Intangible as it may be, freedom is the single most valuable aspect of a creature’s life. Humans and animals alike would fight to the death for freedom. A man, a woman, a child can never be truly free as long as their home, their country is under siege. That sense of belonging to a place that does not belong to you is one of pain and sorrow unfathomed by a person whose land is free. It is this pain that countries fight against in the pursuit of gaining and maintaining their freedom.
A country is represented by a set of colours, its flag, the identifying symbol and proof of its existence as an independent entity. For centuries countries have fought to either plant this flag into or rip it out of the earth. Many a war has been waged to make sure that no colour but that of the native land flutters against a country’s sky.
The British Empire colonised most of the world, including most Arab countries, and for decades the countries under its grasp fought to see the Union Jack unearthed from their soil. For those who come from countries that were once not theirs to rule, the sight of the British flag is not necessarily a pretty one, for it evokes memories of losing that intangible thing one holds dear, losing freedom.
Flags planted in areas other than their own mean occupation, it is a simple gesture to portray an invasion of sorts, and it is an unwelcomed one.
After years of British sovereignty most countries regained their freedom and claimed their independence. Their lands no longer carried foreign colours but were saturated with the colours of liberty.
Yet, no sooner have foreign flags disappeared from the political scene than they found their way back through fashion. In the late 80s and throughout the 90s the American flag dominated the fashion scene. We saw the Star Spangled Banner everywhere from shirts, to caps and even shoes. The American flag represented freedom and so, American or not, everyone wanted to feel free.
In the Arab world, mainly the Gulf region, America was seen as a saviour during the Gulf War and so some Arabs wore it as a sign of appreciation for saving Kuwait.
Many blunders, disappointments and wars later the image of America, the land of the free and home of the brave, was tarnished in the eyes of the world. This allowed the Union Jack to come full circle and somehow find its way back to all those territories that once shunned it, the British flag came back to take centre stage in the fashion world.
Today it has become a common sight to see the British flag in all its glory sported by people from around the globe. The only flag fashionable enough for the world to wear from head to toe and not look like an extremist or a lunatic. So what does it mean when an Indian, African or even citizens of Gulf countries don the Union Jack? And if there is a fashion statement to be made then what is it??
One might say, it is harmless, just another fashion fad that will soon be replaced with another country’s colours. Sadly this is not the case, for this globalised nationalism is privy only to certain countries. If indeed it is harmless then wearing the flag of any nation should be accepted as such, yet when British actress Tilda Swinson appeared in Vogue magazine’s UK edition wearing a scarf of the Palestinian flag, her fashion statement was seen as anything but harmless. Swinson was ostracised and attacked, some people even went as far as comparing her choice of colours to sporting the Nazi swastika.
It is this blatant hypocrisy that boggles the mind and angers even the most passive of us. When rules are made and manipulated according to a certain segment of the world, rules such as deeming it trendy to sport colours that once cost people their lives and freedom while vilifying others. Fashion is indeed self- expression and self-expression is as much political as it is creative. It has chosen for us who the good guys are, for it is fashionably acceptable to wear the colours of countries that have waged wars and soiled their hands in blood but not for others who remained peaceful throughout history.
Self-expression is the essence of freedom but if self-expression deems fashionable the red, white and blues then where does that leave our red, green, white and blacks?
Arabic version of this article published in Al Khaleej newspaper 5th August, 2012: http://bit.ly/McWfCB