Where protesters get those Danish flags.

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Feb. 9 2006 6:49 PM

Where Do Muslim Protesters Get Their Danish Flags?

They can't all be from the PLO Flag Shop.

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A Palestinian burns a Danish flag in Bethlehem. Click image to expand.
A Palestinian burns a Danish flag in Bethlehem

Demonstrators continued to burn Danish flags this week, in response to a Danish newspaper's publication of several cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed. News reports have described angry Muslims burning the red-and-white flags in Afghanistan, Bahrain, Bosnia, Gaza, Iraq, Kashmir, Lebanon, Nigeria, Syria, and elsewhere. Where do protesters get their Danish flags?

Daniel Engber Daniel Engber

Daniel Engber is a columnist for Slate

They buy them at the flag store or make them from scratch. Some columnists and bloggers have cited the seemingly endless supply of Danish flags as evidence of premeditated government support for the protests. In fact, it's not that hard to obtain Danish flags in the Muslim world.

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First, many of the protesters are using handmade flags. (Improvisation is nothing new: Demonstrators in the Middle East often set fire to crude painted or drawn versions of the U.S. and Israeli flags.) The Danish flag happens to be especially easy to mock up on the fly—it's just a white cross on a red background. The smoldering flag in this picture, for example, appears to have been created by sewing two strips of white fabric onto a larger piece of red. (Notice the discontinuous puckering along the seams.) The flag also seems to be wrapped around a wooden pole, where it might be nailed or stapled in place. A professionally produced flag would likely have grommet holes sewn into the fabric.

Not all the homemade flags come out quite right. In some cases, protesters are using red banners with a centered—instead of an offset—cross. This makes them flags of Savoy, not Denmark. Other protesters have been seen burning what are apparently Swiss flags. (The Swiss use a smaller, fatter cross on a red background.)

Doing it yourself may save you some money, but you can also try to grab a Danish flag at your local flag store. Reuters interviewed a shopkeeper in Gaza who stocked his PLO Flag Shop with 100 Danish and Norwegian flags when he heard about the cartoons. He gets his flags from Taiwan and charges $11 for each. Flag manufacturers in China and Thailand might also be able to provide Danish flags on short order.

A determined protester with an Internet connection could even order a Danish flag from an American manufacturer. As an experiment, the Explainer typed up an order for five high-quality Danish flags to be shipped from an American supplier to an address in Damascus. Total cost: $163.

American flag dealers have, over the years, provided some fuel for protests at home. Back in 1979, the Associated Press learned about a sudden increase in the sales of Iranian flags; in 1991 the Chicago Tribune reported a similar run on the Iraqi stars-and-stripes.

Got a question about today's news? Ask the Explainer.

Explainer thanks Thomas J. D'Amico of American Flags Express.

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