October 14, 2010

Is that an AK-47 on Hizballah's flag?

I always thought so, but this may come as news to Hassan Nasrallah:

Q: I know at least one national flag has an AK-47 pictured. Are there any other examples of weapons being national symbols on par with the AK-47? –steve

A: Dear Steve,

Commenter #11, Andrew S., offered one possible answer, although the machete is a tool that is not necessarily a weapon. Here is an image of the Angolan flag. I’ll leave it to you to decide what you think the machete means.

The Guatemalan flag includes a pair of crossed rifles, with bayonets affixed, as well as a pair of crossed swords.

And many nations incorporate arms in important ways into national seals, currency or anthems. But none of these that I know of have as strong an association with a particular product, or “brand,” if you will, as the Kalashnikov in the flag of Mozambique.

The Kalashnikov has worked its ways into the symbols of many groups, from youth activists in Russian to jihadists in Iraq. I’m on the road right now, and away from some of my records. Otherwise I could provide you with several images of insurgent groups that prominently display the Kalashnikov line in their flags or seals. In some cases these groups claim to be the spokespeople of their land.

We could also talk through some of the flags often said to carry the image of a Kalashnikov. I would argue, for example, that the flag of Hezbollah has a Kalashnikov-like image, but not a Kalashnikov image. The rifle has features of an AK-47 but also a feature from another well-known arm, the Heckler & Koch G3. Similarly, the logo of the Red Army Faction, which many commentators said bore the image of an AK-47, actually displays an MP-5 submachine gun. Does this matter? It’s maybe not especially important, aside from the fact that it demonstrates that much of the conversation that surrounds the Kalashnikov line, the things many people think they know, is wrong, or at least not quite right. This is a phenomenon I encountered again and again during my years of research.

I read Stefan Aust's bookir?t=abumuqa-20&l=as2&o=1&a=0195372751 on the Red Army Faction last year, and Aust teases the RAF for putting the wrong damn gun on their logo. After all, what self-respecting revolutionary movement would put an H&K MP-5 on their logo instead of the AK-47? (C.J. Chivers, for his part, shatters the myth of the AK-47 as "the rifle of the revolutionary" in his book.)

Speaking of Hizballah, Mitch and I were chuckling last night about the fact that while Ahmedinejad was speaking in person in Bint Jbeil yesterday, Nasrallah appeared via a televised address from his bunker. The implied message: the Israeli Air Force would only waste a bomb on one of us -- and it's not the clown in the Member's Only jacket.