Without a Poppy

November 10, 2006

You wouldn’s have to be an acute observer of the press in this country, the UK, to have noticed the level of debate that has raged on the issue of Muslim women’s dress over the past few months. Yet perhaps the wider issue being debated is the right to express opinion on subjects set to offend certain groups, this in a society where freedom of speech is so highly regarded.

Interesting then, the almost religious sanctity that surrounds the wearing of the poppy each Remembrance Day – a day to remember the people that fought for that very right to freedom, so we are told. Many British men were sent to terrible deaths in the first half of the twentieth century, but the horror of war transcends national identity. It was disappointing then, that an E-mailer to Radio Four’s Today show this week joined in the berating of a Christian speaker promoting the wearing of white poppies, something the host was having a fine job doing, as the guest attempted to promote this colour poppy as a symbol of pacifism (in place of the traditional red poppy) to remember the deaths of all sides in the aforementioned wars. ‘We may as well just wear swastikas and hammers and sickles’, the listener complained.

But as sad as it is to hear such voices of anger, the other point of note is the almost hushed arrangement surrounding debate on the issue of wearing the poppy itself. Detractors caught without the flower of honour may as well be dragged to the gulag. Seeing spokespeople from African nations discussing totally different issues on British news shows wearing the poppy means we have it all wrong. Why must these people feel they have to somehow go out of there way to say ‘yeah, as bad as the slaughter in my country is, you guys had it pretty bad in Flanders.’ The patriotism surrounding Remembrance Day will probably wane over the next ten or twenty years, and rightly so. If we really want to remember the horror of war, we must focus on stopping it happening again, not confusing the issue of innocent men, be they from Nottingham, Stuttgart or the Congo dying in war, with that of patriotism. Wearing a poppy goes someway to honouring those who have died. Yet shooting down those who don’t, as well as those that question the colour of the paper used, does not.


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