THE BLOG

The Politicisation of the Poppy: the Misuse of the Poppy by the Far Right

08/11/2015 09:13 GMT | Updated 06/11/2016 10:12 GMT

'All locomotion should cease, so that, in perfect stillness, the thoughts of everyone may be concentrated on reverent remembrance of the glorious dead.'- King George V 7 November 1919

This year on the eleventh hour, of the eleventh day, of the eleventh month the nation will, as it has for ninety-six years, come to a standstill. People all over the country will pause to think about those who served, that continue to serve, and who paid 'the ultimate sacrifice' since the First World War.

The British Legion's poppy has become a dominating symbol of remembrance. It is also a symbol of hope. In 2014 the British legion introduced the new strapline 'Live On - to the memory of the fallen and the future of the living.' According to their website the poppy is 'about providing hope for the Armed Forces community of all ages.' However, in recent years it has increasingly become utilised by political organisations to promote their cause.

Organisations like Britain First have adopted the poppy in order to spread their Right-Wing messages. These groups use the poppy as clickbait, or more specifically sharebait. Simply put, they share an image which reaches out to people's patriotism. Britain First will usually post 20 or so images with provocative titles on them a day.

The use of this tactic has been successful, by November last year, they had 500,000 people liking their Facebook page, reaching an estimated 20 million people. At the time of writing, the page currently has over 978,000 likes.

Yesterday Britain First shared a picture of soldiers ascending to heaven, with a poppy, with 'lest we forget' written under the picture. In four hours the picture had over 670 shares and 1,800 likes.

Daniel Borochoff, president of Charity Watch, explains that this tactic is so successful because 'people make snap decisions. They don't do their homework.' This piece intends to do, at least some, of the 'homework' for you.

The use of the poppy as a political tool is deplorable because it goes against the wishes of the British Legion, who wrote, 'the poppy is NOT...a reflection of politics or religion.'

The most shocking issue regarding the use of poppy pictures by Britain First are the real messages they are hiding. One click to the right on the picture described above and one finds an anti-Islamic picture. You not have to look far on the group's wall to find Islamophobic messages and propaganda.

James Wharton, a veteran and campaigner for equality and veterans, wrote in an article 'like me, most soldiers in the army have lost friends in recent conflicts. For us, patriotism lives on year after year in the symbol of the poppy.' He continues 'so seeing an organisation like Britain First - who I consider racist and total contrary to the values, standards and ethics of our military - hijack this legend and use it for their own propaganda, in an attempt to boost their reach on social media, leaves me disgusted.'

What makes the use of the poppy by these groups so deplorable is that, whilst claiming it respects all members of the armed forces, it diminishes the sacrifice that Muslims have made serving the United Kingdom. In the First World War over 1.3 million Indians volunteered to fight for the British Army in the Indian Expeditionary Force. This force included 400,000 Muslims.

Their courage is exemplified by the actions of Khudada Khan, who served in the 129th Baluchis, the first Indian recipient of the Victoria Cross, the highest military honour bestowed in the British Army.

Khan, serving as a machine gunner, kept fighting after being badly wounded, his team killed and greatly outnumbered. His VC citation noted that he 'remained working his gun until all the other five men of the gun detachment had been killed.' Later that night, after the German troops left him for dead, he crawled back to join his regiment. Khan's actions held the German troops at bay long enough for the British and Indian troops to get to the area to repel the attack.

Shahamad Khan, a Muslim soldier in the 89th Punjabis, too demonstrated excellence in soldiery during the First World War. Serving on the Tigris Front, Khan was in charge of a machine gun section. After all of his men, but two, were wounded or killed, Khan began to work the gun singlehandedly. He managed to repel three counter attacks, and 'under extremely heavy fire' continued to hold a gap in the line for three hours. Once out of machine gun bullets, he and the two other members of his team held the line using their rifles. For his actions, he too was awarded the Victoria Cross.

The number of Muslims currently serving in the British Armed Forces has risen by over forty per cent since 2007, currently numbering 650. Imam Asim Hafiz OBE, the first Muslim Chaplain in the Armed Forces, is not surprised by this increase. 'The increasing number of Muslims in the armed forces is a natural change, because society is becoming more tolerant and young Muslims women feel more able to come forward and serve.'

He also commented that Muslim soldiers did not have an internal conflict when they were ordered to fight Taliban insurgents. 'I've met many Muslims in the military who are very devout, because to Muslims a love of your country and serving your community is an important part of your faith.'

One example of this attitude comes from Captain Naveed Muhammed, a Muslim soldier who served in the British Army for more than 27 years, who said 'our faith teaches us resilience. Of course, taking life is something you think about when you first deploy operationally... but Britain is a special place to be and we all have to contribute to keep it like that.'

When groups like Britain First turn the poppy into sharebait to spread their anti-Islamic political message, under the guise of respecting soldiers, they disrespect every Muslim service person that has played a significant role in the Armed Forces. They diminish the courage and bravery demonstrated by Khudada Khan VC, Shahamad Khan VC, and many others like them. They treat the commitment of current serving Muslims, who recently have put country above faith, with condescension.

When one shares or likes a Britain First poppy, whether knowingly or not, they are sharing a contradictory message from a group that works under the guise of British ideals.

Those who willingly share Britain First poppies, fail to understand the true meaning behind the iconic symbol. It is not political. It is not religious. It is a symbol of hope and respect. It should not be used as a tool to spread political messages of any kind, especially political messages that diminish the religion of same people who the poppy really represents. Perhaps it is time to dig a little deeper into the history books, and grasp a little more knowledge to go with all that so-called 'patriotism.'