Protestors like to burn flags, and those flags have to come from somewhere. In Pakistan, that somewhere might be a specialty shop run by an entrepreneur named Syed Mohammed Hussain who has flags to burn. I mean, he makes combustible flags to order:
Syed Mohammed Hussain has seen his one-off experiment [producing Danish flags to be burned] turn into a profitable little sideline as he produces American and Israeli flags to order.
This week brought fresh demand for the Stars and Stripes with a wave of demonstrations against American allegations that Pakistan was using an Afghan insurgent group to wage a proxy war against US forces.
But it all started with protests at caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed printed in a Danish newspaper in 2006. Pakistan witnessed some of the fiercest demonstrations, with two people shot dead.
"I was also very angry about the Danish cartoons but I wouldn't have gone out on the streets myself. Instead I decided to get Danish flags printed," Mr Hussain, who sells his flags for 500 rupees or about £3.50, told The Express Tribune
Word spread fast and he couldn't keep up with the orders.
Today, bulk buyers – looking for more than 100 flags – are given a discount.
And there has been no shortage of business this year as relations with the US have fluctuated between poor and catastrophic.
The killing of Osama bin Laden in May ignited a spate of flag-burning protests. Many Pakistanis were angry that the US could launch a secret, unauthorised raid on Pakistani territory.
Today his storeroom has a selection of western flags, including the Union Flag and French Tricolour, ready to be stamped, trampled or burned.
So here's my idea for a metric of Public Diplomacy success in places like Pakistan: monitor fluctuations in the local demand for U.S. flags.
If Syed Mohammed Hussain's unsold inventory of Stars and Stripes grows, that would be quantifiable good news about the U.S. image in Pakistan. If he has to work overtime to make more product and raises his prices, that would be a leading indicator of a spike in public outrage.
You're welcome, United States Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy!