dachau, Hans Josef Kieffer – head of the Gestapo headquarters in Paris – apparently broke down in tears.

Controversies and rumours still abound. Noor’s posthumous career as a war heroine began in earnest in 1952, when her friend and comrade Jean Overton Fuller did her best to dispel the fog of confusion and misinformation left by her death in a book, Madeleine – Noor’s Resistance codename. Maurice Buckmaster, Noor’s colonel in SOE, and the top cryptographer Leo Marks both recalled her in their memoirs with an intense, possessive – but rather patronising – affection that often makes for more heat than light. Marks, briefed to expect as his latest apprentice a “potty princess”, typically begins his recollections of their first encounter by writing that “no one had mentioned Noor’s extraordinary beauty”.

From her spellbound SOE trainers at Beaulieu Manor to the governor of Pforzheim jail who came almost to revere the prisoner he kept in chains, Noor left no one unmoved. Yet her quiet charisma made fancy corrupt fact. In recent years, two colourful novels have embroidered her tale with the interests and penchants of their authors: the French writer Laurent Joffrin’s frankly romanticised All That I Have, and Shauna Singh Baldwin’s more politically engaged The Tiger Claw.

However, the recent declassification of personal files has allowed the always-murky deeds of SOE and its “F Section” agents who spied (and died) in France to emerge further into the light of history. Fresh material surfaced when, last year, Sarah Helm’s A Life in Secrets traced the biography of Vera Atkins: the SOE staff officer who, plagued by remorse at the hideous fate of so many of her F Section “girls”, made a secret postwar enquiry into their betrayal and capture. Now, Shrabani Basu – a historian and journalist based in London as correspondent for an Indian newspaper group – has pieced together Noor’s story more fully and reliably than ever before in a new biography, Spy Princess.

For Basu, “60 years after the war, Noor’s vision and courage are inspirational”. She has proposed to English Heritage that a blue plaque should mark Noor’s address at 4 Taviton Street in Bloomsbury, and a decision will be made in June. Thanks to her book, a new generation can grasp what Noor did, and how she did it, with much greater clarity. Yet the “why” remains, in some sense, as elusive as ever.

Noor Inayat Khan was the great-great-great granddaughter of Tipu Sultan, the Muslim ruler of Mysore whose celebrated military prowess stalled the advance of East India Company forces at the end of the 18th century. Ever after, the British in India treated the family with the utmost suspicion. Yet Hazrat, her father, turned his back on this rebel and warrior tradition when he became a Sufi teacher and founded an order to spread – via music – his peaceful, tolerant and non-dogmatic faith to the world. A gifted singer and instrumentalist from a family of virtuosi, he met his American wife on tour in California. By the time Noor was born, in January 1914, the Inayat Khans were living and performing in Moscow, and her mother, the former Ora Ray Baker, had donned sari and veil as “Amina Begum”.

After an infancy in the chilly wartime squares of Bloomsbury, Noor grew up in the suburbs of Paris, at “Fazal Manzil”: a much-loved house in Suresnes outside which a military band still plays in her honour every 14 July. The eldest child of four, seen by all as kind, vague and artistic, she suddenly had to take charge of the family when her father’s death on a visit to India in 1927 left her mother immobilised by grief. For the first, but not the last, time, crisis turned Noor the dreamer into Noor the leader.

In the 1930s, Noor studied music (especially the harp) at the Paris conservatory, and child psychology at the Sorbonne. She also became a talented writer and broadcaster of children’s stories. On Amazon you can find Noor’s Twenty Jataka Tales (1939): charming Buddhist fables in which, eerily, animals overcome their fragility to perform feats of bravery and sacrifice. At this time, she got engaged to a pianist of Jewish origin, one aspect – together with rumours of a later, wartime engagement to a fellow British officer – of a still-mysterious emotional life.

After Germany invaded France in June 1940, Noor the Muslim Sufi pacifist – and passionate believer in India’s right to independence from colonial rule – made the moral choice that fixed the course of her life, and death. She and her brother Vilayet decided, in the face of Nazi aggression, that non-violence was not enough. They jointly vowed that they would work – as Vilayat told Shrabani Basu in 2003 – “to thwart the aggression of the tyrant”.

Surviving the chaos of the mass flight from Paris to Bordeaux, they made a dramatic seaborne escape to England. There, Noor volunteered for the WAAF (Women’s Auxiliary Air Force) and started on the long road of signals and wireless training that would lead her – a woman raised in France, perfectly bilingual, and with advanced radio skills – to recruitment as a secret agent in November 1942. Selwyn Jepson, the novelist-turned-spy who first interviewed her for SOE, later found himself remembering Noor with a “very personal vividness… the small, still features, the dark quiet eyes, the soft voice, and the fine spirit glowing in her”. No one ever forgot Noor, or ever felt indifferent about her, though some SOE trainers doubted her suitability for espionage and tried to block her progress into the field.

They failed, and within days of her arrival in France in June 1943 she had proved them wrong. As the broken Prosper network of Resistance cells collapsed, Noor dodged from safe house to safe house in Paris, outwitting the Gestapo and transmitting messages with immense speed and accuracy in hostile conditions. “Single-handedly,” according to Basu, “she did the work of six radio operators.” In London, code-master Leo Marks noted that “her transmissions were flawless, with all their security checks intact”.

With F Section still in disarray, but starting to rebuild thanks to her work, Noor was finally betrayed in October – probably by RenÈe Garry, sister of her first contact in Paris. Within minutes of being taken to the Gestapo HQ at 84 avenue Foch, she had climbed onto a bathroom window ledge in an escape attempt. Forced by the Germans to keep up radio transmissions (the “radio game” inflicted on captured agents), Noor duly sent the agreed 18-letter signal to alert SOE about her capture. It was ignored: one of a catalogue of SOE blunders. Later in her interrogation, she joined with other agents to plan another daring escape that involved loosening, and then removing, the bars on their windows. It almost succeeded – ironically, a simultaneous RAF air raid on Paris prompted a sudden security check.

Now viewed as incorrigibly dangerous and uncooperative, Noor was sent in November 1942 to Pforzheim prison in Germany, where – bound by three chains, in solitary confinement – she endured 10 months of medieval abuse. She ranked as a Nacht und Nebel (“Night and Fog”) inmate, earmarked only for oblivion and death. Shackled, starved, beaten, she never talked. Then, in September 1944, came the transfer to Dachau along with three other female agents, and the end of her sufferings.

Knowing the whole truth – or almost the whole truth – about Noor does not make her any less paradoxical. Basu, who quashes so many myths about this “Muslim woman of Indian origin who made the highest sacrifice for Britain”, also stresses that she fervently backed the struggle for Indian liberty. Indeed, Noor shocked – and maybe rather impressed – the interview panel when she went for an WAAF commission in 1942 by arguing that, after the war, she might feel obliged to fight the British in India. That makes her – although a commissioned British officer, and a holder of the George Cross – a curious national heroine. As for her Muslim identity, the Inayat Khans’ brand of all-inclusive Sufism would count as heresy or worse to the kind of hardliner who now presumes to speak for Islam in and to the West.

The key to her career may be that this child of a liberal, cultured home freely chose her fate. She chose to fight Nazism; she chose to do it alongside the British; she chose the risks of espionage; and she chose to stay in Paris when SOE ordered her home. At a memorial service in Paris, General de Gaulle’s niece summed up her achievement: “Nothing, neither her nationality, nor the traditions of her family, none of these obliged her to take her position in the war. However, she chose it. It is our fight that she chose, that she pursued with an admirable, an invincible courage.” When she died with “freedom” on her lips, it was hers. And it was ours as well.


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Baden-Wurttemberg’s Conscience Test: Zeitgest of Fear and Prejudice

Baden-Württemberg’s Conscience Test

Zeitgeist of Fear and Prejudice

The conscience test, conceived by the interior ministry in the German state of Baden-Württemberg to check whether potential German citizens have the right moral convictions, reflects current German attitude towards Muslims, says Ülger Polat

Since the beginning of this year, a so-called “conscience test” has been sent out to all the 44 regional offices of the state of Baden-Württemberg. The test is to serve as a guideline for checking whether Muslim immigrants fulfil the conditions for naturalisation as a German citizen.

The test, which was developed by the state interior ministry, consists of thirty questions which should be asked orally of the applicant, and which should give an indication of the applicant’s attitude towards democracy and basic democratic values.

Testing the migrants

In this questionnaire, applicants are tested as to their religious tolerance as well as to their tolerance towards other ethnic groups and people with homosexual tendencies.

In addition, they are asked to make clear their attitude to religiously motivated terrorism, to the issue of social and political equality and self-determination for women, as well as to possible culturally defined codes of honour, customs and traditions.

The answers are noted down and given to the applicant to sign, so that the answers they have given can be referred to, if necessary, in future years.

Following intense criticism on the part of Muslim organisations, as well as from political parties, it has been decided to modify the questionnaire, and to extend it to all immigrant groups.

All the same, when the test was first introduced, it was justified as a response to what was seen as a purely “Muslim” problem. According to the interior minister of Baden-Württemberg, Heribert Rech, the questionnaire was needed because it could be assumed that, when Muslims stated their commitment to the German constitution, as all applicants for citizenship are required to do, the commitment did not match “their deepest convictions.”

Rech justified this assumption on the basis of reports of the maltreatment of Muslim women in Germany by their husbands or other male relatives. His initiative came right in the middle of a public discussion about so-called honour killings and forced marriage among Muslim immigrants.

Anti-Islamic mood as background to the debate

It is no mere accident that this discussion has become the justification for a new naturalisation procedure. The discussion itself emerges from an anti-Islamic mood which is currently being felt across the whole of Europe.

The causes can obviously be found in the terrorist attacks of 11th September 2001 in New York, as well as the attacks which brought terrorism to Europe on 11th March 2004 in Madrid and 7th July 2005 in London. A turning point in public perception of Muslim migrants in Europe occurred when the Dutch film maker Theo van Gogh was murdered on 2nd November 2004 by a Muslim migrant.

Since then, as never before, members of the majority communities in Europe feel themselves threatened by Muslims – and the threat seems to face them right in front of their own front door. In addition, according to a report in March 2005 by the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights, the number of Muslim migrants who complain against discrimination and stigmatisation in daily life has never been as high as it is now.

Specifically in Germany the report shows that more than 80 percent of those questioned associated the term “Islam” with “terrorism” and “oppression of women.”

Looking at migrants as merely a cultural phenomenon

In this emotionalised atmosphere, individual migrants have been able to make a killing with tearful reports of their own maltreatment by members of their Muslim families. Among them was Necla Kelek, who is now an advisor to the federal interior ministry and had a major role in the concept behind the Baden-Württemberg “conscience test.”

It seems to be a symptom of the current overheated climate that Kelek’s tendentious and populist presentation has put entirely into the shade a forty-year-old tradition of migration studies in Germany. It’s a tradition of scholarship which itself has only with difficulty and with considerable effort emerged in the last few years from a culture-based approach to Muslim migrants.

The test itself also seems to reflect the current zeitgeist of fear and prejudice, rather than to be based on a rational analysis of the conditions under which Muslim migrants actually live. With alarming openness, the test has taken over all the current clichés about Muslims which are currently doing the rounds of German society and its institutions.

Muslim applicants find themselves now in a situation in which they have to justify themselves in the face of characterisations and accusations which are not just personally insulting on account of their religious and cultural origin, but which also implicitly draw an unbridgeable moral gulf between the values of the majority society and those of the Muslim minority.

If they want to pass the test, applicants are required to distance themselves from a specific conception of what Muslims are like. They are confronted with a catalogue of negative characteristics and behaviour patterns which, it is assumed, they are likely to identify with.

Among the least offensive accusations are that they will have a limited ability to deal with criticism of religious positions, and that they will display a tendency to disregard German law on the grounds of their ideological biases.

In effect, simple membership of the Muslim religious community is linked with the oppression of women, forced marriage, honour killings, polygamy, terrorism and racism towards other minorities, especially Africans and homosexuals.

A negative social signal

This “conscience test” does not communicate “knowledge about our constitution, our culture and our values,” as Maria Böhmer, the federal official responsible for the integration of foreigners, expects of such a test. It does not take the slightest notice of the realities of migrants’ lives or of their efforts to integrate into German society. On the contrary, Muslim applicants for citizenship are tested as to whether they are civilised enough to be able to become German.

The signal which is sent out by this irresponsible and defamatory test could scarcely be more worrying. It shows a climate of disrespect and racism on the part of state institutions. It is a climate which makes dialogue with Muslim fellow-citizens and organisations – a dialogue which has never been more urgently needed than now – only more difficult.

Such a test once more provokes mistrust among Muslim migrants towards German institutions, if not towards German society in general, and encourages them to turn towards extremist groups.

The current atmosphere also makes daily work with migrants on the social level more difficult and hinders efforts to establish a differentiated picture of their situation, to understand their problems and conflicts in the context of their lives, and to look for solutions. What is at stake is no less than the peaceful coexistence of Germans and Muslim migrants in Germany.

By now, the main conditions for integration are well known: education and work. But it is precisely these two resources which are inadequately available to migrants.

That fact in its turn gives rise to social problems and conflicts, such as unemployment and poverty and the family and personal problems which are a consequence of these. Social conflicts have to be solved objectively, without generalised, defamatory or culture-based attempts to explain behaviour which are remote from the understanding those concerned have of their daily reality.

For that to come about, there is a need for a policy of integration which, on the one hand, sees Muslim migrants as a part of society, and, on the other, takes concrete measures to promote their educational and vocational integration.

Ülger Polat

© 2006

Translated from the German by Michael Lawton

Dr. Ülger Polat researches migration issues and teaches intercultural social work at Hamburg Technical College. She is also working as a social work psychologist with Turkish women and girls.

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Europe’s Contempt for Other Cultures Can’t be Sustained

Europe’s contempt for other cultures can’t be sustained

A continent that inflicted colonial brutality all over the globe for 200 years has little claim to the superiority of its values

Martin Jacques
Friday February 17, 2006
The Guardian

Is the argument over the Danish cartoons really reducible to a matter of free speech? Even if we believe that free speech is a fundamental value, that does not give us carte blanche to say what we like in any context, regardless of consequence or effect. Respect for others, especially in an increasingly interdependent world, is a value of at least equal importance.

Europe has never had to worry too much about context or effect because for around 200 years it dominated and colonised most of the world. Such was Europe’s omnipotence that it never needed to take into account the sensibilities, beliefs and attitudes of those that it colonised, however sacred and sensitive they might have been. On the contrary, European countries imposed their rulers, religion, beliefs, language, racial hierarchy and customs on those to whom they were entirely alien. There is a profound hypocrisy – and deep historical ignorance – when Europeans complain about the problems posed by the ethnic and religious minorities in their midst, for that is exactly what European colonial rule meant for peoples around the world. With one crucial difference, of course: the white minorities ruled the roost, whereas Europe’s new ethnic minorities are marginalised, excluded and castigated, as recent events have shown.

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For Danish Firms, Boycott in Mideast a ‘Nightmare’

For Danish Firms, Boycott in Mideast a ‘Nightmare’
Millions of Dollars in Sales Are Lost as Markets That Were Built Over Decades Disappear in Days

By Kevin Sullivan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, February 11, 2006; A12

COPENHAGEN, Feb. 10 — The Arla Foods plant in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, which produces cheese and flavored yogurt drinks, sits idle and the company’s 800 employees in the country have been sent home because of a Middle East boycott of Danish goods, following a Danish newspaper’s publication of cartoons of the prophet Muhammad.

“It took us 40 years to build up our business in the Middle East, and five days to bring it to a total stop,” said Astrid Nielsen, spokeswoman for the Danish company here. She said suspending operations at the Riyadh plant, the company’s regional base, and a near-total boycott of the company’s products have cost Arla about $1.7 million a day since Jan. 28.

The boycott of Danish goods, propelled by Muslim leaders and imams preaching in mosques, has brought exports of Danish products to the Middle East and North Africa to a virtual standstill. It has scuttled a flow of goods to the region that was worth about $1 billion in the first 10 months of 2005, according to government statistics.

The boycott has been less visible than the angry mobs around the world burning Danish flags, torching embassies and carrying placards calling for “Danish blood.” But it has been just as unnerving for Danish business leaders, who have spent decades expanding their sales of food, pharmaceuticals, industrial equipment and other products into the Middle Eastern market.

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Whose Fault is the Danish Boycott?

Whose Fault is the Danish Boycott?
by Svend White

When I look at analysis of the Danish cartoon controversy, I’m struck by how so many otherwise well informed and intelligent commentators simply don’t get what’s really going on. The basic reasons for and issues involved in this crisis are pretty easy to grasp, but conspicuously absent from most discussions of this saga. Instead, one finds ethereal discursions on freedom of religion and freedom of speech, ideals that actually have precious little to do with this lamentable turn of events, as this is about politics and prejudices, not constitutional rights.

Mona Eltahawy writes in
Can we finally admit that Muslims have blown out of all proportion their outrage over 12 cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammad published in a Danish newspaper last September?

Umm, no we can’t. At least not in the way you mean.

The author, like so many other liberal Muslim commentators at the moment–it seems everyone’s working overtime to prove to non-Muslims how secular and progressive they are by defending the Jyllands-Posten outrageous and irresponsible attacks on the Prophet Muhammad–overlooks basic political and cultural context to those cartoons, and ignores the significance of the openly contemptuous way this supposedly high minded defense of freedom of speech was made.

In recent years, Denmark has been lurching rightward and turning increasingly hostile to Islam and Muslims (who now make up about 4% of the population). It is becoming distressingly commonplace to see headlines about prominent Danish figures openly expressing prejudice against Islam, and mainstream parties are working increasingly closely with hard-line nationalist (and, of course, Muslim-baiting) parties that were once rightly viewed as beyond the pale. It’s gotten so bad in Denmark–and I’m sorry to say so as someone whose maternal side of the family is there and who has long taken pride in Denmark’s once enlightened policies–that a prominent pundit in neighboring Sweden declared Denmark the most xenophobic country in Europe. By all accounts, inter-communal relations in Denmark (which for the most part are Muslim/non-Muslim relations) are becoming worryingly strained and beset with prejudice and misunderstandings. This is the essential political and social backdrop to Jyllands-Posten’s attacks on the Prophet, and it missing from the Muslim WakeUp piece and so many other discussions.

Again, there’s also the way this so-called defense of free speech was launched by those idealists at Jyllands-Posten. They didn’t simply exercise their right to ignore the traditional Islamic discomfort with visual portrayals of the Prophet, which is not universally shared by Muslims–as any lover of Persian art knows, there are many classics of Islamic art which also completely ignore this taboo; a few mundane sketches of the Prophet by aren’t going to roil the Ummah–with the kinds of caricatures one expects of revered political and religious figures. Instead, they chose to slander him, portraying him as a bloodthirsty killer and misogynist. They really went for the jugular.Not so long ago during the 1980s, many American Christians were up in arms for much, much less in Martin Scorcese’s infinitely more respectful rendering of a religious icon in “The Last Temptation of Christ?.

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As’ad Abu Khalil debates Irshad Manji on the Danish Cartoons

A debate on Amy Goodman’s Democracy Now:

Muslims are continuing to demonstrate around the world over the publication of cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad. At least six people have been killed in the worldwide protests — in Somalia, Lebanon and four in Afghanistan – and violence has broken out in cities across Europe, the Middle East and parts of Asia.

The Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten originally published the 12 cartoons last September – including one that shows the Prophet Muhammad wearing a turban shaped as a bomb with a burning fuse. The cartoons were republished in European and other news media in the last week. Muslims say the images are blasphemous and contrary to Islamic tradition prohibiting depictions of the prophet. The reaction to their publication has stretched across the globe.

In Iran, Lebanon and Syria, the Danish embassies have been set ablaze and several Middle Eastern countries have recalled their ambassadors from Denmark. The Iranian government said it is reviewing trade ties with all the countries where the cartoons have been published. Denmark issued a list of 14 Muslim countries which Danish travelers should avoid and urged its citizens on Tuesday to leave Indonesia.

Muslim protests continue to rage around the world against newspapers depicting the Prophet Muhammed. We host a debate with Irshad Manji, author of “The Trouble with Islam Today: A Muslim’s Call for Reform in Her Faith” and As’ad AbuKhalil, professor of political science at California State University, Stanislaus.

Listen to the show here.

Some interesting quotes (full transcript below – the best parts are near the end of the interview):

AS’AD ABUKHALIL: Well, Amy, that’s very easy to respond to. First of all, I am aware of the pontification of the other guest on FOX News, among other outlets that relish the opportunity to have somebody like her —

IRSHAD MANJI: I’ll let CNN know.

AS’AD ABUKHALIL: I mean, first of all, Amy, it’s not up to me to decide. I have my own sensibilities, and for me, I mean, as a secular atheist, you know, I would love to have people who mock and ridicule all religions together, but it is the inconsistency that’s striking, as well as hypocrisy. I mean, she happens to mention the network when she is always pontificating about – about the issues of Islam, even though she is not trained in the subject whatsoever, is that FOX News have routinely talked about how there are offenses to Christianity because people don’t say “Merry Christmas? during the season. I mean, we cannot in any way deny that there are sensibilities of Jews and Christians right here in this country, and that’s something that’s very controversial. You cannot deny that. And when she talks about routine anti-Semitism, I mean, that is also a generalization about an entire region and about millions of people in the world. As I said, she is totally unaware about the many Muslims and Arabs who routinely speak out against anti-Semitism in the Arabic press, and these are governments that control the press, so we cannot say it’s the reflection of society in general.

IRSHAD MANJI: Where are the protests, my friend? Where are the protests? Where are the ordinary people pouring into the streets?

AS’AD ABUKHALIL: You don’t know about them. They don’t have to appear on O’Reilly for you to know about them. They write them in Arabic.

IRSHAD MANJI: You know what? You can invoke FOX News all you want, alright, in order to try to detract from the real issue here, but I challenge you to tell me: Where are the ordinary Muslims in the Islamic world pouring into the streets to demonstrate against Saudi Arabia’s policy to prevent Jews and Christians from stepping on the soil of Mecca, merely because they are Jews and Christians? Tell me! Where are those protests? Answer!

AS’AD ABUKHALIL: Well, if you read Arabic, which you don’t, and maybe you want to learn it, you would realize that many writers and intellectuals have written about these issues, have condemned anti-Semitic writings wherever they occur. If they do not appear in certain demonstrations, because these governments do not allow the demonstrations —

IRSHAD MANJI: Where are the demonstrations?

AS’AD ABUKHALIL: This is not O’Reilly. One second. Let me finish. It’s not a monologue for you here. And another thing is, when you speak about some rabbis who are in favor of peace, of course they exist. And there priests for peace. And there are Muslims for peace. But what is your argument here? You are trying to say that there are rabbis for peace, but they don’t exist in other religion that is Islam —

IRSHAD MANJI: Where are the mullahs for human rights?

AS’AD ABUKHALIL: — because there’s some genetic incompetence or inequality, and that’s because Jews and Christians are genetically superior to Muslims. I mean, this is your point, basically – it boils down to. It —

IRSHAD MANJI: That’s your insecurity talking, sir, not mine.

AS’AD ABUKHALIL: — inferiority, intellectually as well as politically to Arabs and Muslims, and you wish that this genius that is exhibited by people who are Jewish and Christian would spill over to the Muslim world. That’s what it boils down to, right?

IRSHAD MANJI: That’s your insecurity talking, sir, not mine.

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Where Do Muslim Protesters Get Their Danish Flags

Where Do Muslim Protesters Get Their Danish Flags?


They can’t all be from the PLO Flag Shop.
By Daniel Engber
Posted Thursday, Feb. 9, 2006, at 6:49 PM ET

Demonstrators continued to burn Danish flags this week, in response to a Danish newspaper’s publication of several cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed. News reports have described angry Muslims burning the red-and-white flags in Afghanistan, Bahrain, Bosnia, Gaza, Iraq, Kashmir, Lebanon, Nigeria, Syria, and elsewhere. Where do protesters get their Danish flags?

They buy them at the flag store or make them from scratch. Some columnists and bloggers have cited the seemingly endless supply of Danish flags as evidence of premeditated government support for the protests. In fact, it’s not that hard to obtain Danish flags in the Muslim world.

First, many of the protesters are using handmade flags. (Improvisation is nothing new: Demonstrators in the Middle East often set fire to crude painted or drawn versions of the U.S. and Israeli flags.) The Danish flag happens to be especially easy to mock up on the fly—it’s just a white cross on a red background. The smoldering flag in this picture, for example, appears to have been created by sewing two strips of white fabric onto a larger piece of red. (Notice the discontinuous puckering along the seams.) The flag also seems to be wrapped around a wooden pole, where it might be nailed or stapled in place. A professionally produced flag would likely have grommet holes sewn into the fabric.

Not all the homemade flags come out quite right. In some cases, protesters are using red banners with a centered—instead of an offset—cross. This makes them flags of Savoy, not Denmark. Other protesters have been seen burning what are apparently Swiss flags. (The Swiss use a smaller, fatter cross on a red background.)

Doing it yourself may save you some money, but you can also try to grab a Danish flag at your local flag store. Reuters interviewed a shopkeeper in Gaza who stocked his PLO Flag Shop with 100 Danish and Norwegian flags when he heard about the cartoons. He gets his flags from Taiwan and charges $11 for each. Flag manufacturers in China and Thailand might also be able to provide Danish flags on short order.

A determined protester with an Internet connection could even order a Danish flag from an American manufacturer. As an experiment, the Explainer typed up an order for five high-quality Danish flags to be shipped from an American supplier to an address in Damascus. Total cost: $163.

American flag dealers have, over the years, provided some fuel for protests at home. Back in 1979, the Associated Press learned about a sudden increase in the sales of Iranian flags; in 1991 the Chicago Tribune reported a similar run on the Iraqi stars-and-stripes.

Got a question about today’s news? Ask the Explainer.

Explainer thanks Thomas J. D’Amico of American Flags Express.

Daniel Engber is a regular contributor to Slate.

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