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Independence Day flag incident irritates university president

Date Posted: 2007-07-12

An associate professor and ten students at Okinawa International University marred American 4th of July celebrations by hanging an American flag upside down from a school balcony.

The move by Peter Sympthon and ten of his students brought criticism from the Okinawa International University president and other faculty members, who ordered the offending flag removed from the laboratory building 4th floor balcony. “You are disturbing peoples’ minds, not only Americans, but other people,” said President Chomei Toguchi.

The flag was removed by Sympthon, who said he was displeased at being ordered to do so. “I just expressed our spirits about how much we are against Futenma Air Station, which poses a grave danger to near-by communities. I don’t think I humiliated Americans.” He and the students hung the Stars & Stripes upside down from a balcony facing the U.S. airfield, to protest the U.S. Marine Corps helicopter crash nearly three years ago.

“Our university philosophy is for peaceful life, and we should together support and create research on other cultures,” Toguchi said. “Making the flag upside down, particularly when Americans have a ceremonial day, makes Americans feel pain and humiliated. That’s against my university philosophy.”

Sympthon and his culture division’s Professors’ Association over the weekend asked the president to apologize to them. “Can we not express our SOS sign to America?” he asked. “Since the helicopter crash, three years have gone by and nothing is changing. It has to change. The president should think about local peoples’ minds and lives.” The associate professor, who is from England, launched his attack on Toguchi, saying “If he really does stop us, he’s going against the law, violating people’s freedom of speech and freedom of human rights.”

Sympthon says he’ll appeal to the university, seeking approval to display the flag in the future. If his request to fly the American flag upside down is disapproved, he promises to turn to the general public for support.

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