Sunday, October 07, 2007

The Disturbing Patriotism of Rednecks

The TV was on in the other room, and in coming from the kitchen to the living room I caught a glimpse of some man with a ZZ-top beard cutting down an American flag from a flag pole, wadding it in his hands, yelling angrily into the camera, and then striding off. I had no clue what transpired. Something about "illegally flying" some flag and "I'm a veteran", all the while brandishing some knife that was a good 7 inches long, kinda of like one of those Jim Bowie knives.

I was immediately irritated because first off - there's no LAW regarding the flying of flags, specifically the American flag. There is an instructive code regarding the "flying of the colors. "

Second off - I cannot stand seeing shirts, sweaters, hats, handkerchiefs - any article of clothing - that is basically turned into the American flag. (Section 8d of that code, BTW) I find that incredibly disrespectful. I always have. Now I know in some quarters, it is considerable patriotic fashion but it bugs the shit out of me.

All right, so we have owner of Cantina El Jaripeo in Reno flying the Mexican and American flags on the same pole. The Mexican flag was above the American flag. Someone contacted a Reno TV station regarding the legality of the flap flying. (Section 7g) Tonight, I watched a video of the incident at Crooks and Liars. I'm not impressed. It's video of some fascist redneck posing as a patriot - again.

The other flag attached to the pole dropped to the ground, now how respectful is that?

The first question I had was why didn't this asshole talk to the proprietor of the store? The proprietor of the bar is an American citizen. He didn't realize there were the code requirements regarding the flying of an American flag in relation to another country's flag. Perhaps if said asshole (Mr. Jim Broussard) had pointed out the error, the owner would have remedied the situation immediately.

And therein lies the problem for me because I find this aggressive patriotism totally unnecessary. How in the hell did this come about? When did it become okay to publicly demean or disrespect someone else in order to prove one's high standing? When did it switch from being unacceptable socially to now just being overlooked or having defenders who become as volatile as the individual(s) whose actions they are defending.

Dave, The Quaker Agitator wrote about Mahmoud Ahmadineja's reception at Columbia as well as the introduction by the college president, Lee Bollinger. Dave's point is more about being allowed to continue thinking for one's self, while my point is about the incredible rudeness that is apparently acceptable in insulting the sitting president of a sovereign nation who has been invited as a guest speaker to your institution. Mr. Bollinger couldn't have expressed his reservations to Mr. Ahmadineja via email, letter, phone call, personally when Mahmoud showed up?

Then yesterday, Dave put up this Who gets to decide who gets to speak? at our other hangout, Les Enrages. A 'resident-fellow' of a conservative organization writes that the U.N. should restrict the access of despots who are invited or schedule to speak to the general assembly of the U.N. Because of this man - "Burma's minister for foreign affairs, U Nyan Win, a mouthpiece for the junta, mounted the steps to the main stage" who had the audacity to claim that "things in Myanmar have returned to normal." Regardless of what was being streamed across the Internet throughout various news organizations, NGOs, blogs, and human rights organizations just to name a few outlets which indicated pretty damned starkly that, nope things were too peachy in Burma. It was so reminiscent of ole' Baghdad Bob - don't believe your own lying eyes.

While Dave's point becomes . . . .
Who gets to decide who gets to speak? Who gets to be the final arbiter of what is right to say, and what cannot be said? The staff of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies? Or how about Code Pink? The National Education Association? Fox News? The judges from American Idol? Who exactly gets to pick what we all get to hear? And on what criteria will they base this decision?

. . . . my point is similar. When the hell did that responsibility pass from me to someone else? Not only will (or does) another decide, but it is done publicly AND rudely. By declaring or taking it upon one's self to be enforcer/decider regarding who it is among us or outside our group or comfort zone is allowed to speak, the stage is set for those redneck fascists who believe it is patriotism that allows them to, 1) shield us (the American public) from speakers with unsightly thoughts, opinions, and points/hypotheses to disseminate; and, 2) to perform this shielding in an unsavory manner and "interpret" the message however is most beneficial. Beneficial to what, I'm not quite sure nor am I clear on what that is precisely or even generally. Where did our civility go?

I attended Ursuline College. It's a Catholic women's college, liberal arts affliated with the Ursuline nuns, Cleveland. As with many orders of Catholic sisters, their focus was tinged with social justice but they were thrown headlong and more deeply into the struggles confronting other peoples when one of their own nuns and a laywoman were raped and murdered in El Salvador in 1980, some months following the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero. The campus often had speakers who provided diverse perspectives whose speeches or visits were either open to 'the public' or were more 'local' as for a particular class.

One year as part of Women's History month, the director of our Multicultural Affairs office on campus managed to line up a woman who had been active in the French Resistance during WWII. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary until about 10 minutes into her discussion of her life, education and work. It began to dawn on me and others that this woman was NOT who she had apparently represented herself to be. Yes, she was French and yes, she was Catholic - but there was unabashed disgust being expressed for Jews. One of our history professors asked her about the Vichy government and she proceeded with quite a defense of Phillipe Pétain, and then it became obvious. There was murmurings amongst the audience with our now tainted speaker throwing defiant looks our way, and then the questions became pointed. No one was rude; no one shouted; no one threatened to kick her elderly white ass when she walked out the door to her car. Civility was what she got. That's all she got. That's more than she would have gotten had some folks been in charge. And, I worry about that. I mean, it's bad enough we have the Decider in charge (koo-koo-kachoo!) but an entire nation of Deciders?

I'm thinking, no.

[Oh, and for a different perspective, here's a gentleman's reflections on Mr. Ahmadineja's reception at Columbia last month. He writes for the Pakistan Post.]

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