NEW YORK – A ditty by country music star Charlie Daniels has thrust the songwriter into the midst of controversy.
Islamic groups and other civil rights advocates say the song, "It Ain't No Rag, It's a Flag," denigrates Muslim people with its reference to "rags" worn as head covering.
"It's obviously offensive to Muslims and Arab-Americans in that the equivalent of the n-word for Muslims has been 'rag head,'" said Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Washington-based Islamic advocacy group.
Though some Muslims still wear turbans, most do not, according to Hooper.
The song was deemed so potentially inflammatory that Daniels was barred from performing it at last month's Country Freedom Concert in Nashville. As a result, he pulled out of the concert altogether.
"This ain't no rag/It's the flag/And we don't wear it on our heads/It's a symbol of the land where the good guys live," the song lyrics read. "You're a coward and a fool/And you broke all the rules/And you wounded our American pride/Now we're coming with a gun/And you know you're going to run/But you can't find no place to hide …"
Daniels doesn't deny that he meant turbans when he used the "rag" reference, but says it was only aimed at the 19 terrorists who orchestrated the Sept. 11 attacks.
"I'm not making fun of anybody," he said on Fox News Channel's Hannity and Colmes. "There's only one group of people on the planet that I could possibly be talking about, and it's the people who came and bombed our Trade Towers and our Pentagon. It's not aimed at anybody else, nobody of Middle Eastern descent, nobody who wears a turban."
The controversy has gotten Daniels a lot of attention. Talk radio shows across the country have booked him, Internet sales of the album have increased and country and western radio stations have been flooded with requests to play the song.
Khaled Saffuri, president of the Islamic Institute in Washington, said that while the lyrics make him uncomfortable, forbidding Daniels from performing it at the concert may have been too extreme.
"I am a strong supporter of freedom of speech, even the speech I disagree with," he said. "These are wrong people, but I don't think you can shut everybody's mouth that you disagree with."
Though Hooper doesn't think Daniels should be barred from exercising his First Amendment rights, he does think the song's content is inappropriate during these sensitive times.
"Nobody's saying he can't do what he wants to do – that's America," Hooper said. "But it's just in poor taste. It's creating an atmosphere where people believe it's acceptable to use this kind of imagery and bias."
But Daniels says that he's representing part of America with the song, and is merely using the language that's familiar to "hard-working people."
"I'm a blue-collar guitar player, you know, and that's where I am. I come from that stock ... and when I think about things, I think about it in that vernacular and in that way."
Daniels says he urges visitors to his Web site not to take out their anger over the events of Sept. 11 on anyone who was not involved.
"There's a lot of people that came here from the Middle East that are just totally, completely innocent," he said. "It would be like blaming what Hitler did on people of German descent."