Flags and Amor Patriae

Tony and I were in Yasmine Hammamet on our date last Friday when I saw a gorgeous fringed scarf in the colors of the new Libyan flag. My romantic husband bought it for me on the spot, along with a matching tie tack for himself. Five minutes later we were in the grocery store, and were stopped by a couple who saw our regalia. They were Libyans who had fled to Tunisia twelve days before. We were happy to be able to express to them our sincere wishes for a speedy and felicitous ending to the conflict now raging in their country. The woman sitting next to us in the louage on the way to Tunis this morning was also Libyan. We had a similar conversation with her, and our children played the whole way with her cute little daughter, even though they had no words at all in common.

I adore flags. Nothing quite says amor patriae like a flag. For most people protesting in the Middle East, their flag is a symbol of what they love about their country, and a reminder that a dictator doesn’t make a nation; its people do. For the Libyans, though, their flag was a little more complicated. When I was learning geography (not) in school, the one fact I remember learning about Libya was that it was the only country in the world with a flag that was a single solid color. A little weird, huh? Um, yeah. Weird in the same way as a dictator who calls himself “The Brother Leader,” aspires to rule all of Africa, and says he cannot resign because he holds no public office. Because, surprise! Muammar Qaddafi invented the green flag himself. It goes right along with his Green Book, which encapsulates his political philosophy, is required reading for all Libyans, and proclaims, among other things, that “all individuals have a natural right to self-expression by any means, even if such means were insane and meant to prove a person’s insanity.”

So yes, when the Libyans took up the torch from their revolutionary neighbors to the East and West, it was obvious that they needed a new flag. One that represented their country and themselves, rather than an autocratic, idiosyncratic leader. Fortunately, they already had such a flag: the flag under which they had rallied when they fought to win their independence from Italy in 1951.

Apparently, however, there weren’t many of those old flags left in the country. I love pictures like the one above from the early days of the revolution, in which it’s obvious that they’ve just now sewn together a rustic but wonderful flag.

I was taught as a child about the United States flag code, which dictates (among many other things) that the flag should never be worn as apparel. I can understand the rationale. But look at this photo:

Notice the kid in the background. He’s a Libyan refugee who’s just crossed over the Tunisian border. And he’s wearing his flag like a blanket. The U.S. flag code would probably also forbid shutting the flag into your car door to hold it onto the roof of your car as you flee your country, where it is death to be seen with that flag. But I think it’s beautiful all the unconventional ways I’ve seen Tunisians, Egyptians, Libyans, Syrians, and others wear and fly their flags as they perform the most patriotic act imaginable. Their love for their country is all raw passion. They haven’t progressed yet to solemn, codified respect. And I love that about them. So until further notice, you’ll find me unrepentantly wearing my Libyan flag.

Photo credits: Khalid Albiah, B.R.Q., magharebia

One thought on “Flags and Amor Patriae

  • June 20, 2011 at 9:25 pm

    is it ok with you if i go here for my weekly news on the world?


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