London Mayor Boris Johnson has publicly stated that he opposes a ban on the ISIS flag on the streets of the UK – despite the string of atrocities against British citizens carried out by the jihadist group and those inspired by it.
He made the statement in July, days after British police allowed a man and little girl to fly the ISIS flag outside parliament. Speaking on LBC Radio, Johnson explained that banning the flag is not necessary and is something that would require specific legislation, adding that “we live in a free country”.
The morning radio show provoked diverse reactions, including some people who felt that banning the ISIS flag is a national obligation given the UK’s stance on the extremist group.
There is more to the ISIS flag than a piece of cloth. Although neither the text on the flag, nor the flag itself is unique to ISIS, it has recently grown to symbolize the group. It is ISIS’ identifiable symbol, an emblem of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s so-called caliphate.
Hijacking an Islamic symbol
The white banner at the top reads “there is no God but Allah” – part of a declaration of faith used in Islam known as the shahada, or ‘testimony’. Underneath, black writing that roughly translates as “Mohammed is the messenger of God” is enclosed in a white circle that resembles the Prophet’s seal.
The ISIS flag should not be allowed to fly in the UK or anywhere else.Dr. Halla Diyab
By employing such imagery, ISIS hijacks an important Islamic symbol in an attempt to manipulate the faith and its followers, and make people more susceptible to the group’s extreme narrative.
Flying or wearing the flag is an emblematic sign of allegiance and endorsement of ISIS and its principles. There is also a trend of ISIS supporters using the flag on their social-media profiles – which is highly significant, given the importance of the online sphere in recruiting.
Allowing the flag to fly in the UK therefore permits a physical sphere for the recruitment process to continue, granting ISIS supporters a public platform and outreach program to publicize its jihadist ideas to the most vulnerable Muslims within British communities.
The flag also invokes ISIS’ brutal beheadings of British hostages Alan Henning and David Haines as well as the massacre of the thirty British holiday tourists in Tunisia.
So allowing the public display of the flag can only be traumatic for the friends and families of those lost in these tragedies. To many, banning the ISIS flag and other symbols representing the group would be a mark of respect to the many innocent British people whose lives were tragically ended by ISIS and those inspired by it.
As much as the ISIS flag is a reminder of the atrocities committed by the group, against innocent British people and many others, it also distorts and twists an important symbol of the Islamic faith. Those who do not have a basic knowledge of Islam, and are unable to comprehend the importance of the words used on the flag, can easily be led to link the scriptures with the brutal actions of ISIS.
Islamic script also features on the black flag of Syrian terrorist group Al-Nusra Front. Hostages in the 2014 siege in Sydney were forced to hold up this flag in the window of the café where they were held captive, for all the world to see.
By displaying such flags at the scene of these atrocities, jihadist groups attempt to mark their territorial expansion. They are waving it triumphantly over the land they seek to conquer. Dabiq, ISIS’ online propaganda magazine, even featured a photoshopped image of the ISIS flag flying over the Vatican – another symbolic gesture pointing toward ISIS targeting European cities.
It is evident that allowing people to wave the ISIS flag in the streets of London helps the group’s aim of terrorizing the country.
And surely those who endorse ISIS’ narrative should not avoid prosecution, just because the UK is a free country, with freedom of speech?
Because those very freedoms are undermined by everything ISIS stands for – all the more reason that the flag should not be allowed to fly in the UK, or anywhere else.
Dr. Halla Diyab is an award winning screen-writer, producer, broadcaster, a published author and an activist. She has a Ph.D. in English and American Studies from the University of Leicester. She carried out research in New Orleans, USA while working on her thesis “The Examination of Marginality and Minorities in the Drama and Film of Tennessee Williams”. She holds an MA in Gender and Women Studies from the University of Warwick. She has written a number of scripts for TV dramas countering religious extremism and international terrorism resulting in her being awarded Best Syrian Drama Script Award 2010 and the Artists Achievement Award 2011. She is a regular commentator in the British and international media and has recently appeared on Channel 4 News, BBC Newsnight, BBC This Week, CNN, Sky News, Channel 5 News, ITV Central, Al Jazeera English, and BBC Radio 4, to name a few. She is a public speaker who spoke at the House of Commons, the Spectator Debate, Uniting for Peace and London’s Frontline Club. She has worked in Libya, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Syria and is an expert on the Middle East and Islamic culture. As a highly successful drama writer, she has been dubbed ‘one of the most influential women in Syria’ in 2011. She also produces documentary films for UK and international channels. She is also the Founder & Director of Liberty Media Productions which focuses on cross-cultural issues between Britain and the Middle East. She can be found on Twitter: @drhalladiyab