I won’t be wearing a poppy on Remembrance Sunday next week and neither will the overwhelming majority of British Muslims. And there’s a simple reason for that – the poppy is a symbol of support for the British army and most Muslims in this country cannot support an institution which has regularly killed their brethren over the last decades and more, writes Roshan Muhammed Salih.
The sight of people wearing the red poppy in the weeks leading up to Remembrance Sunday is extremely common in the UK and on mainstream TV channels poopy-wearing almost seems to be compulsory. But go to any Muslim area of Britain or observe any Muslim on the street or workplace and hardly any of them will be wearing one.
The poppy has been used since 1920 to commemorate soldiers who’ve died in war. It is especially prominent in the UK where poppies are sold by The Royal British Legion for their “Poppy Appeal”, which supports all current and former British military personnel. And for Muslims this is precisely the problem.
Most of us have no issue commemorating the war dead in a general sense, but the fact is that the poppy is widely perceived as being a symbol of the British army itself in a similar way to how the “Help For Heroes” campaign is. And make no mistake, this is an army that has invaded and occupied two Muslim countries since 2001 – Iraq and Afghanistan – and has a general history of slaughter and oppression against Muslims.
British military interventions
In Iraq the invading armies literally opened the gates of hell with consequences that would lead to the deaths of around a million people and would destroy a whole nation. And of course the British army was responsible for several atrocities committed against Iraqi civilians, the Baha Moussa case being just one of them.
And in Afghanistan the British army helped to topple a government which had largely stabilised the nation, an act which led to an inevitable resistance struggle with tens of thousands (if not more) dying over the last decade. It’s also important to mention how the invasion of Afghanistan has now completely destabilised its neighbour, Pakistan.
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And these are just two recent examples of how the imperialistic British army has consistently helped to destroy the Muslim world. Libya in 2011; Iraq again in 1990; Egypt in 1956; the brutal role the British military played in quelling colonial insurgencies in Indonesia, Malaysia and Yemen; and of course their historical role in sowing the seeds for devastating conflicts and misery in Palestine and Kashmir. And believe you me this is a non-exhaustive list.
I should also point out that many non-Muslim Britons do not support poppy-wearing either. It is especially controversial in Northern Ireland with most Irish nationalists and Catholics refusing to wear one, mainly due to the actions of the British army during The Troubles.
Yet while British opinion on foreign wars is largely split, support for the troops themselves is almost universal, with around 80 per cent expressing a high opinion of them in most polls. Even mainstream Muslim groups say anger over the war on terror should be directed against politicians, not soldiers.
But this strikes me as illogical and highly hypocritical. A majority of British people, of all religions and none, think the war on terror has been a disaster. They also believe that far from protecting the British public against their enemies, the war on terror has incited terrorism and made the British mainland a target.
And while it’s true that the politicians are primarily to blame for taking the country into these wars, surely the soldiers cannot be completely absolved of responsibility. After all they are the ones who pull the triggers, or in the case of British soldiers in Basra, kick innocent Iraqis to death.
Moreover, soldiers are not robots. They are human beings with critical faculties who can refuse to fight if they believe they are involved in an unjust war. We know that many British soldiers don’t believe what they’re doing is right, yet they continue to pull the triggers nevertheless. Surely that makes them unscrupulous killers?
Don’t forget the Nazis argued at the Nuremberg Trials that they were “only obeying orders.” That lame excuse has been rightly discredited forever.
So perhaps it’s time for those Britons who opposed the Iraq and Afghan wars to face up to their own hypocrisy. And perhaps it’s time the British establishment, media and public reserved their righteous indignation for the right target – those who start illegal wars as well as those who carry them out.
Ditching the poppy would be a start.