Friday, 6 November 2015

On poppies, peace and ideology

"Poppy Selling Campaign by  Ahmadiyya Muslim Youth"
Compare these two photos and ask yourself, what would happen if the messages on the T-shirts were reversed? Why is a white schoolgirl touting herself as "Future Soldier" not a victim of radicalization, when a young Muslim of the same age wearing the same T-shirt would most probably be arrested?

"I don't wear poppies, and this image encapsulates why"
How much more must our Muslim neighbours and fellow citizens do to prove themselves worthy of our respect and solidarity in the struggle against all forms of extremism, prejudice and violence? How often must every Muslim prove that he or she is a tolerant, peace-loving, exemplary citizen to avoid being branded and blamed by his or her suspicious neighbours and our elected politicians? When will we acknowledge that the main victims of Islamist extremism have been Muslims themselves - murdered, raped, exiled, impoverished, their homes and lives destroyed by the deadly combination of Islamist extremism, western militarism and an increasingly savage response from Europe's politicians to the plight of refugees?

Violence - whether mindless or not, whether a calculated military strategy or a calculated terrorist attack - always generates more violence. It is not the preserve of any religion, nation or race, for it lurks in every human heart and finds explosive expression wherever people are persuaded that it is more reasonable to hate than to love, more noble to kill than to die, more astute to exclude than to embrace, better to become a fighter than a peacemaker, better to bring your children up as future soldiers than as pacifists. René Girard died this week. He was perhaps the wisest and most learned voice of our current age with regard to violence and its causes.

I am sorry to see these young Muslim men selling poppies, though I understand why they do. But the photograph that the British Legion tweeted in 2013 - revived by a recent blogger - should make every poppy-wearing person ask themselves what they think it signifies today, for in no way does it symbolise either the futile horror of the trenches, nor the anguished justifiability of World War II. It does not say "never again" but "war without end". If people want to keep the integrity of the red poppy as a sign of the horror and cost of war, they should rescue it from the hands of the British Legion and give it to a charity that better understands "the truth untold, The pity of war, the pity war distilled" (Wilfred Owen, Strange Meeting). Indeed, if one reads the comments provoked by that tweet, it seems that many supporters of the British Legion feel the same way.