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Flag burning isn't civil disobedience.

In his article "Lessons from the U.S. War on Iraq" (July/August 2003 issue of the Humanist), Greg Shafer makes several excellent points.

Many Bush administration policies do indeed advocate the condemnation of voices of opposition as voices of the unpatriotic. In addition, Shafer is very accurate in his perception that the Patriot Act has placed new restraints on the freedom that U.S. citizens have been guaranteed.

I especially enjoyed Shafer's commentary regarding democracy, in which he states, "Democracy ... is never a stable and fixed entity.... It is the product of tenacious struggle and unremitting pursuit." This is the result of some citizenry movements that have operated within the parameters of law in order to correct injustices. Others have had to incorporate civil disobedience, accepting the fact that by transgressing an improper law or societal attitude legal punishment may result.

However, Shafer then endorses flag burning as a legitimate means to correct injustices. I disagree. A flag is a symbol and the U.S. flag represents the sum total of all laws and actions--from the inception of the U.S. Constitution to its most current amendment and legal interpretations.

In normal acts of civil disobedience, the actor knowingly accepts the personal suffering and legal punishment resultant from unlawful disobedience. When one burns the flag, however, the act of civil obedience extends beyond the boundaries of an endeavor to change an existing state attitude. Such an action not only attempts to seek redress but also rejects the total system upon which that individual and society--represented symbolically by the flag--function peacefully with reciprocal respect and tolerance.

The views of such leaders as Henry David Thoreau, Martin Luther King Jr. and Mohandas Gandhi are incompatible with those of a flag-burning demonstrator. These leaders certainly advocated civil disobedience--but a civil disobedience coupled with the acceptance of ensuing punishment by the state. In contrast, flag burners, by definition, renounce through their action all aspects of the social contract in which the civil disobedient activist resides.

One can applaud the rights of flag burners only if they themselves don't identify themselves as citizens of the state but, rather, as citizens of the world, of humankind. These people have attained what may be considered the highest level of abstraction regarding personal identification, moving from the family to the community to the nation to humanity and ultimately to all life forms--this highest level of abstraction in Albert Schweitzer's Reverence for Life.

Unfortunately, Shafer's article doesn't articulate in greater detail the issue of flag burning but merely voices acceptance of such an act as "an action ... that should be protected and inspired since it symbolizes expressions and active engagement in search for justice." In my opinion, the issue of flag burning requires greater in-depth analysis coupled with a clear and appropriate definition of terms.

William Laubner, Jr.

Texarkana, AR
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Title Annotation:letters to the editor
Author:Laubner, William, Jr.
Publication:The Humanist
Date:Nov 1, 2003
Words:472
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