The desecration of the flag of one’s country is a sight that provokes particularly strong emotions among those who name themselves patriots. Whether the deed is done by dissident Irish republicans, Islamic extremists, or Scottish nationalists, the sight of burning Union Jacks invokes particular fury. The disrespect and ungratefulness it implies is total, and it is particularly soul-nourishing to speculate just how often these burners make use of such British institutions as the National Health Service or the Welfare State.
It is of course tempting to advocate extreme punishments for flag desecrators: in 2006 it was suggested that flag burning be criminalised as a means of curbing Islamic extremism. While the inner fascist in all of us no doubt gleefully envisions such extremists being led off to jail, I believe that such penalties are inherently counter-productive.
For all the burning of a flag represents, the act itself is fundamentally nothing more than a nuisance. Declaring that stiff penalties are necessary would give official recognition to flag burning being a political act. To imprison those who burn flags would needlessly turn them into martyrs for what they believe. For all the satisfaction it would bring, in the long-term it would not get rid of the problem, and bring about acts far more violent and disruptive than the mere burning of a piece of coloured cloth.
Instead, if we wish to curb flag burning, I suggest an altogether more subtle, and indeed, more productive remedy. Throughout the 2000s, there were occasional reports of Christian extremists in the United States burning copies of the Harry Potter books as "Satanic" or "gateways to the occult". This of course inherently required them to buy copies of Harry Potter before they could burn them, thus directly lining the pockets of the author they despised. I believe the same contradiction can be applied to flag burners. I suggest that the government impose an additional sales tax on top of VAT to any depiction of the Union Flag. Since in recent years we have seen most flag burnings to be in opposition to British military intervention overseas, the revenue from this tax would therefore automatically go to spending on support for veterans.
This elegant solution will discourage flag burning, for if they wish to burn flags, these people will have no choice but to buy them first, and so they will be indirectly funding the very thing they oppose. Those who wish to buy flags for patriotic display should be proud to know that their spending is going towards care for veterans, something that has received repeated publicity for being underfunded in recent years. At once we discourage offensive protest and improve funding for the care of those who have served us overseas.