Every year as Remembrance Day approaches, I bemoan the lamentable lack of interest in the great traditions of this country shown by Britain’s immigrant population.
In the weeks leading up to Remembrance Sunday and Armistice Day, I have noticed that I am not the only person wearing a poppy when I board a bus or tube train in London. Though the young are being brainwashed by the media in a society that has become increasingly secular and that celebrates the brand of political correctness that includes disdain for the military, to my delight this year I have noticed that a new generation is joining in this tradition. Sadly, this is still not the case with our large immigrant or second-generation population. When young British soldiers marched in Luton, England, earlier this year, they were booed and jeered by placard-wielding Muslim extremists branding them butchers. (Imagine how far a group of British men would get jeering the native soldiers in Damascus or Tripoli!)
As the brave British, American, and other Allied men who fought for us to be spared the Thousand-Year Reich die off at a rate of 1,500 a day, it is vital we do not forget their sacrifice and that immigrants wake up to the importance of honoring those whose sacrifice has made it possible for them to prosper in Europe and the UK. On October 9, 2009, Her Majesty the Queen led a service at St. Paul’s Cathedral to honor the British forces who have served in Iraq. On Sunday, October 25, 1,500 D-Day veterans were honored at Westminster Abbey. It got little coverage, but by Jove, to me it was an important commemoration. The sea of poppies on the lapels of those attending was a reminder of the tens of thousands of service personnel left behind under the soil of Europe.
In November 2006 Yasmin Alibhai-Brown wrote a remarkable editorial in the Evening Standard in which she expressed her shame at having refused to wear a poppy the year before. In the intervening year she had met ethnic minority war veterans who were particularly hurt by her impetuous attitude. (She had returned her MBE to protest the war policy of the British government. As an immigrant myself, I would drop dead with pride to be awarded any honor by the queen.) To my surprise, in 2006 Alibhai-Brown asserted she would thenceforth wear a poppy and set aside her anti-war sentiments, which she now felt were secondary to the tribute the nation must pay to the men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice to preserve our democratic values. When I arrived in the United Kingdom thirty-four years ago, I was so touched by this tradition that I made sure to buy one from a Royal British Legion volunteer as soon as November rolled around.
Why is wearing a poppy such a big deal to me? It is a tradition started in Canada and the United States that spread to Britain and to the Commonwealth nations, who had suffered massive casualties in the Great War. As a Briton born in the U.S., I feel honored to be a citizen of two great democracies. The poppy is a symbol of the terrible loss of life in World War I in the fields of Flanders, where these blood-red flowers sprouted above the acres of corpses of fallen soldiers. As the decades have passed it is worn to show one’s respect for the millions who have died in successive conflicts as recent as Iraq and Afghanistan.
On British television, every presenter and anchor wears a poppy. Every shopkeeper, publican, hotel manager, and cabbie in what I dare to call “traditionally British” regions wears a poppy. The British Legion motto is “Wear your poppy with pride.” This year I bought mine at my local doctor’s office.
Every year I take a long walk along Edgware Road, a heavily Middle Eastern section of London. The restaurants and cafes are wonderful and the proprietors welcoming. In fact, they bend over backwards to make those not born in the Levant feel at home. Yet again this year, from Marble Arch I decided to walk back slowly to my neighborhood, Little Venice. As I walked the long trek, the memory of the hundreds of thousands of men and women who died, often in their teens, so we might live out our lives in splendor was palpable in Remembrance season. I walked and walked, stopping into every establishment. Not one person, except for the odd older cockney, was wearing a poppy.
The British government now requires the completion of a questionnaire for new citizens. It is to me a useless exercise. What immigrants and their kin need to be taught is basic pride in being British; immigrants to the United States glow with radiance when they become citizens. If a whole portion of the British population does not care a toss about participating in one of the nation’s most sacred traditions, how can we ever “integrate”? I went down to the heavily migrant East End and again, as in Edgware Road, not one poppy could be found. Yes, I am angry and offended that along the miles of pavement I trawl each year I never see one poppy.
In 2005 the mass-terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi issued a warning that Queen Elizabeth, “leader of the crusaders,” would be the next target of al-Qaeda. On Remembrance Weekend she stood defiant — as she had done in an open-topped car on the day of the London bombings, July 7 — amid the shower of poppies that rained down on the Royal Albert Hall, gazing with pride at the thousands of brave service people. The sum total the radicals could contribute to the commemorations of the sixtieth anniversary of the end of World War II was this ugly threat from a man whose only occupation was spreading misery in his wake.
When I told my local grocer, an Asian born in the UK, where I had been that day, he looked at me with a blank stare. I said, “the Cenotaph,” and he shrugged.
One of my left-wing friends has a fit when she sees my poppy pin, which she describes as a “celebration of killing.” Politically correct Londoners scream at me if I defend the right of a cabbie to have the Union Jack on his taxi. Others lament the “appalling custom” of Americans hanging flags outside their houses.
It was gratifying in the week leading up to Remembrance Day 2009 that there was an outcry when Bodycare, a toiletries firm in Wigan, banned its employees from wearing poppies; veterans groups expressed their outrage and the rule was reversed.
But all I want right now is to see British-born Muslims and recent arrivals from all nations wearing their poppy — with pride.