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The Great Poppy Fiasco

Do not be fooled into thinking that just because you have a poppy pinned to your lapel it automatically makes you a better person; my bet is that the majority of poppy wearers do not spare a seconds thought for the armed forces outside of November.

How patriotic are you? If you are unsure, now is the perfect time to make a self-analysis.

Will you be wearing a poppy this year to remember "our boys" who lost their lives serving their country in the numerous wars that have been fought around the globe?

Will you remain silent for two minutes at 11am on 11 November? If not, why not? Did you not realise that by refusing to partake in these expected rituals you are fundamentally an unpatriotic traitor?

Did you not realise that by refusing to honour the dead in that tried and tested manner you are being incredibly disrespectful and obnoxious? Did you not realise that by not entering into the spirit of the whole thing you clearly have no heart or compassion?

Obviously, the above paragraph is my attempt at sarcasm. For this is the kind of diatribe being conjured up by the tabloids in a feeble effort to get everyone wearing what veteran reporter Robert Fisk rightfully refers to as "fashion appendage".

Tales of the England football team being outraged over FIFA's (initial) decision to refuse them permission to wear a poppy on their shirts have been splashed all over the front pages, and Facebook chain-messages have been rampant in their condemnation over false claims that the British Legion are unable to sell poppies in certain areas of the UK due to the fact that "some minorities" - note the vagueness - might be offended.

These stories are supposed to lead readers down a path of uncontrollable fury and rage. We are encouraged to hate both FIFA and minorities for standing in the way of our remembrance.

Moreover, stories like these help lead to an overall sense that anyone not wearing a poppy during the first half of November is an inconsiderate arse for daring to challenge the concept of the status quo. The conventional wisdom - so often inaccurate and wrong - has it that if you are not seen wearing a red poppy you clearly fail to acknowledge the efforts of our armed forces. You do not care that thousands of military personnel have lost their lives so that we can now live in peace and relative freedom.

All complete and utter claptrap. There are numerous reasons why people choose not to wear a poppy; not least because actually what our armed forces fought for was the right to freedom of expression (for example, you can choose not to wear a poppy if you so wish!).

Pacifists argue that the red poppy glorifies the concept of war and instead opt to wear a white poppy that symbolises the notion of peace. Others, such as the Independent's Robert Fisk, state that they do not feel worthy of wearing such an emblem: "I didn't feel I deserved to wear it...[I] had no idea what the trenches of France were like, what it felt like to have your friends die beside you". Channel 4 newsreader Jon Snow refuses to wear one in an effort to stand up against what he describes as "poppy fascism"; the idea that you are forced to wear a poppy just because your employer requests it rightly sickens him.

What is important to note is that these individuals, whilst refusing to conform to the unwritten remembrance rules, do not disrespect the dead; far from it. They merely choose to remember in their own way.

That last point leads me nicely onto the England football shirt debate. Media blog Shouting at Cows comically tweeted: "I'm sure those who died needlessly at the Somme would be thrilled that a disinterested John Terry is obliged to remember them".

Whilst this statement was undoubtedly made as a humorous remark, it does pack a significant punch. The populist newspapers - you know the ones; Mail, Sun, Express etc - have gone to town on the England football shirt poppy debacle. FIFA refused to allow the England team - and the Welsh and Scottish teams; though they do not matter in the eyes of our Londoncentric press - to wear a totemic poppy on their kit during upcoming friendly matches. After heavy media pressure and a denouncement from David Cameron, FIFA finally changed course and allowed the nations to wear a poppy, as a mark of respect, on black armbands.

But why the sudden interest? This has never been an issue during November fixtures in the past. What this episode clearly identifies is that there is still an unpleasant aspect of nationalism manifesting within Great Britain; clearly fuelled by the BNP and EDL types. It is an aspect that sits uncomfortably close to racism and bigotry. Ask any of these England poppy shirt campaigners what they would think of the Saudi Arabia team wearing an embroidered aeroplane on their shirts to commemorate those hijackers who lost their lives during the 9/11 attacks.

Ask them how they would feel if the Scotland team decided to stitch an image of William Wallace on their tops. Funnily enough, I cannot imagine them fighting so passionately for permission to be granted to those totemic symbols.

In reference to the Facebook chain-message, how are British Muslims supposed to react when they are accused of disrespecting Armistice Day? Repugnant myths are spread year after year. I for one would not be surprised if British Muslims felt a sense of disenchantment surrounding the whole furore. Positive stories whereby young British Muslims - you know, the ones who supposedly hate the UK and want to blow us all up - embrace the Poppy Appeal are ignored in favour of stirring up xenophobic hatred.

Instead, meaningless articles such as this make the headlines. I wonder what poppy campaigners expect a German national living or holidaying in the UK to do during November; I assume the response would be something like, "if they don't like it they should have stayed away."

Sadly, Remembrance Sunday has become a kind of monitor of patriotism. If you dare to do things differently, your own way, you are pounced on from a great height and accused of spitting on the memory of the war dead. No thought is given to the fact that non-poppy wearers (such as myself) may well have donated to the British Legion but chosen not to buy into the nauseating poppy craze. Remembrance is a personal thing. During those two minutes of silence I choose to think of the conscripts who had no choice but to fight for their country.

I choose to think of those individuals who showed another kind of bravery; the moral bravery of the men and woman who refused to bear arms against fellow human beings and were often shot for their 'crime'. I think of the civilian victims, I think of Bradley Manning and I think of the trauma caused to countless families as a direct result of warfare.

So, if and when you see someone without a poppy, do not grumble and accuse them of being disrespectful. Do not judge them and make knee-jerk generalisations. For all you know they may have lost family in one war or another and are repulsed at the way the poppy is now being used ostentatiously to signal patriotism when it suits. For all you know they may have had relatives abused at Deepcut Barracks, therefore, opting not to show respect to the armed forces that tried so hard to cover up the ongoing crimes.

Do not be fooled into thinking that just because you have a poppy pinned to your lapel it automatically makes you a better person; my bet is that the majority of poppy wearers do not spare a seconds thought for the armed forces outside of November. Furthermore, I would argue that not voting is far more disrespectful than not wearing a poppy, and how many of you are guilty of that?

Either way, it is - and should be - a personal choice whether or not someone wants to wear a red poppy, a white poppy or no poppy. This is not about militarism versus pacifism or red poppy versus white poppy, it is about a person's right to choose and not be judged.

The England football shirt episode was laughable and highly immature, the false tales of Muslim dissenters are appalling, but worst of all, the general public's ignorance and willingness to buy into the myths is astounding.

Would the England team not wearing a poppy in November be any more disrespectful than when they do not wear one for the other 11 months of the year? Is the fact that two Muslim MPs failed to applaud a war veteran any worse than any other anti-war campaigners failing to applaud a war veteran? This is the kind of logical thinking that needs to be shared if we are ever to regain the true concept of what Armistice Day is all about.

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