Occupy Wall Street will be marking the one year anniversary of the movement on Monday, September 17th, with a series of direct actions and protest marches across lower Manhattan. It's anybody's guess whether they will really do what they say they're going to this time, but there are some disconcerting early signs.
I took a stroll through their General Assembly the Saturday before #S17, as they call it (using the twitter hashtag as a catch-all for the event) and saw the usual gathering of leftists, oddballs, and assorted Marxist wanna-be revolutionaries.
But something unusual caught my eye: take a look at the latest addition to the Occupy propaganda arsenal:
I saw a few of these black "Occupy" flags emblazoned with white writing in Washington Square Park. Below, you can see the "Occupy" flag held above the tactical General Assembly. Many of the facilitators (leaders) were familiar to me from last year, and this General Assembly was clearly a who's who of the Occupy Movement in NYC.
To be fair, there have been black flags present in the Occupy movement before, and they were used by anarchist movements way back in the late 19th century. But these were different.
I have seen entirely black flags carried by members of the "Black Bloc" (a tactic, not a group, as those who employ it often point out) in the Occupy movement. And a large "A" with a circle around it is well-known as the anarchist's calling card of choice.
But black flags with white writing?
It resembles a Jihadist flag.
Given the amount of preparation for the #S17 anniversary of the OWS Movement, one would expect Occupiers to have some understanding of the imagery they use and how it will be viewed by the rest of the world.
While only hundreds may show up tomorrow, there are likely to be many reporters covering all the events. And I think some Americans may have the same reaction to the Occupy flag I did when it beams across their television screen.
Last week, Americans suffered through the horror of an assassinated U.S. Ambassador, with three other Americans killed at his side. These Americans were working for the consulate of a country that had been saved from threatened genocide and liberated from a tyrant by U.S. and NATO efforts.
Mere hours before those atrocities, a rampaging mob in Egypt attacked the U.S. Embassy in Cairo on the eleven year anniversary of 9/11. The rioters tore down and desecrated the American flag before raising up the black banner of Jihad (example above). Images of the Islamist black banners shot across the world in minutes.
You can see several of the Jihadist flags-- including the Al Qaeda specific variant-- in the photo at right, taken at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo. On top of the wall is the Al Qaeda version. You can see the more ornate script of the "Shahada," which is an inscription often found on general use Islamist/Jihadist flags, at bottom right. The script contains the Islamic profession of faith, "there is no God but God, and Muhammad is his prophet."
A bit of background: the black flag of the Islamist is taken from the "Black Banners of Khurasan," which are words found in a hadith about an Islamic army rising up from what is the roughly called the "stans" area (Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, parts of Pakistan) and conquering their enemies in a sort of end of days scenario.
Defenders of Occupy Wall Street would no doubt claim that these similarities-- white writing on a black background-- are not an endorsement of Islamism and have nothing to do with Al Qaeda. Even if we take that as wholly true, it seems rather irresponsible and offensive to be marching around lower Manhattan with flags that could evoke the horrific events in North Africa from last week-- not to mention even a vague similarity to Al Qaeda's emblem.
It is also bears reminding that Solidarity with Cairo and Tahrir square has been a hallmark of the Occupy Wall Street movement in the past. I sat and listened to Occupy speakers a year ago proclaim that the revolution sweeping the Arab Spring would soon come to America. It obviously hasn't happened yet, but the Occupiers themselves drew the comparisons to Mid-East revolutions then.
We also know that a number of protestors in Cairo donned Guy Fawkes masks in what can only be described as an act of solidarity with the Occupy movement during their assault on the Embassy.
Occupy is a political movement, not a sports team. The choice of black symbols and imagery all has a purpose and context.
For a movement that has made "wealth inequality" its central theme, one would think that a nice baby blue flag with "spread the wealth" or "free love" on it would be a much more appropriate than what is--at best-- an ominous anarchist flag that is perhaps evocative of a pirate's Jolly Roger.
But of course, bringing the system down and "revolution" have always been part of the Occupiers' stated goals, no matter how disconnected they are from reality. A black flag does well to represent such destructive ends.
Occupiers won't get any closer to revolution by marching around Manhattan on #S17, but their decisions about imagery tell us they are either tone deaf to events in the world, or are willing to express subtle solidarity with radical, violent elements with which the United States remains at war.
After today's #s17 events, perhaps we will have a better sense of which it is.