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Massachusetts town acts with courage -- briefly

An odd thing happened in Stoughton, Massachusetts happened yesterday. A public official acted courageously, taking a stand for principle and respect for fundamental rights against tyranny.

Predictably, it didn't last long.

Town manager Mark Stankiewicz, bothered by the assaults on Denmark over the actions of a single newspaper, decided to make a small gesture with the Danes. So, utterly on his own, he bought two Danish flags and raised one of them on the town's flag pole, beneath the United States flags.

Wonder of wonders, there were protests.

The first cited objection I can respect. A veteran said it was disrespectable to both nations to fly their flags on the same pole. I'm not sure of the etiquette, but I can see the vet's point.

The other objections, though, boil my blood.

The Stoughton No Place for Hate Committee, a local antidiscrimination group, plans to discuss the episode at its meeting tonight because of fears that residents might be hurt or insulted.

''There's always that chance that there will be people who are offended, and we want to guard against that," said Karon Skinner-Catrone, chairperson of the 10-person group, some of whom are town officials.

Ms. Skinner-Catrone, I can see your point. There is no purpose in deliberately insulting and offending people for no reason. But to take no side on an issue as clear-cut as whether or not Denmark is being screwed, and whether we should or should not defend a principle as critical as the one being assaulted in this case, is to submit to tyranny.

Let's look at this issue carefully: several months ago, a single newspaper in Denmark solicited and published a dozen cartoon representations of Mohammed, the founder of Islam. They did this without the knowledge or consent of the Danish government, and rightfully so -- the government has no business in such matters.

Months later, when several Islamic states find themselves in a bit of hot water, the cartoons are brought up again -- along with several extremely crude, extremely offensive forgeries, never published in any newspaper anywhere. Muslims everywhere riot, causing death, destruction, and committing several overt acts of war. Militants call for "apologies" from the Danish government, along with a worldwide ban on blaspheming Islam in this way.

The usual suspects of apologists, sycophants, and reactionary anti-Western forces immediately capitulate. Citing concerns of concerns over "sensitivity" (meaning "we don't want our buildings burned down or blown up, and we don't want to be beheaded"), many media outlets decline to run the offending cartoons, denying their readers the right to decide for themselves just how provocative they were. (This also had the consequence of allowing those fake cartoons -- spread by a group of European Muslim leaders during a tour of the Middle East -- to escape wider exposure as frauds.) Apparently CNN, The New York Times, and other outlets have been studying French history, and boning up on their surrender reflex.

(Another apparent student of French history who came away with the opposite lesson was the publisher of the French magazine Charlie Hebdo (named after Charlie Brown), who not only published the 12 original cartoons, but contributed its own. Kind of gives me hope for France -- something I haven't felt since, well, ever.)

And now we have the Stoughton No Place For Hate Committee, who thinks that honoring the nation of Denmark -- whose king risked his own life to save Jews from the Nazis, who has been a staunch American ally for ages -- is "too risky" and "might offend people."

Perhaps they ought to reconsider their name to the Stoughton No Place For Balls Committee. I have a symbol all ready for them -- they can take that Danish flag they forced taken down, bleach out the red, and proudly wave their white flag for any and all to see.

And Mr. Stankiewicz? You might be too good for Stoughton. Consider yourself invited to move to New Hampshire. We know how to properly appreciate folks like you, and we're always welcoming refugees from Taxachusetts who come to their senses.


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Comments (22)

For many years, 4th of July... (Below threshold)
Valdemarsejr:

For many years, 4th of July has been celebrated in Denmark. A lot of emigrants come home for tis event, and celebrate it in a small national park they bought for this occasion. It has often been reported as beeing the biggest 4th of July outside the US. I just wonder - will it be offensive if we have the Star spangeld banner up for that occasion, or would it be more offensive if we only celebrate with a danish flag - remember we hav a white cross as part of our flag and has had for 800 years. And actually without the cross it represents something else - just wondering

valdemarsejr

Don't attribute to malice a... (Below threshold)

Don't attribute to malice acts that can be explained by stupidity ;-)

The Town Manager was wrong.... (Below threshold)

The Town Manager was wrong. He's (apparently, as best I can tell from the article) an employee of the town and it's not the place of employees to make political statements at their place of work... regardless of whether we agree with the underlying message.

This is similar to what happened a year or so ago when a number of city (which one, I can't remember) drivers wanted to put bumper stickers supportive of the war/troops on their city vehicles and were told it wasn't their place to express political thought on city property.

I think the proper flag eti... (Below threshold)
bcb0225:

I think the proper flag etiquette calls for any foreign national flag to be flown at the same level as the US flag on a different pole. State flags are always flown below the US flag.

Unfortunately, the Vet is c... (Below threshold)
Gizmo:

Unfortunately, the Vet is correct... Per flag protocol, flags from two nations should only be flown on seperate poles at equal heights. Flying them on the same staff implies subservience on the part of the lower flag.

Isnt' ironic that the "no p... (Below threshold)
jj:

Isnt' ironic that the "no place for hate" folks hate everybody who doesn't agree with them?

For those still wondering a... (Below threshold)
NEParis:

For those still wondering about the proper display of the flags, take a look around the Internet and you will find many sites which list the rules.

Example 5 at FlagandBanner.com and Example 11 at USHistory.org both have good depictions of how the US and Danish flags should have been flown.

You can also look at USFlag.org.

Excellent post Jay Tea. Tel... (Below threshold)
tblubird:

Excellent post Jay Tea. Tell Mr. Stankiewicz? that even us dumb ass southern rednecks will invite a Yankee down here with that kind of gumption. I respect that - thanks Mr. Stankiewicz.

Hey Steve Sturm - the town needs to provide the bumper stickers - not the employees. And the town ought to. It is exactly their place to show community support. I don't think the town manager was wrong on intent- only implementation. The flag needed to be on a different pole. The vet is right. So put one up.

The interesting part of thi... (Below threshold)

The interesting part of this whole thing is the timing. The UN Security Council will soon be headed up by the Danes. I think that the Muslims are trying to get their licks in NOW to cow the Danes from doing anything.

It was also of note that Hamaas wasn't upset by these cartoons BEFORE the elections, but now that they are in power LOOK OUT!

Muslims everywhere did not ... (Below threshold)
Aamir Ali:

Muslims everywhere did not riot and destroy as you claim, there were some violent demonstrations in Beirut,Damascus and Afghanistan and peaceful demos elesewhere. You people have deliberately exaggerated the violent ones in order to discredit all the protestors.

It is correct for Muslims to condemn and protest thise filthy and insulting cartoons.

I have to go against the to... (Below threshold)
pennywit:

I have to go against the town manager, and strongly. As Steve Sturm points out, the town manager is a town employee, and he made a unilateral decision with the town's property.

According to Article 3 of the Stoughton town charter, executive (ie decision-making) power rests with the town's elected board of selectmen. Article 4 denotes the duties of the town manager, who is an official, appointed by the selectman. He holds only administrative authority.

To my eye, placing a flag on the town's flagpole, with the express intent of setting out a message in the name of the town falls outside the definition of "administrative duties."

Such messages, I think, are more properly addressed in a resolution passed by the board of selectmen.

--|PW|--

Actually, Jay Tea, I would ... (Below threshold)
pennywit:

Actually, Jay Tea, I would appreciate your response (and the response of others here) to the procedure issue.

--|PW|--

penny, I'mnot sure your dis... (Below threshold)
wavemaker:

penny, I'mnot sure your distinction has a difference. The act of raising a flag is administrative. Making a political statement by raising another flag is an expression of speech. There is nothing (necessarily) in his doing what he did that is "on behalf of the town."

What is not given in the context of what is happening in Stoughton is that it is, presently, a dramatically dysfunctional government, with police officials and executives accused, or charged, with a number of allegations/crimes involving abuse of authority and violation of citizen rights.

Hardly the time\ for the TM to be expressing his own political opinion.

You know it's a real shame.... (Below threshold)
Jess:

You know it's a real shame. The Town Manager decided to show his support for a Democratic nation and the town chastises him for it. What? Are they afraid to show support because some radical Muslims might firebomb the town? That's fine, I can understand being fearful of repercussions but this country was built upon people not giving in to the fear of repercussions. If many people had not had the guts to stand up for what was right, America wouldn't even exist a free and democratic republic. I thought we were a nation who refuses to give into terrorists. I thought the people rallied together to show their support. I guess that's in words only because lately I'm not seeing any actions in that direction.

I heard many websites were desecrated recently, because they showed the Muslim cartoons. Well guess what? I wasn't afraid to post it. Screw the radicals. Let freedom and liberty reign!

:) Jess

Wavemaker:Can you gi... (Below threshold)
pennywit:

Wavemaker:
Can you give me a little more insight on the local politics? The situation does seem rather important to the story.

--|PW|--

A nice gesture to the Danes... (Below threshold)
Tom:

A nice gesture to the Danes.. as long as symbols are used as symbols, not as a reason to destroy.
The cartoons, while offensive to some, are in fact just scribbles on a piece of paper.. why don't the Muslims do on rampage about the thousands of poor innocent Muslims that have been killed by other Muslims in Itaq ? Those aren't symbols, they are reality. Muslims should learn the differences and direct their anger where it is justified.

So what animal will the tow... (Below threshold)
Alan:

So what animal will the town of Stoughton adopt as its symbol: the Turtle or the Ostrich?

judging by the name, Stanki... (Below threshold)
dries:

judging by the name, Stankiewicz is a Pole or Polish-American. both Poland & Denmark have troops in Iraq. coincidence?

just tell that Pole to put Danish flag on separate pole.

From the very moment the US... (Below threshold)

From the very moment the USA declared its independance the Muslim feifdoms lining the coast of Africa began preying on our shipping, stealing the cargo and selling our citizens into slavery. The reason there are no 1804 silver dollars is that we shipped them all to one petty tyrant to pay one years tribute to these scumbags and cutthroats. for 44 years these pirates held the United States to be a vassel state paying tribute breaking treaties as fast as they signed them, all the murder, rape, arson, looting, piracy not one incident was stopped by the love of their fellow men and the mighty koran. When the US Marines stopped them at tripoli moved their terror against us further and further east until
we again sent Mrines against Qalla batu and then the Pillapines. they sided against us in ww1 and ww2 and the cold war and now we have the twin towers,then to top it off we help them free Afghanistan and now they sell Heroin to our kids !, Our leaders need to develop spines and then go before the world court and dem,and the return of all the monies thejerks stole from a young defenseless country

I agree with Fred... (Below threshold)
alan:

I agree with Fred

Just a couple of fact regar... (Below threshold)
Shawn:

Just a couple of fact regarding this issue. First, as a Stoughton resident, I can tell you that the first blunder the Town Manager made was to express his personal/political feelings on Town time. I don't care if he paints his house the colors of the Danish flag, as a municipal employee his is prohibited from doing what he did, never mind the appropriate flag protocols.

Second fact, this issue has nothing to do with the support of free speech in Denmark. The same paper, only weeks before, refused to publish a parody of Jesus Christ for fear of a strong backlash...so much for free speech. Maybe he can also fly the French and German flags because newspapers there also published the parody.

And the most offensive act committed by the Town Manager in support of free speech is that in order to fly the Danish flag he first HAD TO REMOVE THE POW-MIA FLAG.

We are a Town that has always supported our Veterans and we have many residents serving presently throughout the world. That gesture was a slap in the face to those Veterans and to all those brave men and women who never returned.

I hope this will help clarify the issue and debunk the notion that our Town Manager is the worldwide defender of free speech.

I still think his actions w... (Below threshold)
Alan:

I still think his actions were in support of free speech. Flying the Danish flag was an important symbolic gesture because many muslims around the world called for physical punishment of the editors of the Danish paper. Subsequently, a muslim cleric in Pakistan openly called for the murder of the cartoonists with the offer of cash and a new car to anyone who would do the deed. People in other Muslim countries have demanded the Danish government prosecute the editors of the paper. In this context , it certainly seemed as if the Town Manager was supporting one the freedoms for which so many men and women have died - the right to print something without fear legal or physical reprisal.

I am shocked and saddened that he was critcized for standing up for this principal and that the reasons for opposing him were so technical and legalistic. The arguments against his actions demonstrate that people in the United States have become so cautious, and narrow-mindely focused on rules and regulations that people are unable to see the larger issues at stake. That is why the silence in this country about this issue is deafening.

Sometimes things have to be said and printed which offend and hurt the feelings of a lot of other people. That's what newspapers are for and that is what free speech is all about. The Danish paper solicited those cartoons and published them precisely because of the irrational belief held by Muslims that it is wrong to print pictures of the prophet and that even non-Muslims should be bound by this belief. There is much hypocriscy in the Islamic community about the issue of violent acts done in the name of Islam. Some of these 12 cartoons visually illustrated this hypocriscy.

So far only a few newspapers in North America have chosen to reprint the drawings. Hopefully that will change as more people relaize the issues at stake and find the courage to stand up one of our basic principles.




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