Tuesday, June 01, 2004

Rifat Chadirji and the New Flag

One day a few months ago, in an email to Raed Jarrar, I happened to mention that I had been learning about Iraqi architecture and that I really liked the designs of Rifat Chadirji. Although we had been slashing at each other for a few weeks by then, just the mention of Rifat Chadirji was enough for Raed to immediately upgrade me to half-friend. As far as I can tell now, it was this same Rifat Chadirji who created the new Iraqi flag. Zeyad made his feelings known right away, as did Riverbend. Ali over at Iraq the Model took up the subject and applied his unique creativity to the design of his OWN contribution to the debate. Ali writes:

At first, I thought of the date palm, but this might upset the Kurds, since they don't have it in Kurdistan. Then I thought of one of the symbols of the ancient civilizations in Iraq like the "winged bull", but this will be hard for the children to draw. Then there is the issue of colors; I mean we hated black, red and we were not allowed to use blue!

Enough to say that it was an extremely difficult challenge, and I had to come up with a design that not only should be acceptable to all Iraqis, but should also help in solving our problems and ensure our peace and prosperity, I mean that’s what a real flag should serve.

I spent long hours searching and thinking, facing dead ends all the time, but you know me, I’m resourceful! And all of a sudden came this design that I recall seeing it in a cartoon when I was a kid, and it looked just perfect. It has all what is needed; it’s easy to draw, it’s peaceful, it has no religious or ethnic symbol and it has no blue color on it! Is it just luck or is it creativity!? I don’t know but here it is for you to judge.

The result? Well, take a look for yourself. Click on "look" and scroll down a bit. Ali's new design for the Iraqi flag. I just about fell off my chair laughing.

And you can be sure that Raed let was not going to be reticent around the subject of the new flag. I don't think, however, that at that point he knew that he and Salam Pax's architect-hero Rifat Chadirji was the one who had actually designed the flag. It would have been better, I believe, for Raed to have done a little research before engaging in his usual GONZO journalism:

Did everyone enjoy the new super achievement of our great governing council?
We have a pale new flag!
And guess what... the new flag has an interesting collage too: a sign for Muslims, a sign for Kurds, a sign for the two rivers and a sign for me smiling :*)

The Boston Globe reported:

The artist who designed the flag, Rifat al-Chadirji, told CNN that the Governing Council was leading Iraq ''out of the dark ages," and refused to address the political flap over his design.

''This is a white flag which represents peace, a new era and conciliation," Chadirji said.

From a blog called Snapping Turtle we get an update from a poster:

The new flag is the work of an Iraqi artist resident in London called Rifat Chadirji whose design was the best of those considered. He is also the brother of Nassir al-Chaderchi, the chairman of the IGC committee charged with choosing a new flag for Iraq. "I had no idea about a competition to design the flag. My brother just called me and asked me to design a flag on behalf of the IGC. Nobody told me about a competition," Mr Chadirji told The Independent yesterday.

From the Independent in London, we find several e-mail letters on the topic:

*Sir: Rifat Chadirji is not just a designer but a prominent architect in the Middle East whose reputation is worldwide. He is an honorary fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects and of the American Institute of Architects. The buildings he has designed included: the Unknown Soldier Memorial (destroyed by Saddam), the Freedom Monument, the Telecommunications Tower and the BP Building, both bombed twice by the coalition forces in 1991 and 2004, the Council of Ministers building and many other buildings in Iraq.
He was imprisoned by Saddam in 1979 and sentenced to life only to be released two years later to take charge of the planning for the Non-aligned Conference to be held in Baghdad in 1982 (cancelled because of the Iran-Iraq war).

The new Iraqi flag is the first one to be designed by an Iraqi. Iraq's first flag, the flag used by the royal regime was designed by a British designer to be used by both Iraq and Jordan. The second one (that used by Saddam) was an Egyptian import and was designed by an Egyptian. The new flag is characterised by its simplicity and its multi-symbolism. The white represents peace, reconciliation and a new era. The two horizontal blue stripes represent the Tigris and the Euphrates and the yellow stripe represents the ancient civilisations of Sumer and Babylon and symbolises the sun, light and hope. The crescent represents Islamic culture although, in fact, it is a pre -Islamic symbol.
London W5

Sir: As an Iraqi I read with interest your article about the new Iraqi flag ("Burning with anger: Iraqis infuriated by new flag that was designed in London", 28 April). I found Rifat Chadirji's flag tasteless and ugly. It is kitsch. The flag has no composition and lacks creativity.

Iraq should restore its flag of 14 July 1958. It was composed of three equal parts: from left black, white and green. In the middle white there was a sun. The flag was well composed and proportioned. Saddam's flag was first introduced to Iraq after the 8 February 1963 fascist coup. Many Iraqis loathed it.

Mr Chadirji's flag has a lot of similarity to those of new states in Asia (Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan). These states wanted to emphasise their Islamic heritage. The situation in Iraq is different. There are about 1 million Christians and five or six other religious or ethnic groups.
London EC1

Sir: In all the controversy over the new Iraqi flag I think that all sides are missing the main point. Judging by the colours, Mr Chadirji, who lives in England, has obviously become a Leeds United supporter and is subconsciously showing his affinity with this once great club during its last few weeks in the Premiership. A cause finally to be united in maybe?
London NW7

What's in a flag? I don't have an answer for you. Rafit Chadirji tried to design a new flag for a new, democratic Iraq. In the big picture it's probably not so important what the final flag looks like. Just the same, don't they say the devil is in the details? And it's always a good idea to know where the devil is and what he's doing.

UPDATE: Over at the Guardian, Gaith "G" Ahad weighs in on the flag.

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