Tags Posts tagged with "flag"

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It’s been over ten days since the mass shooting at US military offices in Tennessee and here in Texas, flags are still at half staff in memorial of the five soldiers that were killed.

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Flags have been lowered across town in San Antonio, where I have been visiting this week.

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Even the Mexican flag has been lowered, along with the Texas and national flags:

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As heinous as this killing was, mass shootings have unfortunately become a common news story in the US with over 200 mass shootings this year alone:

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But the reaction to this latest mass shooting in Chattanooga, Tennessee seems to stand out from the others. Not only have flags been lowered across the country for an extensive period (with the White House under intense criticism for not lowering them immediately) armed citizens–some reportedly belonging to militia groups– have also taken to the streets to “guard” recruitment offices with automatic weapons:

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Source: BBC

 

Mass shootings have continued after the tragedy–as soon as a week later when a man opened fire at a Louisiana movie theatre, shooting 11 people and killing two. But following that brutal crime, I don’t remember hearing anything about armed citizens deploying in front of cinemas to protect movie-goers, despite the fact that this is the latest in a series of shootings at theaters.

There were also mass shootings just before the Tennessee massacre, most notably the massacre at a Charleston, South Carolina church that claimed 8 lives. But I don’t remember hearing about armed men deploying in front of churches, particularly black churches, which have been subject to a history of violence. I also don’t remember hearing anything about flags being lowered nationwide in mourning for the victims of the Charleston murder spree. In fact, a flag many felt represented the type of racist discourse that may have influenced the perpetrator, was still flying high after the killing, despite demands that it be brought down.

So what is it about the killing of the Tennessee soldiers that has sparked such a powerful, visceral reaction, enough to bring armed citizens out into the streets? Is the murder of soldiers more appalling than the killing of civilians? Or are there other contributing factors?

The shooters in all three cases are believed to be disturbed individuals.  All are also said to be American citizens raised in this country but only in Tennessee is the perpetrator reportedly Muslim. I can’t help but wonder if the reaction would have been as jingoistic had he identified with a different faith or no faith at all.

In the painful search for answers after such tragedies, perhaps we should be concerned not only by the individual killers but also by the collective knee-jerk reactions to them, which may reveal just as much about the troubled social conditions we inhabit.

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A few minutes ago I was taking this picture when a policeman shouted at me.

Cop: “Hey, stop, stop! What are you doing?? Don’t you know photography is forbidden?”

Me: [Pointing to intersection] “Photography is forbidden here?”

Cop: [Looking exasperated] “Of course. It is illegal to take photos, not just here, anywhere in Hamra! Even anywhere in Beirut!”

Me: Are you serious? What does it matter if I take a picture?

Cop: Yes of course I am serious! Don’t you know about the terrorism? I can call this in and they will come here and pick you up and take you away. There is a jail sentence!

Me: Is this a new law, what law is it?

Cop: Yes. It’s a law, I don’t know what it is called! I didn’t say anything after the first or second photo, but then you took two or three! But you seemed like a nice guy so I will let it slide. Just don’t take any more, okay?

Me: Do you know what you are saying? Do you know how many people you need to arrest to enforce this law? Do you know how many buses you need to arrest everyone taking photos today in Hamra or the rest of Beirut?”

Suddenly our conversation is interrupted by a loud police siren. A big black suburban with black tinted windows comes careening into the intersection in front of us and hangs a left onto Hamra street. Inside are two college-aged boys. The license plate has only three numbers.

Me: Why don’t you arrest those people? They are not police, they are kids and they have a police siren?

Cop: [wry smile] Oh no, I can’t touch them. Every number in 600 (i.e. 600-699) belongs to Berri. (A senior parliamentarian.)

(The plate actually began with number 1)

I then point to a car with no tail lights, a motorcyclist without a helmet, the traffic lights around us, each one illegally festooned with a flag of a certain Lebanese political party that has claimed this intersection as its territory. See red circles:

Interrupted panorama shot. I couldn’t get a better one because of the new “law” against photography

Me: So all this illegal stuff is going on right in front of you, every minute, and you want to stop me for taking a picture of it?

Cop: Listen. [Pulls out tiny folded up piece of paper from his pocket] You see this? It says here my duty today is “traffic management.” I can’t issue tickets until after this shift is over tonight.

(I didn’t think of it at the time, but why then was he trying to arrest me if technically he had no right?)

Cop: Let me tell you a story. Once I stopped this guy who was harassing a woman. He was Syrian, he had no ID papers. I got a phone call from headquarters. They said release him immediately. You see people have “wasta” (connections), there are people you can’t touch.”

I bid the cop farewell, wishing him more success at his job in the future.

Postscript:

Of course, I have been harassed for taking photos before, but ironically the police once actually tried but failed to help. I’ve also been physical assaulted for taking photos, not by authorities, but by private developers and political hooligans. Flags are also routinely hung by all parties in Lebanon as I documented in Zalka, Ain El Mreise, Ain El Remmaneh and elsewhere. But this is the first time I am told there is an actual “law” prohibiting photos on public streets.  

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In light of yesterday’s Lebanese Forces post, I thought I would introduce you to Amal land:

Home of Imam Musa Sadr and Hard Rock Cafe:

More seriously, Sadr was the founder of the Amal movement and didn’t live to see its integration, like the Lebanese Forces, from militia to political party. That his image is used in contemporary capture-the-flag politics  belies his inclusive, self-empowering legacy.  
For more on Sadr’s facinating life and little-known tension with the Iranian leadership, I highly recommend Shaery-Eisenlohr’s book

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    Tyre, yesterday.

    Supposedly there is a 1945 law which states no flag other than the Lebanese one should be raised over its territory–“under any circumstances.” 

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      Yesterday, cranes and workers were hard at work scrubbing the sidewalks and hanging up flags all across the highways on every light post–even leaning ones (above)
      And if you live in Lebanon, you ‘ll know that politicians love hanging up flags on light posts
      Today’s flag was the Palestinian one and the occasion was visit by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, for whom the red carpet was rolled out:

      A full marching band:

      And an honor guard of hundreds of troops and officials:

      LBC, which carried the procession live, noted that this was Abbas’s 7th trip to Lebanon.

      But how much have these trips helped the 400,000 Palestinian refugees in Lebanon who live in substandard conditions and are barred from owning property and gaining employment at most companies?

      Abbas is scheduled to visit Shatila camp, where he will pay respects at its infamous massacre memorial.

      As a reporter, I’ve visited the camp several times, as recently last week. I can tell you that despite all these official trips, people in Shatila live in absolute filth and squalor. The streets are caked in garbage and the fumes from open sewers make you want to puke when walking by.

      Wouldn’t all this money spent on honor guards, red carpets and flag hoisting be better spent on people who are actually living in sewage and barely have enough money to eat?