If you allow one country's flag to fly in Lansdale, then you have to allow them all.
That was the essence of the issue last week at Lansdale's Parks and Recreation Committee meeting where at least eight local members of the Bangladesh Association of Pennsylvania requested to fly their country's flag on public property on December 16, Bangladesh's Independence Day.
Borough Manager Timi Kirchner - back in action following a months-long absence due to hip replacement surgery - told Hatfield Borough resident Mohammad Razzak and his colleagues that the committee will discuss it and get back to them.
Kirchner cautioned that the request puts Lansdale in a difficult position - it cannot approve the raising of one flag without setting a precedence for future requests.
"We would like to have the flag raised on December 16, Independence Day," said Razzak. "We have no preference. Anywhere in the Lansdale area for December 16 and every year to respect and for celebration. Whatever you feel is appropriate."
Razzak said several other cities fly the Bangladesh flag on December 16, like Detroit and Los Angeles. He said the flags are usually flown at city hall.
Kirchner asked if those cities do it for every nationality. She said there are many countries that have struggled for independence like Bangladesh.
"We don't do it for any other country," Kirchner said.
"Maybe nobody has requested it," Razzak said.
Razzak mentioned Memorial Park as a potential public location. Kirchner said the only flags recognized in Memorial Park are the American flag and Prisoners of War flag.
Razzak said if the borough thinks it would be difficult to raise for the whole day, then they could do a half day or one hour or a half-hour.
Kirchner asked if the North Penn Mosque in Lansdale holds a special celebration on December 16 for Bangladesh.
Towamencin resident and association member Ahsanur Rahman said the two are not related: The mosque is a religious institution and for Muslims. He said the Bangladesh organization is comprised of Christians, Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists.
"The mosque represents a number of different countries, and so does the Borough of Lansdale," Kirchner said. "Has anyone else asked (to fly their country's flag)? I don't know."
Kirchner said the borough has concerns relative to favoring one country.
"Bangladesh has been through a lot and its independence means a great lot to you," she said.
Kirchner was interested in knowing if the Bangladeshi community held a special celebration on December 16 and, if so, where was it held at in town.
Ahsanur Rahman said there is a celebration on December 16 of every year, shared by five Bangladeshi organizations. They usually rent fire halls for their events, he said.
"Have you invited council or the borough manager?" asked Kirchner.
Councilwoman Mary Fuller asked if Razzak and his peers approached Hatfield Township or Hatfield Borough to request flying their flag in those municipalities.
"Most of our people live in Lansdale," Razzak said. "We want to do it where most of us live."
Newtown Square resident Abu Rahman said that in a broader context, America is a nation of immigrants.
"We represent all nations of the world. It's a great idea to raise the flags of different nationalities next to our flag," said Abu Rahman. "It's a testimony to what we believe. We follow democratic principles. In my view, that's the correct message. You do all of your struggle and once a year you raise your flag. That's a testimony to our own belief in this country."
Kirchner told the men in attendance that the Bangladeshi community is part of the International Spring Festival and recognized as such every year. She then suggested the committee hold further discussion on this issue.
"We have to be careful when it comes to seeming we have one nation and not all nations," Kirchner said.
Fuller suggested the committee research what precedent has been and what it can be in the borough.
"There's a lot of things to think about here," Kirchner said. "We need to think these things through. Sometimes we can work out a solution. I hope you receive this as respect to your community and as sensitivity to all communities and all immigrants that come to the U.S."
Fuller said she appreciated Razzak and his neighbors' respect for what their country has been through in the past.
"I'm glad you came here to see if there is a solution for your country and it will help us down the road as we field other requests as well," Fuller said.
"I hope Lansdale will see this as important," Razzak said.
After the meeting, Razzak said he was not satisfied with the committee and Kirchner's response to their request.
"She kept pointing to the mosque. The mosque is a different thing. It's religious," Razzak said. "We are affiliated with the mosque, but Bangladeshi is all kinds of religious people: Christian, Hindus, Buddhists and Muslims. The mosque is only for the Muslim people. So, if we raise the flag over there, it doesn't represent all their beliefs. We need an official area like a public place."
Razzak reiterated that they don't care where the flag is raised.
"It just needs to be recognized and approved so we can do it every year," he said.
Ahsanur Rahman said the flag is raised inside of the location where their people are celebrating on December 16, but "make it official where everybody can gather and show some respect."
Rahman said the Bangladeshi community is respected in Lansdale. He believed there was no blatant xenophobia.
"If you try to do something good, there's always an opponent to that," Rahman said. "This is good for the community. It's something that brings all the nations together and shows that you have respect for your nation. Every community should respect their own people."
Razzak said the Bangladeshi community in Lansdale is growing and is much bigger than is was six years ago.
"We should have a voice and a place to raise flags," he said. "They should all come. Every nationality's flag should be raised in the borough."
The Bangladeshi community has chosen to place its roots in Lansdale and the surrounding community because of many reasons: opportunity, environment, safety and the school district.
"We like this place. We can live here and raise our kids," said Razzak, a Realtor® associate with in Lansdale. "The school district is very good. People are very good here. We feel safe."
There are many Bangladeshi-owned businesses in and around Lansdale as well:
- City of Joy on North Broad Street
- Rani's Electronics on West Main Street
- on West Main Street
- on Cannon Avenue
Ahsanur Rahman said he and his fellow Bangladeshis will not give up.
"We’ll keep fighting. We’ll keep coming to the meetings, and bring a bigger crowd here. I can promise you that," he said.
Last week, Lansdale Mayor Andy Szekely opined about this issue in his blog. You can read about it here.
When Are Other Countries' Independence Days?
Ireland: April 24
India: August 15
Haiti: January 1
Nigeria: October 1
South Korea: August 15
Cuba: May 20
Mexico: September 16
Philippines: June 12
Ukraine: August 24
Vietnam: September 2