ONLINE ONLY: Put out More Flags

Northern Europeans are tying themselves in knots about patriotism and identity politics

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Dutch school officials order two boys to remove Dutch flags from their backpacks because Moroccan students might find them “provocative”. A Swedish high school sends two girls home for having tiny Swedish flags on their sweaters; another bans national team shirts from class photos lest the flags on the shirts seem “xenophobic”. In England, prison officers are directed to stop wearing English flag pins – and a black dustman is instructed to shed a bandanna featuring St. George’s cross – for fear Muslims will cry “racist” Call it vexillophobia (vexillum, of course, being Latin for “flag”).

Militant Muslim leaders have exploited it, but they didn’t create it: for that, blame multiculturalism for so effectively training Westerners to trash not only their own freedoms but the totems thereof. Since 9/11 the poster girl for this ailment has been Nation columnist Katha Pollitt, who after that atrocity famously forbade her daughter to fly Old Glory from the window of their flat near the World Trade Center. “The flag,” she preached as the ruins were still smouldering, “stands for jingoism and vengeance and war”.

Such vigorous vexillophobia, of course, is a boon to the ‘soft jihadists’ – those who seek to bring down civilization not with planes or bombs but with gentle words about “understanding” and “respect”. (The kind of “respect,” for example, that led U.K. pension authorities to embrace Muslim polygamy.)

You might expect a country like Norway to be Ground Zero for vexillophobia. Its leaders, after all, are world-class multiculturalists; polls confirm that no country has been more bamboozled by the U.N.’s B.S. Soft jihad has already enjoyed major triumphs here: in 2005, criticism of religion was criminalized; in 2006 government officials, cowed by radical imams, bullied a small newspaper into apologizing for reprinting the Danish cartoons. In a country where the media love analyzing piddling issues to death, these massive betrayals of democratic principle were quickly dropped down the memory hole.

But while their leaders have betrayed freedom, ordinary Norwegians haven’t yet been persuaded to be ashamed of their flag. Far from it. Every May 17, when they commemorate the signing of their 1814 Constitution, Oslo’s streets are a blizzard of red, white, and blue. In a ritual dating back to 1870, tens of thousands of schoolchildren, many in traditional garb, march to the royal palace, each waving a flag and lowering it respectfully as they pass the king on his balcony.

Years ago, when I first came here, I was appalled by this spectacle of subservience: why should free people bring up their brats to be deferential to royalty? (I’m American.) Yet I’ve since come to see the Children’s Parade as a welcome sign that in at least one corner of Western Europe, kids are being raised to love their country and appreciate their freedom. Recalling FDR’s 1942 “Look to Norway” speech (“if there is anyone who doubts the democratic will to win…let him look to Norway”), I reflect that maybe, when push comes to shove, Norwegians won’t give in.

This year, the May 17 traditions faced a challenge. In March, the Norwegian Immigrant Forum proposed that kids with foreign backgrounds be allowed to carry their ancestral homelands’ flags in the Children’s Parade. “We want to signal that Norway has become a multicultural society,” explained the group’s head, Athar Ali; other countries’ flags, he said, would render the day “inclusive”. In response, the official May 17 committee ruled that only Norwegian, Sami, and UN flags would be allowed – only to be overruled by Oslo mayor Fabian Stang, who declared all flags welcome.

A fierce debate ensued. Most Norwegians opposed Mayor Stang; elite types supported him – many arguing, perversely, that permitting other flags would aid integration. Noting that 35 percent of Oslo schoolchildren belong to ethnic minorities (the figure is actually higher), journalist Guri Hjeltnes said it would be a shame if they “couldn’t leave their mark” on May 17 by waving foreign flags. She compared the committee’s ruling to the ban on Norwegian flags during the Nazi occupation: “If you see or hear anyone on May 17 who hurls abuse at a child with another flag, another costume,” she urged (as if the problems besetting Norway these days involved Norwegians attacking foreigners), “form a circle around the child and shout: ‘hip hurrah!'”

Yes, bring on the Pakistani, Moroccan, and Turkish flags – to name some of the nations most heavily represented in Oslo’s immigrant ranks. Why not? After all, many immigrant families in Oslo already send money to these lands, fetch spouses from them, build second homes in them. Many ship their kids to madrassas there so they can ‘learn Islamic values’ (and unlearn Norwegian ones). And Norway’s government and media give every bit of it a big thumbs-up. So why not foreign flags, too? And so what if the flags most likely to pop up in an “inclusive” parade are those of countries where mobs torched Norwegian flags during the cartoon crisis – in some cases with the tacit approval of those countries’ governments?

For all the rage over the Immigrant Forum’s proposal, the main fact went virtually unspoken – namely, that this was all just one more encounter with soft jihad. Simply by making its proposal, the Immigrant Forum had moved the bar, shifted the terms of debate, nudged Norway a step closer to the day when the whole May 17 display will be ruled insensitive, racist, fascistic, destructive of multicultural values.