It is that time of the year again when it seems like everyone is wearing a poppy; on the tube, on the bus, in the park. You cannot get away from them. Yet, like every year, I refuse to wear one. It is not because I am opposed to remembering those who died in WWI. In fact my great uncle Muhammad Shaban, of the 30th Punjabis, was killed in the First World War fighting for the British in Tanzania but I still cannot pin a poppy to my clothes.
It feels as though everyone that appears on TV has to wear a poppy. Asians, Muslims and black people wear extra big ones just to show their additional loyalty to, what has become, a nationalistic and a patriotic symbol.
Rather than wearing a poppy, if we really want to remember the dead, then why don’t we stop engaging in new wars? Why don’t we stop occupying other countries? Why don’t we stop bombing and killing children? It seems, however, the politicians are committed to repeating the mistakes of the past and sending other people’s children to fight their wars over resources, power and status.
I recently received a letter from the Royal British Legion, with images of soldiers that have suffered injuries. The images were accompanied with captions reading; “They are just boys. But they are our boys”. They are not my boys or ‘our’ boys. This may sound harsh to some, but they knew what they were signing up for, they went to fight in an occupation of a foreign land. If they get injured in the process it is the government’s responsibility to take care of them, not for them to rely on the charity of the public who are already paying for a war that has been going on longer than the second and first World Wars combined. I feel for the families who have lost their loved ones in politicians’ wars. A life is a life, British, Afghan or Iraqi; I wish our media saw it that way – but instead we get disproportionate coverage of some victims which means that we end up only caring about ‘our’ dead.
The poppy is used as a tool to promote current wars. It is not used to say ‘never again’ as it should be. Politicians use it to beat down opposition to war whilst questioning people’s loyalties and patriotism. The symbol of the poppy was never intended for peace or to stop war, it was a cry for others to take up arms and take revenge in a poem by John McCrae. The gentleman whose idea it was to start the poppy, General Earl Haig, was responsible for gross incompetence on the battlefield in which thousands perished.
Yet, we are blinded by this cry of ‘our boys’ and the fallacy that British troops are in Afghanistan defending Britain. On the back of the envelope there is a ‘send a message of support to an injured hero’ plastered next to a British flag. Hero? Really? Since when did we start calling paid soldiers, with Kevlar protection, air support, heavy machine guns, armoured vehicles and tanks heroes? In this narrative the farmer who is defending his country from the occupier is the bad guy. Who are the real heroes?
We have whole-heartedly bought into this premise that soldiers are sacred and their role should never be questioned. I for one cannot accept it and must see the world in a much wider context. Rich versus poor, ruling elites versus the proletariat, the politicians versus the people, big business versus the indigenous people, the well-armed Western soldiers versus the rag tag resistance of Iraq and Afghanistan.
Who will remember the children killed? Who will remember the victims of occupation? Who will remember the contribution of Muslim soldiers to the World Wars? Will they be remembered in the minute silences? Will their images be brandished on the news; will anyone even think of Ali Shan who fought in Burma for the British and now lives in Birmingham? Ali Shan does not wear a poppy and neither do his children or grandchildren. Then there is the case of my great uncle, who will remember him? We will, we do not need to wear a poppy to remember him.
I do not hold these opinions because I am a Muslim, although it helps. I can see the suffering of fellow Muslims at the hands of soldiers acting on orders of my government. What are my thoughts on the extreme minority of Muslims in the UK that burned poppies? They were idiots. Burning something that others hold sacred and dear is never right.
My act of not wearing a poppy when everyone else is, is in remembrance of all those men that were sent to their deaths, forced to go over the trenches to face machine guns. I remember all those that were sacrificed for the sake of power using disastrous tactics. I remember men like my great uncle, who were seen as cannon fodder because they were not white. I remember all those families that lost their loved ones and prayed for no more wars. Most of all, I don’t wear a poppy, hoping that people will move away from jingoism and realise that it is not a symbol of respect and honour for the dead, but by wearing it and accepting the current narrative, it does the opposite – it glorifies and promotes war.
Freelance print and broadcast journalist