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Some Brief Notes on the Poppy in 2011

It’s not often that I indulge in armchair punditry on a subject that is being widely discussed elsewhere, but I’d like to make a few of observations on this:

Wales footballers have been given clearance to wear poppies on their black arm bands during the international with Norway on Saturday.

Governing body Fifa had earlier blocked both Wales and England from wearing poppies over the Remembrance weekend.

But after intense pressure from the UK government, and the intervention of Prince William as FA president, Fifa has backed down and changed its rules.

The interesting aspect of this is that remembrance poppies and FIFA have both been around since the the early years of the last century, and yet only in 2011 has this become an issue; as others have noted, an England match against Argentina on 11 November 2005 went ahead poppy-less and without controversy. According to an unnamed FA spokesman:

“…a greater focus has been given to the level of support and respect shown by the national teams [over the past five years.]… Since 2005, our clubs have all begun to wear poppies on their match shirts in domestic games for the early part of November as a mark of respect for those who lost their lives serving their country.”

The most obvious reason for this trend is doubtless the continuing roll-call of British soldiers killed in action in Afghanistan and Iraq, but a few other factors ought to be considered:

(1) As I’ve written before, Britain is a society in the process of trying to adapt to an individualistic culture in which people increasingly feel that their their professional lives should not completely stifle their sense of identity. This isn’t a bad development: terrible things have happened because people gave up any sense of individual responsibility once they were given a uniform and a job to do. Britain is not France, and it has long been recognised that there should be some accommodation for personal conscience and cultural difference. It is therefore not surprising to see national organisations asking for the same sort of flexibility at the international level.

(2) The last few years have seen one economic crisis after another. There’s not much that we can do about the decline of Britain’s standing and power in the face of global forces, but we can adopt a more assertive attitude on matters of national pride. Again, there’s nothing wrong with that in itself – some might dismiss it as psychological compensation, but it might also be seen as a re-connection with other priorities. However, it can have an unattractive side, as Alex Massie notes in the Spectator:

…When contestants on the X-Factor use the poppy as some kind of fashion accessory you know something grim has happened to the annual acts of remembrance…

There is, alas, something vulgar about this craving to be seen to show how much you care. Never mind how much you really care, just be seen to be seen to be caring. “Poppy fascism” is a revolting term but there’s also something pretty ghastly about “Poppy Monitoring” and the subsequent excoriation of anyone deemed to have “disrespected” the poppy, the dead and by extension Britain itself.

Marina Hyde discusses one example in the Guardian:

With a tedious inevitability, the Daily Mail’s campaign to divide the whole of Britain into people who wear poppies and people who are subhuman scumbags has reached the Premier League… In case you are not familiar with what we would be encouraged to refer to as “the growing row”, the facts are these. At the time of writing 15 Premier League clubs have applied for special dispensation to embroider a poppy on their shirts for games between now and Remembrance Sunday, while – far more thrillingly for the Mail – five clubs have not. 

(3) The poppy symbol came under attack a year ago, when a large model of a poppy was publicly burnt in London by members Anjem Choudary’s Muslims Against Crusades (MAC). This provoked widespread revulsion and anger, which has in turn perhaps helped to further consolidate public attitudes that the poppy is something that should be actively stood up for.

MAC was banned as of midnight last night on the following grounds:

Theresa May said she was satisfied the group was “simply another name for an organisation already proscribed under a number of names” including Al Ghurabaa, The Saved Sect, Al Muhajiroun and Islam4UK.

“The organisation was proscribed in 2006 for glorifying terrorism and we are clear it should not be able to continue these activities by simply changing its name,” she said.

However, the timing of May’s “satisfaction” was obviously related to MAC’s plan to repeat the poppy stunt (in an event called “Hell for Heroes”); we’ve all known from the beginning what Choudary has been up to with his various re-branded groups.

As a poster on Harry’s Place notes:

Either it isn’t possible to escape a ban by changing a group’s name – in which case, a criminal case should be brought against Muslims Against Crusades as a reincarnation of other banned groups – or it is.

If the Government believes it is possible to circumvent a ban by changing a group’s name, then there’s no point in introducing a new banning order. Is there?

Clearly, the new banning order has been brought in as a quick fix to prevent public disorder today, and in response to the public mood. But why hasn’t a criminal case ever been brought?