In Germany, immigrants defend the country’s flag while left-wing Germans tear it down:
With Germany celebrating as its football team advances through the World Cup, the flag is flying everywhere in the country. But as one German of Lebanese descent has found out, not everyone in the country is a fan of the patriotic display. His giant German flag keeps getting torn down — apparently by left-wing activists.
He will not stand for any ridicule. “I will defend the German flag,” says Ibrahim Bassal resolutely, hitting the glass counter three times to make his point. Over the past few days he has been through a lot and what he has experienced has only strengthened his resolve. “I won’t let anyone get at it,” he adds.
My initial reaction to this story was to assume it fit into the typical good guys vs. bad guys narrative: Mr. Bassal (the country-loving patriot) against the vandalizing activists flag (unpatriotic jerks). While I still assume that Bassal is the good guy and the flag-stealing lefties are jerks (and criminals), I think a case can be made that both sides are expressing a form of patriotism.
Although the current flag only dates back to 1959 and has no association with National Socialism, many Germans still have ambiguous feelings about their flag (and flags in general). The claim in the first paragraph that “the flag is flying everywhere in the country” is a bit misleading. As Der Spiegel noted in 2006, the German flag has been adopted as the “ultimate party accessory during the World Cup” and has “been resurrected and reclaimed as a positive symbol of footballing fervour.” Displaying the German flag has become akin to wearing the colors of your favorite sports team rather than as a sign of patriotic fervor.
That is likely why Bassal’s flag has been targeted: He displays it as a symbol of his patriotic feelings for his home country. As the story notes: “For Bassal, a German with Lebanese roots, the flag is a symbol of cultural integration. ‘ We live in Germany and we also belong to Germany, he explains.”
The flag-stealers would likely agree (for the most part) that they too “live and belong” to Germany. For them, though, the flag-waving brings to mind visions of Germany’s tendency to nationalism—an ideology that led to catastrophic consequences not only for their country but for the entire world.
If their purpose is to embrace patriotism without excusing the nationalist past, I can empathize. Many Southerners in America are faced with the same concern. Although I love the South, some neo-Conservative nationalists consider me an unpatriotic Southerner because I oppose public displays of the Battle Flag. Their love of place leads them to embrace a form of patriotism that reveres their lost “heritage” and its symbols; my love of place leads me to embrace a form of patriotism that disdains that same legacy.
There is a fine line being patriotism and nationalism, though some Germans fail to see any distinction at all. There may be times, though, when their excess caution—which is not completely unwarranted—may itself be a form of patriotic display. Some people display their country’s flag to express a love of their homeland. That is noble and worthy sentiment. Some people oppose displays of their country’s flag for exactly the same reason. That is a noble sentiment too.
(Note: I should add that my argument may not apply the particular flag-stealing jerks in this situation. They could be cosmopolitans that disdain patriotism as much as they do nationalism.)