Flaming passion: Man who satiates people’s flag burning desire

Published: September 28, 2011

Pakistani traders burn an effigy of the US President Barack Obama and flags from the US and Israel during a protest in Multan on September 27, 2011. PHOTO: AFP

RAWALPINDI: 

Syed Mohammed Hussain may be the only shopkeeper who sells his wares knowing full well that they will be immediately burned, stomped upon and desecrated by any means possible. SM, as everyone calls him, owns a stationery shop in Rawalpindi but does a side business in selling flags to political parties. His storeroom has a few Pakistani flags but they are outnumbered by flags of Western countries that SM sells to political parties to burn at protests.

In Pakistan, the flags of the US and Israel tend to be most flammable. But when SM hit upon the idea of selling flags to political parties in 2006, every political party wanted to protest the publication of caricatures of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) in a Danish newspaper but there weren’t any Danish flags to be found.

“I was also very angry about the Danish cartoons but I wouldn’t have gone out on the streets myself. Instead I decided to get Danish flags printed,” says SM. He adds that he had always been a supporter of the Jamaat-e-Islami and so had the contacts to sell them Danish flags. “I charged Rs500 per flag so I was able to make a nice profit out of it.” He adds, “Word spread and soon I was getting more orders for Danish flags than I could get printed.”

Since then, SM has kept up a steady business in flag-selling, with the US and Israel flags being his most consistent sellers. For bulk orders of 100 flags or more he offers a discounted rate of Rs300 per flag.

A canny businessman, SM has no regrets that this product will soon end up being an ash-heap. “The demand is there and if I don’t sell them, someone else will.” He says, only half-jokingly, that he is considering branching out into effigies of international political leaders. “I’m sure that even now people would love to burn a George W Bush effigy.”

SM says that he has no intention of giving up his stationery show. “Selling flags is good for pocket money but it won’t feed my family.”

And has SM ever burned a flag himself? “No,” he replies resoundingly, “I protest against the US by casting my vote in every election.”

For now, SM is content mass producing flags of countries that annoy Pakistan in any way. With a wink and a nod, he says, “Be sure to mention that I don’t know if these flags are being burned. I’m just an ordinary shopkeeper.”

Published in The Express Tribune, September 28th, 2011.

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Reader Comments (7)

  • Ch Allah Daad
    Sep 28, 2011 - 7:59AM

    Burning of an individual’s effigy is not a big deal, but burning a country’s flag is criminal and insulting. These animals who burn other countries national flags do not care these things. Not all Americans are bad but every American, good or bad love their national flag. I salute their tolerance.

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  • Mirza
    Sep 28, 2011 - 9:45AM

    @Ch Allah Daad:
    I agree with you. In addition, the US law allows burning of even US flag as a sign of protest and freedom of expression. People may not like it but it is not illegal act in the US.
    Thanks and regards,
    Mirza

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  • John B
    Sep 28, 2011 - 9:54AM

    Burn the flag, it is your money, your street and it is your right. No one cares. Make sure that these flags are made in Pakistan, so that the textile merchant, screen printers, dye manufacturers, and lithographers are employed.

    Where would they all go, if these protests stop? Although they make these flags cheaper in China, if you want to increase your profit margin!

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  • AH
    Sep 28, 2011 - 10:17AM

    @John B:
    JB……………………….. too much free time in Garland , TX?
    Remember the 4th of july flags? They are made in China so thank you for
    support our industry as well. There was talk of US made flags but turns out
    half the population will be without the flags if that happened. You cannot
    make that stuff up, really.

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  • Sep 28, 2011 - 10:26AM

    ‘I was also very angry about the Danish cartoons but I wouldn’t have gone out on the streets myself’

    A true businessman :) Making a profit wherever the opportunity – Recommend

  • malik
    Sep 28, 2011 - 11:02AM

    The article best describes our love-hate relationship with the US.

    Recommend

  • Shayan
    Sep 28, 2011 - 4:34PM

    @Ch Allah Daad:
    i salute SMs entrepreneurial spirit

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