No flag-burning please, we’re British

The Americans have been known to legally prohibit the burning of their own flag and there are some who would like this to be the case again. But the present legal situation rests on a sensible Supreme Court decision from 1989, which held that the burning of the American flag was a form of free expression protected under the First Amendment.

 I’m wondering if Britain is the only country in the world where anyone would think it was a sensible idea to ban the burning of any country’s flag? It’s not quite in keeping with our traditions but typical of what we are becoming under NuLabour:

“Mr Malik, MP for Dewsbury, said burning a flag was clearly an incitement to violence practised by a small number of “thugs” who get to the front of demonstrations. “They hijack what are very legitimate and peaceful protests. “Not only do they spoil it, but they have the potential to turn it into something much more sinister.””

Note the now familiar coupling of nannying and the notion that the state should intervene because of what people might do. It’s the latter I fear is turning into something more sinister. It was left to Massoud Shedjareh of the Islamic Human Rights’ Commission to make the liberal point. He said whether it was incitement or not depended on the circumstances, but police already had powers to deal with it.

But as we already know, this government cleaves to the managerialist logic of preferring new laws above enforcing the ones we already have.

  1. Jonn said:

    It’s signal politics, plain and simple.

    The new laws are intended not to change the situation on the ground, because, as you note, the police already have powers to deal with this stuff.

    Instead, they’re intended purely to say “Labour is tough on crime” to the tabloids.

  2. chris said:

    fabulous – would it just be national flags? could we, for instance, burn the flag of Texas? or US flags with only 49 stars on them?

  3. I can remember 30 years ago when I was working in the USA, there was a student’s demonstraion about the Vietnam war and one student was assaulted by nearby construction workers because he had made a pair of shorts out of the US flag. Americans are very patriotic and the desecration of a US flag in public would emote physical attacks by local US patriots, and often arrest by the police.

    In the UK, it should be sufficient for the police to arrest those who burn ANY flag where citizens are likely to be insulted or incited to react with force, even at a later date against the militant group, the offence being for public disorder and probably also under the Health and Safety Act with the latter probably carrying the greater penalty if fire is involved.

    What is needed is for the police to enforce existing laws and not worry about offending a groups’ sensibilities, whether they are a religious organisation or even the BNP who often are targeted unfairly for quiet lawful protests: and I am not a BNP supporter.

  4. dearieme said:

    “a sensible Supreme Court decision from 1989, which held that the burning of the American flag was a form of free expression protected under the First Amendment.” I rather disagree, Shuggy, that it’s sensible. Wouldn’t a better decision have been “Oh do grow up you silly sods, the Constitution is not concerned with trifles, so just eff off”?

  5. Rachel said:

    I am minded of the Bill Hicks’ rejoinder to anti-flag-burners.

    ‘My Daddy DIED for that flag!’
    ‘Really? I bought mine in Wal-Mart’.

    Burning flags, burning Guy Fawkes, whatever…