by Tim Marshall
courtesy of Auntie’s Bookstore, proudly Indie since 1978
Disclaimer: My views are NOT those of my employer. My employer has nothing to do with my blog.
Even though this book isn’t about one specific country, it’s a great one to have on the blog. I learned more about the history of some countries through their flags than I did in reading history books about that country!
The first chapter deals with The Stars and Stripes. I’m a little bored with America right now (my home patch) so I skipped it. I mean, your own patch is always the least interesting, right? Or you know the most about?
The second chapter is called The Union and The Jack. OK, fellow Anglophiles, let’s dig in! Righty-ho, like all countries, Great Britain has had many flags before settling on THE ONE. Kind of like dating, really. The flag that we all know and see now at Royal Weddings and flying proudly at Buck House etc. used to be called The Union Flag.
It represents the union of Scotland and England, although with Brexit who knows how long that will last. (The Scottish didn’t vote for it. Could Scot-exit be next?) Anyway, when the Royal Navy started flying the flag, it hung from a pole on the ships called “a jack”. And that is why it is now called the Union Jack. (Not represented: the Welsh dragon, or any Cornish or Irish symbol.)
Oh yes, the Irish, those feisty buggers. (Shout out to Great-Grandpa here.) The orange, white, and green tricolor represents the two fighting factions and the white is the hope for peace and the desire to keep them apart. My book group just learned about an Irish rebel who helped design the flag and fomented revolution on 3 continents before becoming the Governor of Montana. The Immortal Irishman was a great read!
The Colors of Arabia
“White are our acts, black our battles, green our fields, and red our swords.” –Safi al-Din al-Hili (1278-1349)
I play this game on www.freerice.com. It’s a trivia game where you identify world flags. This chapter gave me a lot of hints! (Free Rice, btw, is run by the United Nations. It isn’t a scam. It is a free way YOU can help hungry people today. Advertising pays for your donations of rice. I checked it out when I worked at the BBB and it is legitimate and cool as hell.)
What is an Arab?
So…the Arabs. My one big complaint with this book is that it assumes a level of knowledge I didn’t have. If you live in the Middle East, wear a head scarf, or are Muslim or all three, to me, you are an Arab. Well, this chapter starts by talking about the pan-Arab movement (this worked as well as the pan-Asian movement, ie; not at all…ditto the pan-Balkans). The pan-Arab movement started during WWI, to overthrow Turkish rule. The Ottomans. WAIT A MINUTE, the Turks aren’t Arabs? No.
And–big shocker here–the Iranians aren’t either! Professor Google told me that the Turkish people are descended from the Mongols, and, it is thought, the Chinese. People in Iran speak Persian, which is distinct from Arabic. So which countries/peoples can be described as Arabic? (In the way that the U.S. is a “Christian country” but has Jewish people, Buddhists, secular people, Muslims, Hindus, etc. living in it.)
- Saudi Arabia
- The United Arab Emirates
Easy, because they have Arab in their names. Come to find out: 22 countries in the Middle East and North Africa could be described as Arabic, according to this book, and they have a combined population of more than 300 million people. “Within this region are many different ethnic, religious and linguistic communities, including Kurds, Berbers, Druze and Chaldeans, but the two dominating factors are language and religion.”
Take a moment, close your eyes, and try to name some Arab countries, would you? OK, now here they are:
Wikipedia says that there are 20 Arab nations (They don’t count Palestine) and here they are by population. Look at the tiny flags! A British vexillologist (flag specialist) told the author that if you can’t reduce your flag to the size of a postage stamp and have it be recognizable, you have a crappy design.
|1||Egypt||90,045,700||22.73||2.29||1,981,000||31||94,633,000||January 17, 2018||Official population clock|
|2||Algeria||40,100,000||10.25||2.07||808,000||34||40,400,000||January 1, 2016||Official estimate|
|5||Morocco||33,680,000||8.65||1.24||412,000||56||33,337,529||September 1, 2014||Preliminary 2014 census result|
|6||Saudi Arabia||31,521,000||8.10||2.44||751,000||29||31,521,418||2015||Official estimate|
|7||Yemen||26,745,000||6.87||2.95||766,000||24||24,527,000||July 1, 2012||Official estimate|
|8||Syria||23,270,000||5.98||2.45||557,000||29||21,377,000||December 31, 2011||Official estimate|
|9||Somalia||14,372,000||3.95||1.54||166,000||45||12,316,895||July 29, 2016|
|10||Tunisia||11,118,000||2.86||1.04||114,000||67||10,982,754||April 23, 2014||Preliminary 2014 census result|
|11||United Arab Emirates||9,500,000||2.76||2.75||183,000||26||9,500,000||2015||Official Census 2015|
|12||Jordan||8,933,000||2.29||1.57||138,000||45||9,531,712||November 30, 2015||Official Census 2015|
|13||Libya||6,278,000||0.54||1.13||70,000||62||5,298,152||April 15, 2006||2006 census result|
|15||Lebanon||4,288,000||1.10||1.78||75,000||39||4,965,846||December 31, 2013||Official estimate[permanent dead link]|
|16||Oman||4,181,000||1.07||5.13||204,000||14||4,352,000||January 17, 2018||Official population clock|
|17||Kuwait||4,161,000||1.07||3.00||121,000||23||4,183,658||June 30, 2015||Official estimate|
|19||Qatar||2,113,000||0.54||4.29||87,000||16||2,412,483||October 31, 2015||Monthly official estimate|
A few notes:
- Syria (is where the Arabs are thought to have originated)
- Iraq (Hmmm…may explain the Iran-Iraq wars. The former is not Arab and speaks Persian, the latter is Arab and speaks Arabic.
- “the would-be nation state of Palestine” is listed in the book as an Arab nation.
After reading this book, you’ll not only ace Free Rice, but you’ll be great at trivia games in the pub or on board game night. I learned that:
- Nepal is the only country to have a flag that isn’t rectangular
- Mozambique is the only country to have a flag with an AK-47 on it, somewhat analogous to an early US flag with a rattlesnake and the words “Don’t Tread on Me”
- In a more peaceful stance, that wheel in the middle of the Indian tricolor represents the Circle of Life and the concept of Re-incarnation
- Ignoring or dishonoring a white flag of truce is considered a war crime, and
- The Jolly Roger that we know today as a pirate flag was originally flown by the Knights Templar. Take that, Johnny Depp!
Carping and Criticism
I read an Advanced Reader Copy of this book that I got from Auntie’s, so I don’t know how the final edition will be. But the ARC is all in black and white. I would have appreciated COLOR pictures of the flags described. Particularly in the Union Jack chapter, where he says that many Brits can’t tell when their flag is upside down, and apparently other countries have accidentally flown it this way, offending those who noticed. That Union Jack in the top of my blog post? Yeah. It’s upside down. But these criticisms are minor.
I highly recommend this book. Fascinating stuff. I focused on Arabia, but the chapters on Latin America, Asia, and everywhere else are just as thrilling.
RATING: Five Vexillologists at a Geography Convention!
PS–One more flag, the Snow Lion Flag. How could I resist?