"Let nothing human be alien to me"- Terence

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Odd and End

Something I've been meaning to post for nearly a week, and now I have a few minutes.

I wrote a while ago about the AQAP video that ABC managed to get their hands on, at one point saying, "They are shooting, charmingly, at make-shift flags of Israel, England, and the United Nations (pretty much just a piece of cloth with "UN" written on it)."

Val, a reader from the UK, wrote me with a correction and an interesting insight.

In fact, in the video, it was a Union Jack (not an English flag) which comprises the separate countries of England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland.

An English flag would have been a white rectangle with a red cross on it – ie, the central part of the Union Jack. I’m prepared to bet no-one in Yemen has ever seen one, or would know what it meant! Sadly, it’s the great Crusader flag – which if any Yemenis or other Arabs recognised would be rightly very offensive to them.

It strikes me that it’s just this kind of elementary mistake which can cause so many problems in a country like Yemen where tribal affiliations are so significant. I’m left thinking ‘How on earth could he have thought that was an English flag?’ and probably they’re thinking half the time ‘How on earth are they thinking that’s the relationship between our tribes?’

It just ‘flags’ up (excuse the dreadful pun) how very important a proper historical context is.

As I explained, there is a chance that I made the mistake intentionally, because as an old Irish patriot I refuse to recognize that symbol of Cromwellian oppression.   But since that isn't true, it is more likely I dashed off something stupid.

Val is very right though- there is so much laziness and assumption in relations between countries, and especially in the pundit class.   This is annoying, but it is also dangerous.  Words mean something, and language is the mother of action.   I know this example is small, and more evidence of my personal failing than any trans-Atlantic rift (though I bet many in America aren't sure of the exact relationship between England/Great Britain.  I've got it, but the Netherlands/Dutch thing still makes gives me a headache.)  When you reflect on something like that, then add innumerable liguistic, cultural and historical hurdles, and it is easy to see why so many are relationships are- in the words of Berlin- a major clusterfuck.

(Incidentally, I was mildly surprised that "Cromwellian" didn't prompt a little red spell-check line.  I suppose you know you've got it made when your name is a recognized adjective.  I doubt O'Neill-esque will make it into the lexicon, unless they ever need a go-to description for a shambolic wastrel.) 

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