Having a poppy pinned to my coat and wearing it with pride is something I can remember doing as long as I’ve been alive.
The wearing of silk and paper poppies as a symbol of remembrance to service men and women killed in conflict is a British tradition that’s been around for almost 100 years.
My family always reminded me what the poppy signified – a token of remembrance to people who were told they had to leave their families and go to war, teenagers who were called up to protect the country I love but never returned.
The idea of loved ones being uprooted from their normal lives to be sent abroad to a battlefield continues to haunt me and has always brought home the significance of what happened.
So it came as a great surprise to me to hear that there were people who thought the poppy was a racist symbol.
I wondered how.
Last year the Middle East-based journalist Robert Fisk said he would never wear a poppy again. He said they only signified those killed in the first and second World Wars and didn’t commemorate those who lost their lives in conflict in places like Aleppo. He also mentioned how Polish soldiers fought and died alongside British pilots in the Battle of Britain to save us from Nazi Germany. He described how we idolised them and “pretended to wear the poppy” for them yet, citing Brexit, said the same poppy wearers wanted to throw the children of those brave men out of Britain.
Just a few weeks ago, a group of men who are followers of Ahmadiyya say they were abused while selling poppies in Euston station in London. Naveed Uz Zafar, whose uncle flew in the RAF, said he’d heard stories of people being called ‘infidels’ for wearing poppies and a man accused him of betraying Muslims and Palestine.
Just prior to that, Pakistani Christian Tajamal Amar was badly beaten in Derby by who he claimed were Muslim men angry about him displaying a poppy in his car.
But are these rare examples? Or do other Muslim residents in the UK feel the poppy is a racist symbol?
Amjad Zaman says: “They’re controversial. Wearing a poppy is fine but it’s the lack of respect for those who choose not to support it that is the issue. They shouldn’t be obliged to support war. The racist element is that they only recognise white British servicemen – I doubt Gurkhas benefit from it. I’ve never seen any remembrance for people of colour. I’m not against it but I don’t support it as there are more important things in my life.”
Rachid Bouras says: “I’d never wear one because it’s a symbol of British imperialism. It’s disgusting and distasteful to honour soldiers – many of whom are and were poor, working class and hoodwinked into going and killing some other country’s poor in the name of freedom. When they come back from war they’re left to rot away with their mental health issues.”
On the other hand, Dean O Malley says: “Poppies aren’t a symbol of British imperialism. It’s a symbol of remembrance to fallen soldiers in two world wars. They were introduced after the height of British imperialism. They’re not racist but, like the national flag, they’ve been co-opted by racists who use the poppy as a proxy to bully people. My problem with them is the continued association with the armed forces and charities that support them. It’s fine to remember fallen soldiers who were conscripted to fight but dubious when it’s for professional soldiers fighting immoral and illegal wars. It’s ironic that a symbol to remember soldiers who died securing basic freedoms is now being used by facists to coerce people.”
For some, it’s a case of what the symbol means to you personally. You may oppose war but it’s important to you to pay your respects to those who died in the world wards fighting for the freedom we enjoy today.
Tariq Choudhury says: “My thoughts on the poppy have nothing to do with religion. Being from Accrington, at school we were taught about the Accrington Pals (a group of friends who volunteered to form a battalion in the First World War) so we always wore them. But forcing people to wear them and the politicisation of the poppy is the issue I take with it. It's been hijacked by the right and all you see is ill-informed stuff on Facebook from far right groups.”