Over the past three years I’ve written more than once about how politicians use the annual “poppy day” for various reasons – and how the issue can be pushed in schools and in society generally.
The theme deserves revisiting – not least because of the centenary of the start of World War One – but also because increasingly the way some in the Muslim community feel the need to display their “Britishness” by reminding everyone about Muslim soldiers who have fought in the British army over the past one hundred years.
This year, the website of the Royal British Legion – the organizers of the annual Poppy day commemoration – has an interesting comment saying that ‘wearing a poppy is a personal choice, reflects individual and personal memories, is not compulsory’ and ‘is appreciated by those it helps’.
I’ll mention three reasons for why I won’t be wearing one…
Firstly, ‘personal choice’ and ‘not being ‘compulsory’ should mean that I am not bullied – implicitly or explicitly – into following the crowd.
It is a matter of self-respect to want to think through an issue yourself; to examine what it’s about instead of just submitting to the shallow rhetoric presented to us; and then to decide based on ones own beliefs and values.
I’m a Muslim who refers to Islam as much as possible when viewing things. There are few situations which Islam permits fighting in war and killing others. Those reasons aren’t reflected in the imperial and colonial wars of the past or present day. So, it won’t surprise anyone that I follow a position distinct from the majority.
Secondly, ‘individual and personal memories’ vary from person to person.
I have no desire to disrespect those who wish to remember people dear to them who died in any conflict. I recognize that for many this annual event is a chance to collectively remember their family members or friends who died.
But others are still living – and not just remembering – the effects of war and so will find it impossible to wear a poppy.
A Muslim like me looks upon the dead and injured in Afghanistan and Iraq as brothers and sisters.
I look upon the abuses committed by British and American troops with disgust – and so find it impossible to partake in a commemoration that is largely a patriotic celebration of the sacrifices those who were sent to fight for one side – despite the claims that this is a commemoration for all casualties of wars.
A Muslim like me who looks at the legacy of World War One cannot find reasons to glorify or be associated with any celebration or commemoration of the war that saw the usurping of Palestine, which remains a real event, not distant history.
Similarly, as I have written before, the carving up of the Ottoman state under the Sykes Picot accord played a huge role in the tyranny, chaos and bloodshed of today’s Middle East.
These are not distant memories. Hence, I cannot put them aside at a whim.
War on Terror
Thirdly, just as those helped by the poppy appeal appreciate those who buy and wear poppies, I appreciate being reminded to see the world how it is and not masked by a political whitewash.
Those being remembered in this annual event were not asked to sacrifice their lives for the security of Britain. They were sent by the rich and powerful to kill and be killed for imperial motives that they were most likely unaware of.
This is a world where British Imperial history is ignored – as documented recently by the writer George Monbiot.
This is a world where casualties amongst the British and Americans, and those of their allies, are counted individually and meticulously. Their names are known and displayed on websites. They are humanized and eulogized. But, the Iraqi and Afghani casualties are reduced to collective counting, their numbers roughly estimated.
This is a world where the costs of destabilizing whole regions by these neocolonial ventures is uncosted and uncounted. The people of Pakistan have never enjoyed good governance. But since the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan they have suffered anarchy and bloodshed as America’s war has spilled onto the territory – and the backlash onto their streets. The people of Iraq did indeed suffered under Saddam Hussein’s tyranny but the country was educated, secure, industrialised and not sectarian. The West’s sanctions and wars destroyed the infrastructure in the country; sowed the seeds of sectarianism and have bred crime and corruption over the past decade and more.
This is a world where ‘murder by drone’ and covert actions have caused the deaths of thousands of civilians in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia – including hundreds of children. Even the small number officially labeled by the CIA as ‘terrorists’ were never given a day in court to defend themselves from the accusation. They were simply executed. The armed forces that operate like this – far from being heroes who risk their lives – are cowards who hide like rats in a sewer as they bomb others remotely.
Patriotic ceremonies build a collective spirit amongst people. But it can be a spirit that unites a small number, hides from them the reality of what is done in their name, and cuts them off from the real suffering of the policies enacted by successive governments.
However, they do not help to move the world on from its ugly present.
I prefer that we look at the world as it is – for that should motivate us to work to change it for the better.
Dr Abdul Wahid is a regular contributor to New Civilisation. He is currently the Chairman of the UK-Executive Committee of Hizb ut-Tahrir in Britain. He has been published in The Times Higher Educational Supplement and on the websites of Foreign Affairs, Open Democracy and Prospect magazine.
He can be followed on Twitter @abdulwahidht