Anti-Islam film protests bring boom for Pakistan flag makers

Weeks of protests have killed more than 20 people and caused serious damage, but for flag makers business is booming.

Afp October 03, 2012

RAWALPINDI: As Pakistan's religious parties railed against a US-made anti-Islam film, Naveed Haider's print works went into overdrive, running off hundreds of US flags for angry protesters to burn at demonstrations.

Weeks of protests in Pakistan over the crudely made "Innocence of Muslims" have killed more than 20 people and caused serious damage to major cities, but for Haider business is booming.

When the mobilisation against the US film began, "I knew the tills would start ringing", said the manager at Panaflex Printers, housed in a dilapidated building in Rawalpindi.

"Whenever we have these demonstrations, I make 10 times as much money as normal," he told AFP in a tiny room that stank of ink, as two huge rollers spat out Stars and Stripes.

Sold for between 120 and 1,500 rupees ($1.25 to $16) depending on size and quality, the flags have been snapped up for demonstrations against the film in recent weeks, and Haider watched in delight as his products went up in smoke day after day on the TV news.

The boom in the flag market has accompanied a surge in anti-American feeling in Pakistan, which has been battered and bruised by Taliban violence and US drone strikes since joining Washington's "war on terror" in late 2001.

So much so that the United States has replaced traditional rival India as enemy number one in public opinion - at least according to the flag-sellers.

"It's been a long time since I sold an Indian flag," said shopkeeper Nadeem Mahmood Shah as people piled into his Rawalpindi store to stock up on American flags, as a few tattered old samples fluttered outside.

In Shah's shop 1,500 rupees will get you a three-square-metre Stars and Stripes in cloth, with a guarantee it will catch light with no problems - a key concern for protesters, particularly with TV cameras around.

For Asim, a waiter in a seafood restaurant, burning the US flag has become a vital part of any protest. He has set four alight in a month.

"It brings me such pleasure," said the rangy 22-year-old. "It's not a crime, but a means of expression like any other."

Pakistan experienced the worst of the violence when nationwide rallies mobilised more than 45,000 in September. At least 21 people were killed and 229 wounded, mainly in clashes with police.

Last month, Railways Minister Ghulam Ahmed Bilour placed a $100,000 bounty on the head of the filmmaker, calling on the Taliban and al Qaeda to join the hunt and help accomplish the "noble deed".

Most young flag-burners are attached to political or religious groups.

Jamaat-e-Islami, one of the country's largest religious parties, actually provides its members with American and Israeli flags "so they can voice their anger", explained Sajjad Abbas, a party official in Islamabad.

"We have arrangements with printers and we supply them with the cloth," he said.

A well-drilled setup like this enables political groups to make their statement as cheaply as possible and to quickly exploit even the smallest spike in tension with the United States.

Jamaatud Dawa, blacklisted by the United Nations and the United States as a front for terror group Lashkar-e-Taiba, says it has a "special team" dedicated to making US and Israeli flags for demonstrations.

"They end up costing us 50-60 rupees each," said Asif Khurshid, one of the group's officials in Islamabad.

The Majlis-e-Wahadatul Muslimeen, a Shia Muslim party active in recent protests, utilises its student wing to organise the flags with partner printers.

"We turn out 500 an hour," boasted Mazhar Shigri, group spokesman in Lahore.

The group's "flag cell" is now preparing a major publicity stunt: a US flag 500 metres long and 60 wide, which will be laid out in October in a busy street, for the ultimate Muslim insult of being trodden under foot.

Shigri revels in the plan: "All the cars and pedestrians can defile it as they pass over."



jack | 9 years ago | Reply

Oh I agree, yes I agree that what the Muslims of Pakistan are doing is wrong... very wrong indeed. I was raised with the stories of the Holy Prophet in Pakistan itself. I was taught the story of the Holy Prophet's journey to Taif, the story of the lady who always used to throw trash on him and the story of the Occupation of Makkah in which the majority of those that were not guaranteed amnesty were still forgiven (including the woman who feasted on the Holy Prophet's uncle's liver after having him killed by her slave). Rather than cursing them, the Holy Prophet forgave the people of Taif and wished for their progeny to become Muslims; he forgave the woman who threw rubbish on him and cleaned her house when she got sick; and he forgave many of those whom were not granted amnesty during the Occupation of Makkah. Which is why I know what my brethren are doing is extremely wrong. But at the same time it is understandable. People of hotter climates are more irritable especially during the summer/early autumn, plus they have been tormented by loadsheddings, terrorist attacks, price inflation, riots and so much more. Not to mention their longtime ally the US has been continuously stabbing them in the back and lunching unmanned strikes; violating their territory and killing innocent people along with the guilty. Considering all this, what they (the Pakistanis) are doing is wrong, but understandable. The rest is something Pakistan must handle themselves, but I implore the people of the US. If you really are a democracy then please help us by stopping your leaders before something happens that cannot be taken back. Aren't we your friends? There are petitions taking place to end the drone strikes in Pakistan. Please, every little bit helps.

intiqam | 9 years ago | Reply

@jack: You miss the point in the story: Nobody is condoning what the filmmaker did. He should not have made the film, we all agree on that. But the reaction, particularly in Pakistan, is totally out of place and not in proportion to the provocation. Of course, the riots and the carnage were incited by mullahs and certain vested interests. By engaging in killing innocent people, destroying property and places of worship of the minorities (temples and churches were torched or destroyed), you are actually proving what the film maker was trying to say: that the followers of Islam are perverted and violent thugs who engage in violence for their personal ends or serve the extremist hate-mongering mullahs, even though Islam is a peaceful religion and strictly forbids killing of innocent people (believers and non-believers). Do you agree, Sir?

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