Four custom made flags (and their origins) soured by modern history
I've been deliberating on this BLOG article for quite some time.
Its relevant to what we do but its also important to share the history of something so intrinsic in all our lives, no matter our background, our origins and our beliefs.
The content of this BLOG is not meant to offend in any way shape or form, its fundamentally about custom made flags and is for educational, informational and historical purposes only.
All flags are custom made to one degree or another - designs that stem from long ago history and people, events and happenings and so are part of our 'present'.
Banning and removing historical and contentious custom design flags could really be seen as an attempt to erase history. But in some cases, it would be just as well.
Here we talk about three flags with a dreadful reputation and one with a borderline problem. All these custom design flags were made in one form or another to be extremely recognisable and all have a history which belies their current use – a standout focus perhaps of passions against the forces of wrong by those with a strong moral compass.
The soldier who falls defending his flag certainly does not believe he has sacrificed himself to a piece of cloth. Nowhere can a collective feeling become conscious itself without fixing upon a tangible object. It is easier to dominate and gain control if one can gain an elevated position with regard to others. Source
US Confederate flag
The current controversy surrounding the fate of the Confederate flag in South Carolina has spread around the country and now to the World, as citizens everywhere question where to draw the line between commemorating history and celebrating a symbol that a third of all Americans associate with racism.
The debate has extended to statutes of Confederate leaders as well as monuments dedicated to southern Civil War soldiers. It even extends to Civil War themed mobile games which contain the Confederate flag.
The thirteen star saltire in red, white and blue has come to be recognised as a symbol of the American South. It came into use as a custom design flag at the time of the American Civil War, from 1861-65, which was triggered by the issue of slavery and when seven southern states rebelled over President Abraham Lincoln’s anti-slavery legislation and declared secession from the United States.
The Confederate flag was first adopted as a battle flag by the army of Northern Virginia. It was never officially adopted as representing the Confederate States of America (CSA) – also known as the Confederacy – but came to be known as a symbol of the American South.
Despite the defeat of the CSA, the Confederate flag - also known as the rebel flag, the battle flag, the Dixie flag, and Southern cross - continued to be flown.
In the Second World War, Southern military units flew the flag. During the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 60s, the flag became a symbol of segregation and was adopted by the Ku Klux Klan. It has also appeared in countless popular culture references.
Supporters of the Confederate flag view it as a symbol of ancestry and heritage. To them it represents a distinct cultural tradition of the South that is very different from the rest of the United States. It is tied to the representation of states’ rights against what they see as over-bearing federal jurisdiction.
For many Americans, the flag is a representation of slavery, hatred and white supremacy. Source
German Nazi ‘Swastika’ flag
The Nazi Swastika flag is another flag which conjures up images of horror and its also an example of generic symbolism of good and wholesome intentions being taken up by movements wishing to evoke racial purity and in this case “Aryan identity” and German nationalist pride in the form of a custom made flag.
The swastika has a lengthy history and enduring power, predominantly as a symbol of hate.
It was used at least 5,000 years before Adolf Hitler 'designed' the Nazi flag. The word swastika comes from the Sanskrit svastika, which means “good fortune” or “well-being." The motif (a hooked cross) appears to have first been used in Neolithic Eurasia, perhaps representing the movement of the sun through the sky. To this day it is a sacred symbol in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism. It is a common sight on temples or houses in India and Indonesia. Swastikas also have an ancient history in Europe, appearing on artifacts from pre-Christian European cultures. For centuries a symbol of good luck and auspiciousness, the swastika even found expression in Byzantine and Christian art.
The symbol experienced a resurgence in the late nineteenth century, following extensive archaeological work such as that of the famous German archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann. Schliemann discovered the hooked cross on the site of ancient Troy in modern Turkey. He connected it with similar shapes found on pottery in Germany and speculated that it was a “significant religious symbol of our remote ancestors.” However, the work of Schliemann soon was taken up by movements that wanted to evoke racial purity and this belief that the “German race” descended from the Aryan race is likely one of the main reasons the Nazi party formally adopted the swastika or Hakenkreuz (Ger., hooked cross) as its symbol in 1920.
The Nazi Party, however, was not the only party to use the swastika in Germany. After World War I a number of far-right nationalist movements adopted the swastika. As a symbol, it became associated with the idea of a racially “pure” state. By the time the Nazis gained control of Germany, connotations of the swastika had forever changed.
The swastika would become the most recognizable icon of Nazi propaganda, appearing on the flag referred to by Hitler in Mein Kampf as well as on election posters, armbands, medallions, and badges for military and other organizations. A potent symbol intended to elicit pride among Aryans, it also became a symbol of Nazi racial ideology that called for the elimination of Jews and other groups deemed inferior.
In Mein Kampf, Adolf Hitler wrote:
“I myself, meanwhile, after innumerable attempts, had laid down a final form; a flag with a red background, a white disk, and a black swastika in the middle. After long trials I also found a definite proportion between the size of the flag and the size of the white disk, as well as the shape and thickness of the swastika.” *Source. Hitler patently plagiarised the design of the flag and like all custom made flags drew from older designs as inspiration.
Isis and the Jihadi flag
In the past few years the extremist group Isis has risen to international attention by establishing its so-called Islamic state across swathes of Iraq and Syria. It has proven itself as a powerful propaganda machine capable of attracting recruits from across the world and inspiring bloody terror attacks.
One of the group’s most recognisable symbols is its black and white flag adorned with Arabic lettering which the uninitiated might think is a custom made flag.
The white banner at the top of the flag reads: “There is no god but Allah [God]. Mohammad is the messenger of Allah.” This phrase is a declaration of faith used across Islam, and is known as the Shahada.
Underneath is a white circle emblazoned with black writing reading "Mohammed is the messenger of God", which is meant to resemble the Prophet’s seal, similar to that used to close an envelope.
Monochrome flags are an ancient tradition in ancient Eastern, Arabic, and Islamic tradition, stemming from a belief that, according to the Quilliam Foundation, one of the Prophet’s original banners was black. Modern jihadists appear to have adopted this style to legitimise their causes.
The flag therefore [just as with the Swastika used by the Nazis] is in fact not unique to the group according to Charlie Winter, senior researcher on Jihadism at the counter-extremism think tank the Quilliam Foundation.
“A lot of people talk about the Isis flag or the Islamic State flag, however there is no such thing. It’s a flag they have adopted that has political and theological significance.” The flag in its entirety is used by Al-Shabab in Somalia and Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula amongst others.
Isis have effectively co-opted the flag for their cause, even when it is used in a context unrelated to the organisation, wanting to align themselves with other movements and place themselves in a jihadist context.
The flag is recognisable and it is symbolism that jihadists and Islamists will recognise.
Emphasising how the words on the flag are not symbols of extremism in themselves, but were rather hijacked by extremists it should be noted that the Shahada and the Prophet’s seal are important symbols that all Muslims share, so by co-opting words which have nothing to do with jihadism, Isis broaden themselves and try to claim ideological territory that they wouldn’t be able to if they had something specific.
England and the flag of St George
Closer to home the St George flag, originally designed to represent the country of England has been adopted by extremists and football thugs as a ready made 'custom made' flag. British Future blame the “extreme street hooligans of the English Defence League” for “toxifying” the St George’s cross. But this toxification is a recent phenomenon. Once, the English flag was the safe alternative for those who wanted to express enthusiasm for the land in which they lived, without thereby exonerating the British empire.
We know virtually nothing about the life of the real St George. Eusebius of Caesarea, writing in around AD322, tells of a soldier of noble birth who was put to death under Diocletian at Nicomedia on April 23 (St George's Day) AD303.
Eusebius had no name for this gallant, much less a place of birth, nor even the site of his burial. The Crusaders believed this to be near what is now Tel Aviv.
In the fifth-century Acts of St George, our hero was said not only to have defended Christians against Roman persecution, but to have visited Caerleon and Glastonbury while on active service in the imperial army. Before the Norman invasion, churches had been dedicated to St George. Adopted as the patron saint of soldiers, he was said to have appeared to the Crusader army at the Battle of Antioch in 1098. Richard the Lionheart put his armies under the protection of St George when campaigning in Palestine in 1191-92.
The red-cross flag made its debut in 1284, and in the 14th century English soldiers donned their legendary red cross battle dresses. When Richard II invaded Scotland in 1385, every man was ordered to wear "a sign of the arms of St George", both before and behind, with death promised to enemy soldiers who dared to "bear the same cross or token of St George".
St George had become the acknowledged patron saint of England, and in 1415, the year of Agincourt, Archbishop Chichele declared St George's Day a feast to be observed like Christmas Day.
One of St George's arms was delivered to Canterbury cathedral where it became a huge pilgrim attraction. In 1940, during the blitz, King George VI instituted the George Cross for acts of heroism; on one side of the medal St George is depicted slaying the dragon - at the time, of course, Adolf Hitler.
Solidarity and the flag
Why does a flag so quickly evoke feelings of pride and patriotism among the loyal citizens who stand beneath it? Why do so many feel anger when they witness others desecrating their flag by throwing it to the ground or marching on top of it?
Traditionally symbols of identity such as flags are explained in terms of their social functions. They work to unite us because it is said they evoke a shared psychological state of solidarity with the Group. Is flag martyrdom really a thing?
There is no doubt that we are sensitive to the messages flags communicate, that they activate key emotional dispositions related to social bonding.
There is no doubt that a custom designed and custom made flag can make or break an ideology.