Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Flag Burning

The burning of the national flag, on the steps of Parliament House, by a group of Aboriginal people has had a mixed response amongst the community. It prompted a number of 'friends' of mine on Facebook to post the following status on their pages:

"From a friend, I couldnt resist reposting...

I wasn't going to comment on this, but it's burning me up... now to the indigenous people of Australia, I understand how you feel. I know why the tent embassy is there, and know about your wishes for a Sovereign Treaty. I am sure the vast majority of indi...genous Australians that I know will agree with what I am about to say, but If I offend you, you may as well delete me, because I am far from finished.

The Australian Government has publicly acknowledged your rights to the land. They said sorry, and you accepted that apology. Tony Abbott was right. It's time to move on. Your wishes for a Sovereign Treaty will not be granted. They are all based on MONEY. You want all the rights to all the land that will make you money. The government bends over backwards, providing indigenous Australians additional welfare, funding, housing etc etc etc. This money comes from taxes, provided by working Australians, and big business, most of whom use that land you want to be paid for, so you can sit on your ass and do nothing. It's just not going to happen.

We cannot change the past, and for the past, we have apologised, but we can change the future, and promote racial understanding. What a small group of indigenous Australians did on Australia day was outrageous. To burn the flag on the steps of parliament was an act of desecration, and probably the most racially offensive and unpatriotic act I have ever seen in this country. You have put racial understanding back 100 years in this country, and only you are responsible for the retaliation this will bring from an outraged country. Not to mention how you treated the Prime Minister, despite her party being responsible for tipping off your demonstration.

While it might not mean much to some people in this country, that flag represents the very soul of who I am, and what I believe in. I wear that flag on my uniform every day. I fly that flag when I go overseas to defend this country's freedom. I have draped that flag over a mates coffin, and presented that flag to the mourning family of a fallen comrade. You people are not Australian, and if I am ever see someone burning my flag, and I am close enough, I will stomp your guts into the ground. If you are not prepared to accept this country the way it is, accept our apologies for something the current generation was not responsible for, and embrace a multicultural society, one which Australia was built on 200 years ago, then pack your bags, and go find another country where you can take handouts, complain you are hard done by, and burn their flag. Because you are not welcome here while I am defending you rights, and paying taxes to support your welfare. GTF OUT"

My personal reaction to the footage that was plastered across every news channel that evening was in a word, ferocious. I cannot help but find myself agreeing, at least in part, with the comments that circulated around on FB, my feelings joining a significant number of Defence members who were utterly outraged by the actions that were taken. I know, had I been anywhere near those individuals when they did that, I would have found it difficult not to lash out in response. The burning of my flag, in these circumstances, felt like a violation of an important aspect of my personality.

Watching the footage now, I am reminded of the epic speech Michael Douglas' character gives in one of my favorite RomCom's "The American President":

"You want to claim this land as the land of the free, then the symbol of your country cannot just be a flag, the symbol also has to be one of its citizens exercising his right to burn that flag in protest." Michael Douglas - The American President.

I understand the logic behind such a statement. I agree that freedom of speech should not be restricted to words alone and exclude the burning of a flag in protest. I agree that such an action should not be criminalized, as is suggested at the end of the short video clip, and that criminalizing it would be counter productive and largely, ineffective. But, the circumstances when I would consider such an act of protest in any way appropriate or acceptable are at best, extremely limited. We do not live in an apartheid state. Indigenous Australian's are not treated like slaves, are not subjected to the conditions of slavery and do not have to fight for their very freedom. Certainly, I will acknowledge that in a number of ways the indigenous community remains underprivileged or disadvantaged in our society, but significant progress has been made in rectifying the wrongs of the past and to turn around and burn the nation's flag - a flag that is for ALL Australians (Indigenous and non-indigenous alike) because your continued press for sovereignty are being thwarted, and because a politician had the temerity to suggest that the Tent Embassy, whilst serving a purpose 40 years ago, was no longer really relevant, is disgraceful. To spit on that flag as you burn it, is repugnant. 

I, like those I serve with, wear that flag on my uniform. I have saluted coffins draped in it as soldiers who fought and died for the very freedoms those flag burners enjoy were returned home. When you burn and spit on my flag, because it is something you have always wanted to do ever since your father did, while holding your other hand out for more government benefits and assistance, you spit in the face of the very constitutional rights that allow you the freedom you enjoy. When you behave in such a way, you better pray there isn't someone like me standing behind you lest you find yourself being tossed about on the ground, putting out the very fire you chose to start.

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