I Refuse to Buy a Poppy

05_11_09-Steve-Bell
Steve Bell

Yesterday five British soldiers were shot dead by an Afghan policeman. Just as they keep promising that they’ve reached ‘decisive turning points’ in their battle with the Afghan resistance, British military officials immediately vowed that the ‘rogue’ policeman would be caught. Today the Taliban reports that the policeman is safe with them, and that he’s been greeted with flowers.

Our glorious patriotic press responds. Amusingly, the Daily Mail headline wrings its hands and squawks, “What kind of war IS this?” Because some people aren’t playing by the rules, you see. Instead of sitting quietly in their villages waiting for the drone attack, or perhaps sending their kids out to accept sweets and modernity from a rosy-cheeked English lad, some barbarians are actually shooting back at the invaders. How very unBritish. (To be fair to the Mail – which has never been fair to anyone – it does seem to be taking an anti-war stance today). Other sections of the media worry about the ‘loyalty’ of Afghan troops, as if love for foreign occupiers is a realistic standard of loyalty. Still others, even more clever, psychoanalyse the policeman, wondering if an argument with his commander pushed him to a moment of madness. But it really isn’t that complicated, as anybody who disabuses themselves of imperialist delusion can see. Very simply, people don’t like foreigners striding around their streets and fields with guns and assumptions of superiority. Afghans will kill British troops as surely as Britons would kill Afghan troops if they occupied this country.

After the failed election with its million fraudulent votes there is no longer any pretence that the Karzai puppet regime is democratic. It and the NATO forces behind it have failed to build infrastructure, failed to improve the lot of women, failed to make the roads safe. (I don’t imagine for a moment that these were genuine goals of the occupation; I merely respond to the propaganda.) What Karzai and his friends have succeeded in doing is to expand their stomachs and bank accounts. Afghan opium production is the highest ever. Karzai’s brother Ahmad Wali, like Hamid a name on the CIA payroll, is said to be one of the biggest drug barons of all. This is the progressive, secular government we are fighting to defend.

Fear not: we have other raisons de guerre, and here’s one of the best. Immigration Minister Phil Woolas informs us that “the benefit of of the presence of our armed forces and other countries’ is to help us control immigration.” Let’s repeat that so we understand it. Britain is dispensing treasure and blood in central Asia, and enraging the entire Muslim world, so as to stop more brown people arriving at Dover. Now, it is true that when Britain finally leaves Afghanistan it will have to take some of its local collaborators with it. It is also true that nothing plunges a country into long-term breakdown, forcing its people to flee, like imperial intervention and continuous war. Even if we assume, along with all the mainstream political parties in Britain, that immigration is a disaster, the money spent on the Afghan war is enough to build a small island in the North Sea which could be used as a reservation for anti-Taliban Afghans. But the argument is triply fatuous. It’s Pakistan and Iran which house millions of Afghan refugees, not Britain. And Britain didn’t worry about a refugee crisis when it was backing the Taliban before 2001.

The Tories attacked Woolas not for the idiotic illogic of his comment but because, according to an obscure and equally illogical argument, his words supposedly insult ‘our boys’. I am heartily sick of the false patriotism that backs ‘our boys’’ right to murder the peasants of Afghanistan. But then, ‘our boys’ is a better formulation than ‘our heroes’. There’s nothing heroic about murder. There’s nothing heroic about signing away your personal responsibility to the state, to following orders when they involve attacking people who have never attacked Britain, who speak languages that you don’t speak and have a culture which you don’t understand. Rather than heroic, it’s monstrous. At very best, it’s plain stupid.

At least ‘our boys’ is suggestive of naivete. Many young working class people join the army because it offers them a wage and a career structure – at least until their legs are blown off. For similar reasons many young working class people sell crack cocaine. That’s another profession which carries high risks, but I don’t see the media describing drug dealers as heroes.

Back to the raisons de guerre. After each British death Gordon Brown repeats the lie that British troops patrol Afghan streets in order to make British streets safe. The truth is the opposite. In June 2005, the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre, which represents the police, customs and intelligence services, stated, “Events in Iraq are continuing to act as motivation and a focus of a range of terrorist related activity in the UK.” Following the terrorist attacks on London in July 2005, Chatham House came to the same conclusion, that imperialist foreign policy is a direct cause of domestic terrorism. This was a view shared by two thirds of the public. Although old-school al-Qa’ida had training camps in Afghanistan, the September 11th attacks were planned in Hamburg, not Helmand, and the necessary training was done in the United States. More recently, a group of potential British terrorists met on an adventure holiday in Wales. So Britain would be better advised to control its terror threat by bombing Welsh wedding parties.

But Britain and its allies bomb the Afghans, and encourage the corrupt rulers of Pakistan to bomb the Federally Administered Tribal Areas. Pakistan is an enormous state of enormous importance, and because of the Obama-Brown ‘war on terror’ it now suffers suicide and rocket attacks on a daily basis. Muhammad Idrees Ahmad reports on that here. An old friend of mine confirmed the bad news in a telephone conversation. He told me I wouldn’t recognise Islamabad for the blast walls and checkpoints, none of which have stopped attacks even on army headquarters. Schools have been closed until after Eid. After Eid, he wonders whether he will dare send his children to be educated. A society which dare not send its children outside is no longer a viable society.

This war is not sustainable, not for the West and certainly not for Afghanistan and Pakistan. One way of seeing it is as a skewed civil war in which the West backs a coalition of ethnic minorities against Afghanistan’s single biggest group – the Pushtoons. Another way: the West backs and incites an urban elite against a rural majority. The Taliban is no longer a US-Saudi-Pakistan backed Wahhabi fundamentalist force but an evolving coalition of those who hate murderous US-led intervention. When US official Matthew Hoh resigned his post, he described the Afghan resistance in terms not even of nationalism but of “localism” or “valleyism”. We return to the obvious truth: nobody likes armed foreigners swaggering in their streets. Even if by some miracle the Taliban leadership accepted the NATO occupation, ordinary Afghan farmers would not.

I refuse to buy a poppy for remembrance day, because Britain hasn’t remembered anything at all. Sentimental rituals such as poppy-wearing only help the collective amnesia. We don’t remember that Britain was defeated in Afghanistan twice in the 19th century, that the mighty Soviet Union was defeated there a couple of decades ago. We don’t remember, or we never learnt, that imperialism is fundamentally wrong. Wrong wrong wrong, in every case. And stupid. We don’t remember that imperialism only ever makes social conditions worse and increases the hatred of the imperialised for the imperialiser. If Britain had learned this simple lesson it would not have stumbled into the US-Israeli war in Iraq or into Afghanistan years before an al-Qa’ida attack here. If Britain knew and remembered that people can only develop their social mores in their own way and at their own pace it wouldn’t accept for a moment the noxious propaganda that we are bombing Afghan women in order to liberate them. If Britain understood that people of darker complexion are just as attached to their land and rights as white people it would never have supported apartheid in Palestine and Zionist assaults on Lebanon.

Here is what I will do to support British soldiers. I encourage them to desert, so that they may become true heroes.

8 thoughts on “I Refuse to Buy a Poppy”

    1. I may not be very old or very wise but I have picked up a thing or two over the years that God has been kind enough to give me and I can easily say this; it is people like you that keep this war going, by not backing the HEROES who fight and die for you in this war. It is your naivete in writing something like this that slows us down. Why don’t you do something useful and help in the war effort in order to end it sooner rather than saying things that lower morale pointlessly and do no good for anyone. As for telling soldiers to desert, WHATS WRONG WITH YOU!?!? You need to get out of your little head and grow up, this is the real world that we live in and problems don’t just go away! The soldiers new what they were committing to when they signed they SHOULD NOT betray their country like that. Rather they should keep trying to build up a democracy in the Middle East that will later on help everyone!
      Just because the minority is the loudest doesn’t make them right! Most people in Afghanistan support us and if we leave them now they will be back off where they started after the Soviets left. Maybe it wasn’t the best idea to start the war in the first place but now we have to end it. We cannot simply leave and let things return to the hell hole that they once were.
      This war was not started recently either it was started when the Soviets left. We tried to just leave it but that didn’t work the problem will not just go away and now that we finally have an chance to fix it we should take it rather than listening to foolish dreamers like yourself.
      The easy way is not the right way.

      1. You have not picked up anything from god, god is a myth only believed by weak minded people who cant think for themselved

  1. I’m not sure. Can you tell us more about them? Where does the money go to? Given that I already pay through my taxes for warmaking in Afghanistan as well as for the treatment and rehabilitation of maimed British soldiers, I’d prefer to pay towards the treatment of Afghans – those who stayed at home and were maimed.

    Something else – note how the media keeps whining about how the Taliban pays people to fight. No doubt true, although I’m sure many or most fighters have their own reasons. But doesn’t the UK pay its fighters to fight? And wasn’t the war ‘won’ in 2001 largely by paying tribal and militia leaders to switch sides? O the hypocrisy of it.

  2. Red poppies?

    While previous generations imbued with unquestioning loyalty were easily convinced of the righteousness of their country’s cause in two world wars anyone volunteering to go to Afghanistan to fight a monstrous unprovoked war against some of the poorest people in the world needs their head examined.

    I fully subscribe to the frustration and anger expressed so eloquently above.

    Only in a country where people have so thoroughly lost the capacity to reason and think for themselves as this one could politicians get away with the indecently threadbare justifications they make for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

    The fact that the “War on Terror” was invented by agents of world government bent on undermining and enslaving us has also passed most of the population by should come as no surprise either.

    The people who are still willing to go abroad and fight at the drop of a hat without the need for the government to provide anything approaching a cogent
    justification for such aggression are making it easier for our real enemies to subvert and destroy us.

    Now that the notion that the Afghan war has anything to do with democracy has been irrevocably laid to rest by the absurdity of Karzai’s unopposed re-election there is no longer even the semblance of an excuse for fighting there.

    There is absolutely nothing noble in fighting in order to sustain a government dominated by drug and warlords.Our soldiers today are mindlessly participating in the worst form of ritual sacrifice imaginable.

    They certainly do not deserve to be held in the same high esteem as those who gave their lives in the two world wars.

    If I thought for one second that someone might infer from my wearing a poppy that I subscribe to the cant that mindlessly lumps together all our soldiers in all wars past and present and the participation of the latter in the patently indefensible ones in Afghanistan and Iraq then I too would not be buying one.

  3. Few days ago, while I was commuting to work I saw a young lady wearing a “white poppy” which had “Peace” written over it, and this triggered a curiosity in me to find out more about it.

    I will post the links here FYI.

    http://www.whitepoppy.org.uk/ Click on FAQ for answers to your question. … Read more

    The store of white poppy:
    http://www.ppu.org.uk/whitepoppy/tale3.html

    I think their stance is commendable and I would love to see more people with white poppies pinned up to their dresses rather than the red ones.
    ————-
    Source: http://www.whitepoppy.org.uk

    The White Poppy symbolises the belief that there are better ways to resolve conflicts than killing strangers. Our work, primarily educational, draws attention to many of our social values and habits which make continuing violence a likely outcome.
    From economic reliance on arms sales (Britain is the world’s second largest arms exporter) to maintaining manifestly useless nuclear weapons Britain contributes significantly to international instability. The outcome of the recent military adventures highlights their ineffectiveness in today’s complex world.
    Now 89 years after the end of the ‘war to end all wars’ we still have a long way to go to put an end to a social institution, which in the last decade alone killed over 10 million children.

    Britain’s recent lunatic and illegal activities in Iraq and Afghanistan inevitably entered into the Legion’s fund raising message; while not actually bellicose nonetheless the Legion supports the view that war is a proper function of the state.

    _________________________________________________
    Earlier today, I sent white poppy website the following message and also copied a link to your recent article on Pulse.

    Everyday I see people wearing this Red Poppy and I hardly see anyone wearing the White Poppy for Peace. In my opinion it has not been campaigned enough and that is why a lot of people are not even aware of it.

    There is also this propaganda going on in which we see this Red Poppy being associated with current illegitimate war to gain support in which millions of poor and innocent civilians have died and we hardly see any sort of remembrance or meaningful concern for these people in general and specifically in mainstream media where everyone who appears on screen is made to wear a red poppy.

    As far as a red poppy is concerned, I subscribe to what Robin Yassin-Kassab has so rightly expressed in his excellent article; “I Refuse to Buy a Poppy”.

    “I refuse to buy a poppy for remembrance day, because Britain hasn’t remembered anything at all. Sentimental rituals such as poppy-wearing only help the collective amnesia.”

  4. Red Poppies raise money for those that are injured doing their jobs, irrespective of the rights and wrongs of being in Afghanistan etc.
    The Royal British Legion is a registered charity.

    The proceeds from the sale of the White Poppy go into producing more literature promoting peace.
    The Peace Pledge Union is not a registered charity.

  5. I may not be very old or very wise but I have picked up a thing or two over the years that God has been kind enough to give me and I can easily say this; it is people like you that keep this war going, by not backing the HEROES who fight and die for you in this war. It is your naivete in writing something like this that slows us down. Why don’t you do something useful and help in the war effort in order to end it sooner rather than saying things that lower morale pointlessly and do no good for anyone. As for telling soldiers to desert, WHATS WRONG WITH YOU!?!? You need to get out of your little head and grow up, this is the real world that we live in and problems don’t just go away! The soldiers new what they were committing to when they signed they SHOULD NOT betray their country like that. Rather they should keep trying to build up a democracy in the Middle East that will later on help everyone!
    Just because the minority is the loudest doesn’t make them right! Most people in Afghanistan support us and if we leave them now they will be back off where they started after the Soviets left. Maybe it wasn’t the best idea to start the war in the first place but now we have to end it. We cannot simply leave and let things return to the hell hole that they once were.
    This war was not started recently either it was started when the Soviets left. We tried to just leave it but that didn’t work the problem will not just go away and now that we finally have an chance to fix it we should take it rather than listening to foolish dreamers like yourself.

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