By Masuma Rahim
I write this the day before Remembrance Sunday. The history and poetry of the World Wars was a huge part of both my primary and secondary education and I remember it vividly.
As a child, I wished that I had had grandparents and parents who remembered them or had fought in them, but my family was fortunate enough to have been untainted by the experience of armed conflict. What I really longed for was the experiences that my friends seemed to inherit from the tales of bravery and courage their grandparents told them.
Despite my pacifism, I never lost my fascination with the great wars: I have always worn a poppy and the poems of Brooke, Graves, Owen and Sassoon continue to move me in ways I find impossible to describe.
This year, however, I have not bought a poppy. Not for lack of opportunity, more because of a growing sense that the meaning behind the poppy has been corrupted. The poppy symbolises the thousands of flowers which grew on the Western front during WWI and commemorates the millions who have fallen in conflicts ever since.
These symbols are important; without them it is all too easy to forget our history and the sacrifices that were made by others so that we might live free. I believe in those principles. What I do not believe in is the misappropriation of symbols to justify dubious ends.
At some point in the past decade the poppy has stopped being a personal expression of grief and remembrance and started to be used as a political tool. These days, broadcasters are ordered to wear them (and, to my knowledge, Jon Snow is the only one who refuses, on the basis that it is unprofessional for a news broadcaster to declare their allegiances whilst at work. I happen to agree with him) and no politician will be seen without one. Indeed, those that do refuse, such as Snow, are declared ‘disrespectful’ and their decisions appear to be tantamount to national treachery.
There seems to be an underlying message that if one wears a poppy to mourn those who died pre-1945, one must also support the invasions of the past decade; that there is no room for criticism or questioning. And we, the public, have accepted this shift in perception.
We have allowed the poppy to be turned into a jingoistic symbol of Empire, of loyalty to Britain and all that she stands for. I may have a certain loyalty to Britain and some of what she stands for, but my loyalty cannot be judged on a lapel pin worn for ten days a year, nor do I forfeit my right to an opinion based upon the wearing of that lapel pin.
So my disillusionment grows and my decision not to wear a poppy for the foreseeable future has been cemented. I feel sad about it, but I feel sadder that the simple ideology it stood for has been sullied and besmirched by those in power.