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Asia Minute: Flag Confusion: It’s Malaysia, Not ISIS

Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons

It’s been nearly 175 years since the Kingdom of Hawai‘i adopted an official flag. That same flag is now the flag of the state of Hawai‘i. A much younger flag is at the heart of a controversy involving an Asian country, a terrorist organization, and an American courtroom. HPR’s Bill Dorman has more in today’s Asia Minute.

Last September an engineer rented a recreational lake area in Wichita, Kansas.

Munir Zanial rented the facilities from a work group – the Spirit Boeing Employees Association. The gathering was in part to celebrate Malaysian Independence Day—Zanial is from Malaysia, although he’s lived in Kansas for seven years. As part of the festivities, the group of about 45 people flew the Malaysian flag; some women were dressed in head covering hijabs.

Someone thought this was a meeting of the terrorist Islamic State.

Credit Federal Bureau of Investigation / Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons

According to court documents, a ranger or groundskeeper reported to the employees’ association that a group “dressed in Muslim garb” was flying an American flag “desecrated with ISIS symbols.” The association reported the incident to the employer, who contacted the FBI.

A few weeks later, Zanial got a notice from Facebook that law enforcement authorities were seeking information about his account. He then got a call from the FBI—saying they realized the flag was Malaysian, and recommended the case be closed.

But the employer then hired a private investigator.

Zanial then learned he was barred from renting the facility again because of the past incident.

This week, the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas City sued the employer for racial profiling and religious discrimination.

The case is getting a lot of coverage in Malaysia—where one headline in the Star Online says “Some Americans think the Malaysian flag is the U.S. flag with ISIS symbols, so…lawsuit,”

Bill Dorman has been the news director at Hawaiʻi Public Radio since 2011.
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