Slate's Explainer: Finding Danish Flags to Burn

A Danish newspaper recently republished editorial cartoons that depict the Prophet Mohammed — a serious offense in the Islamic religion, which has strong prohibitions against idolatry. The cartoons set off protests against Denmark and the Western world in many Islamic nations, and burning the Danish flag is a central part of the protests. But just where do Muslim protestors get their Danish flags?

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

BRAND: For the last week or so we've seen angry Muslim demonstrators burning Danish flags. They're protesting editorial cartoons that depicted the Prophet Mohammad published in a Danish newspaper.

As usual, the Explainer Team at the online magazine Slate wondered about a question behind the news. Namely, where do the protestors get their Danish flags? Here with the answer is Slate's Andy Bowers.

Mr. ANDY BOWERS (Senior Editor, Slate Magazine): They buy them at local flag stores or make them from scratch. Some columnists and bloggers have cited the seemingly endless supply of Danish flags, as evidence of premeditated government support for the protest. In fact, it's not that hard to obtain Danish flags in the Muslim world.

First, many of protestors are using homemade flags. The Danish flag happens to be especially easy to mock up on the fly. It's just an offset white cross on a red background. However, not all the homemade flags come out quite right. In some cases protestors have been using red banners with a centered instead of an offset cross. This makes them flags of the French province of Savoy, not Denmark. Other protestors have been seen burning flags with fatter white crosses, which makes them Swiss flags.

Doing it yourself may save you some money, but you can also find Danish flags for sale in the Middle East. Reuters interviewed a shopkeeper in Gaza who stocked his PLO flag shop with 100 Danish and Norwegian flags when he heard about the cartoons. He gets his flags from Taiwan and charges $11 for each.

You can even order Danish flags from an American company over the internet and have them shipped to Damascus. American flag dealers have, over the years, provided some fuel for protests at home. Back in 1979 the Associate Press learned about the sudden increase in the sale of Iranian flags.

BRAND: Andy Bowers is a Slate senior editor. And that Explainer was compiled by Daniel Engber.

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