Liberal Arts Blog — Flags III — Two Colors and a Circle, The Green Theme, the Scandinavian Cross

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Today’s Topic: Flags III — Two Colors and a Circle, The Green Theme, the Scandinavian Cross

The recent display of flags in the Adams House Dining Hall at Harvard College made my head spin and my eyes glaze over. Too much to assimilate. It also made me acutely aware of how little I know about flags. So I decided to learn some more. I started with the question: what makes a flag beautiful? Which led to more questions: how many colors are too many? Is there such a thing as too few? what is the optimal number? how much design is too much? how much is too little? what is optimal? Today, a few notes. Experts — please chime in. Correct, elaborate, elucidate.

NB: This is the third of a series. Part One featured paintings of flags by Claude Monet, Childe Hassam, and Jasper Johns. Part Two featured other red, white, and blue flags (Netherlands, Russia, Yugoslavia).

TWO COLORS, A CIRCLE: Japan (red on white) , Bangladesh (red on green), Palau (yellow on blue)

1. In 1870, Japan became the first country in the world to use a simple circle (red) on a simple background (white). The circle is centered. The choice of design reflected the idea that Japan is the land of the rising sun.

2. Bangladesh chose a red disk (the sun) on a green background (the landscape) in 1977. The disk is off-center toward the hoist so that it will appear centered when waving. The green may also stand for Islam.

3. The Palau flag (above) was adopted in 1981. The blue represents the ocean, the off-centered disk represents the moon (not the sun) as well as the nation itself. “The Palauans consider the full moon to be the optimum time for human activity. At this time of the month, celebrations, fishing, sowing, harvesting tree-felling, and the carving of traditional canoes are carried out. The moon is a symbol of peace, love, and tranquility.”

NB: Of the three, I have chosen to display the Palau flag, because I find it the most appealing of the three. I think that’s because my favorite color is blue. To me blue is the color of gratitude — not only the first of the virtues but the parent of all the others. And I agree with the Palauans and the Chinese that the moon is magic.

THE GREEN THEME: Libya (1977–2011), Saudi Arabia (1973 — ), Pakistan (1947 — )

1. From 1977 to 2011, Libya, under Muhammar Qaddafi, was the only country in the world to have a flag of a single color with no design. That color was green. The color of Islam. Why? Supposedly it was Mohammed’s favorite color. “The Islamic prophet is said to have worn a green cloak and turban, and his writings are full of references to the color. A passage from the Quran describes paradise as a place where people “will wear green garments of fine silk.” One hadith, or teaching, says, “When Allah’s Apostle died, he was covered with a Hibra Burd,” which is a green square garment. As a result, you’ll see green used to color the binding of Qurans, the domes of mosques, and, yes, campaign materials.”

2. The Saudi flag (above) includes the “Shahada” — “There is no deity but Allah and Mohammed is his prophet.” “la ilaha illa lah” plus “mahamdur rasulu llah.” The first half of the Shahada appears in the Quran 30 times. It is the Islamic version of the “Shema” prayer of the Jews. The two parts of the Shahada do not appear together anywhere in the Quran. The sword “stands for the strictness in applying justice.” For some it is a reminder of how states around the world have used religion for repression at home and expansion abroad.

3. The Pakistani flag is also white and green, with a white vertical stripe on the hoist side as well as a crescent moon and star against a green background. The green represents the Muslim majority. The white the minorities (Hindus, Christians, Sikhs, Zoroastrians, other). “The combined star and crescent serve as a symbol of Islam with the crescent representing progress and the five-pointed star representing light and knowledge.”

NB: The Saudi flag (cont): “Because the shahada is considered holy, the flag is not normally used on T-shirts or other items. Saudi Arabia protested against its inclusion on a planned football to be issued by FIFA, bearing all the flags of the participants of the 2002 World Cup. Saudi officials said that kicking the creed with the foot was completely unacceptable.”

THE SCANDINAVIAN CROSS — Denmark (1219), Sweden (1442), Norway (1821), Iceland (1915), Finland (1917)…..

1. Which color combination would you pick? I lean toward preferring the Finnish choice of blue and white. For me, if blue stands for the most important micro virtue (gratitude), white stands for the most important macro virtue (truth).

2. My second choice would be Sweden — yellow cross, blue background.

3. And how do you feel about the asymmetry of the Scandinavian cross? Do you prefer the Greek cross (equal arms)? or the Latin cross (longer vertical arm)?

NB: The Swiss flag displays an equilateral white cross on a field of red. The original Red Cross flag reverses the colors. Today, the International Red Cross also uses a Red Crescent (for Muslim countries) and a Red Crystal (for non-Christian, non-Islamic countries).

Flag of Palau

Flag of Saudi Arabia

Why is the color green so important in the Muslim world?

Flag of Pakistan

Nordic cross flag

List of flags by design


PDF with headlines — Google Drive


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