THE BLOG

What Does Respect Mean Anyway?

17/11/2015 10:47 GMT | Updated 16/11/2016 10:12 GMT

I've been thinking a lot about respect lately. It all started around Remembrance Day, when a local FaceBooker took it upon herself to berate Walthamstowians for not wearing poppies. They were, she said, showing a lack of respect for the war dead.

You can imagine how well this went. It transpires that respecting the war dead now includes enforcing your opinions on other people and dictating to them what they can or cannot do....after all, these brave young boys fought for our freedom and why not celebrate that freedom by giving other people a taste of what it's like to live in a totalitarian state? One where you must tow the corporate line or suffer the consequences.

As it happens, I didn't buy a poppy this year. I have a lot of conflicting feelings about them but when it boils down it to, the poppy has strayed a long way from its noble roots. It's become aligned with two things I feel deeply uncomfortable with - firstly, the need to be seen to publicly grieve and secondly, extreme right-wing organisations. People like Britain First have taken the poppy and made it their own, to the extent that they've appointed themselves protectors of the poppy sellers, whether the poppy sellers want protecting or not. I'm not prepared to align myself with them in such a visible way.

Because when you start using the poppy for your own aggressive ends, it stops being about respect. Is it respectful to pose with children and then use the photos against their wishes? Is it respectful to adopt Lee Rigby as your poster boy when his family have repeatedly asked you not to? Yet their followers are the same ones that bleat on about respect as if it's the ultimate of British Values.

Another target of the Respect Police was Jeremy Corbyn, whose very posture was measured as a way of judging whether he was being sufficiently respectful. The tabloids waited eagerly to see what he would do at the Cenotaph, knowing there was nothing Corbyn could do to be in the right. Too much emotion and he'd be labelled a hypocrite, not enough and he'd be a traitor. The resulting Sun front page surprised no-one but again it begs the question - why are we all so bothered about what other people are doing and how other people are marking Remembrance Day? It used to be enough to sit quietly and pay your respects in your own way - now, you have to be seen to be wailing and mourning and gnashing your teeth or risk being attacked on social media.

All of which has come to a head this week, with the horrific events in Paris. Straight away, divisions have occurred - those that want to mourn for the dead, those that want to blame Islam in its entirety, those who think we should be mourning for all the dead, not just the ones in our neighbouring country. It's true that Paris has had a disproportionate amount of attention and empathy but it's understandable in a way. So many of us Brits have been to Paris, know people there, understand the culture - that's why it feels close and raw. Not so many Brits have been to Beirut. But again, the battle is on to out-berate one another on Facebook - people criticising others for "Frenching up" their profile pictures, others criticising them for disrespecting the Paris dead, others still criticising the criticisers....it is madness.

A lot of people have died. We all process this in our own ways. All you need to know about respect is that whatever someone else is doing is their business. If changing their profile picture helps them to feel like they're paying respect to the victims, then let them do that. If sharing about the victims in Beirut, Lebanon or anywhere else helps you, then do it. But let's actually use some real live respect and just leave each other be.

And as for turning on the Muslim community, I think you can guess where I stand on that. ISIS considers moderate Muslims to be just as much an enemy of theirs as Christians, Atheists and anyone is. ISIS are the epitome of "if you're not with us, you're against us". But there is an opportunity for extremists here - there are Muslims who would be vulnerable to radicalisation if they were treated badly enough by the West. That's exactly what ISIS are hoping for - that right wing groups will stir up enough Islamophobia to create resentment and anger within the Muslim community.

Let's not let that happen. Once again, let's tap into what respect actually means and show it, regardless of background or belief. Unless you're a Sun journalist or the Britain First social media officer in which, I'm all out of respect. Sorry!