Flag or Rag


by Rev. Dr. Marcus Lashley

One of the most easily recognisable and identifiable symbols of nationhood and by extension our sovereignty is the National Flag of Barbados. Further, words of our National Pledge invite and enjoins us to pledge our allegiance to it.

But the pledge also places an obligation squarely upon the shoulders of each citizen to go beyond allegiance to being willing, if called upon to defend this symbol of nationhood.

While signs point away from themselves to a “greater other”, symbols on the other hand, both point to the other and share in that to which they point, and hence are accorded greater import. Such is the intrinsic nature of a national flag of which ours flutters proudly in a sea of over two hundred others.

With such a sense of importance and inviolability, those responsible for protocol, have devised a comprehensive set of rules governing the use, display and disposal of our flag. Last year in the electronic media, we were repeatedly reminded of some of these rules. Those in the military and to some extent, para-military organisations, are drilled in procedures for hoisting, lowering, “breaking”, folding and “trooping” the national flag.

In ancient times, flags and insignia were used as rallying points for troops. To have one’s flag captured by opposing forces was the highest form of military disgrace. No wonder, then, that men defended the “colours” of their regiment or country with their lives and many willingly left this world in a blaze of glory protecting their flag from desecration and dishonour.

While freedom of religion protects members of fundamentalist minority sects in our Christian community from failing to acknowledge the primacy of our flag; and while the right to act in this way conflicts with national pride, the right must nonetheless be protected. However, are we sending a consistent message to our youth when we dishonour the flag for 11 months and ask them to honour it in the 12th?

Since we live in the age of technology and are removed from the days of conventional warfare, the question of the relevance of national flags screams for reflection. Are flags essential and relevant in a fluid age where many other symbols are being re-examined, and everything seem to be in a state of indeterminate flux?

One of the many disturbing features of our time is the abuse of this prime symbol of national distinctiveness. It is now commonplace to see small flags being used as scarves, car head-rest covers, bandannas and handkerchiefs. While the intention might be perceived as demonstrating patriotism, it does not diminish the abuse nor the disrespect being shown to our flag.

It is not difficult to follow this decline in respect especially as we become influenced by dominant external cultures. In the past three Olympic games, victorious athletes draped themselves in their national flag as they acknowledged the adulation of spectators. If imitation is truly the greatest form of flattery, we have become perfect imitators, even if this is in copying the bad habits of others.

In this Olympic year, in which we also celebrate the 33rd anniversary of the founding of the Barbados Defence Force, has our flag become noting more than a rag?

It is ironic, mind-boggling and asinine, that it is possible for any citizen to walk down Broad Street, clearly dishonouring our flag and law enforcement officials would do absolutely nothing. However, if one were to walk that same most public of streets in “camouflage” clothes or military fatigue, without just cause, one would be running the serious risk of being arrested. Which is of greater importance, the flag or a rag?

* Marcus Lashley is a priest and Clinical Psychologist

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