Poppy power

Maybe it was the headline that made me feel a bit…..uneasy. “The poppy hijab that defies the extremists: British Muslims urged to wear headscarf as symbol of Remembrance” (Daily Mail).

The designer told the Daily Mail: “Thousands of British Muslims already wear a poppy in November. This is just another way for them to show they remember those who gave their lives for their country.

It’s also a way for ordinary Muslim citizens to take some attention away from extremists who seem to grab the headlines.

This symbol of quiet remembrance is the face of everyday British Islam – not the angry minority who spout hatred and offend everyone.”

I think the impulse behind it is admirable and that the designer has a positive vision.What makes me feel slightly uncomfortable is the whiff of Muslims having to prove their allegiance to Britain, that we’ve seen more and more as “Islamic State” continues its toxic and violent campaign. True, the extremists all too often grab the headlines and it’s not easy for the moderate majority to be heard.

And I suppose, Remembrance Day is as close as Britain comes to a uniting national narrative. I love Remembrance Day, the solemnity, the knowledge that so many, from around the world (especially the Commonwealth), fought alongside each other for the society that we enjoy today. But there is a coercive element to the poppy wearing campaign every year and the vilification of those who choose not to, such as newsreaders Jon Snow and Charlene White. Charlene White explains her decision beautifully.

But there is sometimes an undercurrent that unless you have a stake in that fight, that you don’t belong. And all too often, it’s ethnic minorities who are both very visible and carry a burden of proof for their citizenship and belonging. Muslim women are among the most visible, and often the victim of Islamophobic attacks. If they want to wear the poppy hijab, more power to them. But we don’t have the right to make assumptions about the beliefs and values of those who don’t. They shouldn’t have to “perform citizenship” to belong. We ought to extend them the benefit of the doubt that they aren’t pro-extremism simply because they don’t refute it in the way that makes the majority happy.

I suppose the poppy hijab makes me slightly uncomfortable because it’s more about us than about the women wearing it. And it’s more about what’s going on today than what happened in the war.

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