Tag Archives: the Guardian

Is the poppy our most sacred symbol?

Reading about previous year arrests for acts that seemed to denigrate the emblem, I am wondering if the same would be true of a key religious symbol, or a national flag. I know that Christians have had various attacks – such as Francis Bacon’s crucifix in a pot of piss, or an episode of Jonathan Creek, or even you could say, Monty Python’s Life of Brian. Did they spark off arrests and complaints in the way that teenager from Canterbury experienced last year, or a Muslim the year before?

The end of the first story seems to be that the Kentish offender was let off as he agreed to meet war veterans to apologise. It seems a resocialisation went on – is that what restorative justice is? It recalled an episode in prison drama Bad Girls where a character who had accidently killed through an angry practical joke was made to face her victim’s family. Is a poppy burning photo on social media with an alleged crude comment on a par with that act of irresponsible manslaughter?

It felt like this young man had to also face his elders (and betters) and be turned into the kind of citizen that’s appropriate, or desired. Orwell had another word for that.

Whether offence can be an offence is interesting to debate and a hard line to draw, but for any of us with a faith or who support for anything that’s unfashionable and unpalatable to those around, we might feel it unfair that our deeply held beliefs are not a police matter, and yet ones that are a political tool are. It reminds of what I wrote in the summer about the homophobic comments of a pastor about the local Rainbow Pride parade – horrid, hurtful (I’d argue more than poppy burning as some gay people carry an almost suicidal guilt burden and fear of persecution, but our soldiers are venerated) – but rightly a police affair?

Along with the Holocaust, the poppy is a matter to tread carefully on. I note that it’s an offense to trivialise or deny the Holocaust in Germany now. Yet I feel the reasons behind this German rule are different to our poppy ones; one is a kind of rehabilitation programme, a keen (in the sharply felt sense) appropriation of past guilt in an attempt to atone, but it’s also the reverse of whitewashing or glorifying the horrors of war. The Poppy is something else…

I’ve read several online comments about the poppy as well as attended services yesterday.
I agree with the well penned words of Harry Leslie Smith in the Guardian, a man who was born shortly after the first world war and fought in the second. He explains why this is the last year he’ll go to the cenotaph and wear a poppy, although he will continue to remember the war and his friends and colleagues privately. I was surprised by how many younger people disagreed with him and will continue to wear the red flower, using phrases like “gave their lives” and “honour”, saying the Poppy shouldn’t be commandeered by the politicians as a tool to steer our thinking about today’s wars and ourselves as a nation, or shunned because of it; its meaning and the donation go to better things.

But I looked at the British Legion website and I find it hard for anyone to claim that they aren’t part of the jingoism, that the political meaning of a poppy is nothing to do with an organisation who has changed its strapline to “Shoulder to Shoulder with those who Serve”. The people chosen to say “Why I wear a poppy” all had loved ones in wars, describing in emotive language the loss, bravery and sacrifice, and the use of debt and respect for their part in freedom preserving battles.

Reading the White poppy people (Peace Pledge Union) website is quite a different experience. The fact I recall most is that their annual budget is the same as the chief of British Legion’s salary. The white poppy, as its centre says, is about peace and ending wars. The red poppy isn’t now the encapsulation of 60s protest song “Where have all the flowers gone”: it’s more Rupert Brooke than Siegfried Sassoon.

I suppose the Christian cross is a symbol that can mean many things, as can the St George’s Cross. The stars and stripes might mean the worst or best of what America stands for. But if the exclusive people who made my national flag had a particular slant and my donation to buy one went to them, I might think about whether I wanted to adopt that symbol, whatever its genesis. I’ve heard feminists reclaim the cross, but they don’t pay a patent to wear one round their neck. If all cross necklaces came from a specific denomination with a particular mission, expressed in particular words…

I reluctantly agree that as Big Brother Watch says, freedom of expression means the right to offend and do crass and unkind things. BBW fought against the arrest of the Canterbury young man, though I am also not saying what he did was a good thing. But I note I would be afraid to say so if I did, and that is wrong. There are no holy wars or crusades. Much of war is coercion, money making and power wielding (or returning power) and it is an exercise in encouraging one’s citizens to overlook other issues by telling us there is a greater enemy than our own establishment, and that we must unite and be obedient, even unto death, and to speak against it becomes not just offence, but civic and secular blasphemy.

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Launch the G but promote Hope not Hopi

I was going to congratulate the Guardian, a paper which has sometimes annoyed me for its snobbery and anti Royalist views, for its courage in standing alone amongst the British papers and covering  PRISM and Tempora. I was going to say how I was saddened by the tone the Independent is taking and how it no longer lives up to its name. I was impressed by today’s Guardian for citing quality papers around the world on its stance of printing Snowden’s revelation, and their reaction to all the other British papers attacking the Guardian for doing so. No other British paper or magazine was cited. I was about to say how I wish there was a “G” to rival the i, a mini version of the Guardian, and how I am sorry there are no comparable British newspapers.

And then I read today’s Hopi Sen article on welfare and I wondered which website I was on. Did my hand slip and I typed “Torygraph” instead of Guardian? The majority of the comments – and there are many, already over 200 – showed that Hopi is not the voice of the newspaper’s readership or the public, despite what he claimed. He tries to present his ideas as unarguable. His words both frightened and angered me.  Interventions….! He clearly has no idea, and neither has the comment poster who thinks that long term unemployment is about a lack in social skills, education, mental health and drugs. The jobseeking system is about pigeonholing, drop down menus, and is ignorant that lots of people who are healthy and intelligent do not meet it. It cares little about matching people to appropriate jobs, and I have met many graduates (even PhD holders) who found themselves offered silly, inappropriate roles that would not benefit them or the company. There are some very capable literate people who struggle to work enough to be self sufficient. One comment poster said that Tories don’t empathise with there being no jobs because they’d create ones for themselves by starting a business. Yes, create your own job in principle – but this involves money, and if you do not have it – and the right support – it is very very hard to do. It’s made worse by most of us having less money to spend so that new businesses they may not be sustainable. And the self made rich are often the hardest on claimants and the ones whose empires crush others and push round the capitalist wheel.

I would like to have shared some of this with the Guardian website itself, but this paragraph in the terms and conditions precluded me:

“You or the owner of the content still own the copyright in the content sent to us, but by submitting content to us, you are granting us an unconditional, irrevocable, non-exclusive, royalty-free, fully transferable, perpetual worldwide licence to use, publish and/or transmit, and to authorise third-parties to use, publish and/or transmit your content in any format and on any platform, either now known or hereinafter invented.”

This all too common phrase  regarding reader comments and other submissions should be as illegal as industrial snooping and forced labour.

Why not say – the content’s yours but you give us the right to publish it on any of our sites, but you can delete it. And we will Not sell or pass it on?

Taking people’s work without pay is the bottom line of much of our welfare issues, for too many of us do not get rewarded for what we do – hence my campaign against use of  internships and volunteers. The issue of big companies imposing their values on the public and taking away their rights and ownership is behind many major imbalances in this world which urgently needs addressing.

I’d like to think that the Guardian led the way on that, as it has on other recent issues.

PS Why ask for letter writer’s address and phone no for verification – isn’t that the kind of snooping the paper rallies against?!

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Watching the watchers

The Guardian wondered why there’s not a bigger outcry over the GCHQ/NSA public spying revelations. A quick search shows that news sites across the world are talking about it. I would like to make clear that we (royal if need be) are not at all happy or prepared to accept the situation. I admire The Guardian for speaking out and am delighted that GCHQ will be taken to the court of European rights and hope the US and other affected countries does likewise. I think this calls for some questions about the accountability and purpose of secret services. Australia’s Green Party has some interesting ideas and also defines what national security should really be about. I ask: how can you be legitimate or moral if your actions compromise your supposed reason for being – namely, to keep us safe and free in a country run by the people in a transparent way, we lose basic rights in all the above? It’s a paradox that cannot be.

The title comes from the tagline of British MI5 drama, Spooks.

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