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Footballers Will Be Allowed To Wear Red Poppies. Will They Be Allowed Not To?

26/09/2017 11:37 BST | Updated 26/09/2017 11:38 BST
Catherine Ivill - AMA via Getty Images

FIFA is said to have relaxed their rules about footballers wearing poppies but I suspect that footballers will have no more freedom to choose whether to wear a poppy than they did last year.

The rule that footballers must not wear a red poppy will in effect be replaced by a rule that they must wear one. The right-wing media will scream with outrage against any footballer who does otherwise. People who tell us that we should remember those who died for "our freedoms" will deny freedom to anyone in the public eye who casts doubt on the righteousness of red poppies...

This hypocrisy is backed up by the claim that red poppies are "not political". What a sad reflection on the state of our politics, that we praise something for being "not political". There is more to politics than elections, parties and politicians. Remembrance is inherently political. It involves choices that reflect our values. They say a lot about how we see the world and what we think about how society should function.

Many people wear red poppies out of a desire to remember all people killed or injured in war. According to the people who produce red poppies, however, they are not supposed to.

The Royal British Legion (RBL) - distributors of the red poppy and self-appointed "custodians of remembrance" - insist that red poppies represent remembrance only for members of British and allied armed forces. This implies that red poppies do not honour firefighters and ambulance drivers killed in the Blitz while saving the lives of others. They do not involve remembrance for children killed by bombs in Coventry, Cardiff, Belfast, Baghdad or Hiroshima. People who, through an accident of birth, happen to have been born in the "wrong" country are entirely excluded.

This narrow, nationalistic sort of remembrance is a political choice. An alternative is to remember all victims of war - as represented by white poppies. White poppies stand for remembrance for all people killed and harmed in war, both civilians and members of armed forces, of all nationalities. They involve a commitment to building peace and a rejection of militarism.

Whether you wear a red poppy, white poppy, black poppy or no poppy, you are making a political choice. It is absurd to claim that one of these choices is "not political". The phrase "not political" is generally applied to influential and well-funded institutions - the armed forces, the monarchy, the Royal British Legion. If an institution is deemed to be "not political", it is placed beyond criticism. In a democracy, no institution should be outside public scrutiny. Yet this is what the language of "not political" allows.

The British Legion's own political allegiances have become increasingly blatant in recent years. After World War One, a message commonly associated with remembrance was "never again". Now, however, the Legion declares that wearing a red poppy shows support for the armed forces "past, present and future".

The devastating wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya have been widely recognised as failures even on their own terms. They have not enjoyed large-scale popular support in Britain in the way that governments used to expect in wartime. Nonetheless, we are told to applaud the institution used to carry out these wars, an organisation that brutalises vulnerable teenagers and requires them to obey orders to kill without question.

We have a choice when it comes to poppies. We have rights to freedom of expression because our ancestors campaigned for these rights (not because they were handed down to us by the establishment). We can maintain those rights only if we continue to exercise them, despite the massive social pressure to follow the establishment line. The language of "not political" is only one more aspect of the pressure to conform.