The Poppy

Too bone idle or morally invertebrate to defend human rights? Not a problem. Just wear a poppy instead.

Don’t let anyone tell you that blogging is difficult. It’s not. In fact it’s very easy. Once you’ve spewed out a few semi-original posts you can basically sit back and re-post them when the same old stories come round next time. I think Mark Twain said: “History does not repeat itself, but it does rhyme.”

Last year I wrote a post about the banning of the group Muslims Against Crusades. I agreed they should be banned because of their support for terrorism but I had no objection – so far as the criminal law was concerned – to them burning poppies.

Poppy-burning might be disrespectful, offensive and moronically ironic on an epic scale (in that it demonstrates utter contempt for the very individuals who died to preserve sacred freedoms such as the right to protest and to disagree), but criminal? No way.

Yesterday someone was arrested for posting a picture of themselves burning a poppy.

Arresting someone for committing such a harmless act – something which at a stretch could even be called an act of political protest though this flatters it greatly – is a disgraceful way of honouring not only the fallen but those who continue to risk and give their lives in Afghanistan and elsewhere in the name of freedom.

Although I’m guessing this individual was motivated by a loathing for the West rather than a love for the freedoms generally enjoyed here, expressing even the mildest and most rational counter-opinion on the subject of the poppy now qualifies as something of an extreme sport.

Make a passing remark over lunch with work colleagues that some public figures have an odd habit of wearing comically large and ostentatious poppies and you’re likely to be marched off to the Tower. Merely observe that, like Christmas, the wearing of poppies gets earlier every year and you’re lucky if you escape summary execution. Not wearing a poppy? Well, you might as well wear your “Jim Fixed It For Me” T-shirt and medal at the NSPCC Christmas party. Even a former member of the SAS has argued that the poppy is now used as a political tool.

I do think wearing a poppy is a powerful act of remembrance and solidarity, but unless we’re careful it will mutate into a religion; the wearing of the poppy becoming the essential (and crucially, visible) symbol of being good, just as being loudly religious seemingly makes a person virtuous. Can you be good without wearing a poppy? What are you, crazy? Of course you can’t. It’s like being good without religion: impossible. And if you’re a nasty human being for 364 days of the year then don’t worry because you can totally redeem yourself by wearing an overgrown, genetically-modified poppy, in the same way you can conveniently dust away all your previous sins with a religious conversion, even on your deathbed.

Let’s try and keep it simple: wearing a poppy does not extinguish your bad deeds and make you a good person. Got that? And not wearing a poppy does not extinguish your good deeds and make you a bad person. Got that as well?

And wearing a poppy is no substitute for getting off your backside to defend freedoms.  I am certain that many of those who wear a poppy – here I might even be tempted to say the majority – don’t give human rights and democratic freedoms the slightest thought for the rest of the year. And sometimes quite the contrary: they elect to mercilessly criticise, mock and undermine those like myself who spend the year obsessing over such trivial things, therefore making our pursuit of those goals even harder.

I’ve lost track of the number of times people have called me intolerant or racist, or inhaled sharply, or just expressed their confusion and bemusement, when I’ve exercised my own and defended others’ freedom of speech (especially where religion is concerned), or when I’ve campaigned against sharia “law”. What matters to these people isn’t human rights and democratic freedoms. They barely understand these, let alone care about them, and certainly not enough to do anything productive to preserve them. No, what’s important to them is being seen by others to care, and being seen to be “good”.

To the extent the average punter does ponder human rights and democratic freedoms, they probably think that sporting a poppy for a few days of the year, possibly with an ever-so-subtle sense of superiority over those not wearing one, discharges them completely of their democratic and moral duty to defend freedom. It doesn’t. Discharging that duty requires you to do a bit more actual “stuff” than just wearing a poppy. Am I a seasoned, front-line campaigner on the human rights battlefield? Not at all, but I do my bit, which is a good deal more than a lot of people who do nothing.

What’s important isn’t the poppy. What’s important is actually defending and exercising the freedoms for which people have literally died – and for which people continue to fight and die in all corners of this pale blue dot – every single day and at every available opportunity.

And if you’re too lazy, too busy or too weak to do that then fine, but please don’t pester those of us who do. Just wear your nice pretty poppy once a year and shut the fuck up for the rest of it. Think of it as training for your calendar’s moral high-point (not that you have many, or any, others): the two-minute silence.