Thursday, 11 November 2010

Edging towards tolerance of remembrance?

Perhaps one year soon Armistice Day will pass without a modest symbol of respect and remembrance inspiring a single display of hatred and intolerance.  Unfortunately 2010 wasn’t that year.

First we had the so-called ’Green Brigade’ and its illiterate protest at Celtic’s decision to display a poppy on the club's famous hooped football shirts.  Now the Andersonstown News reports that Relatives for Justice, a republican victims group, has asked BBC Northern Ireland to ban poppies in the interests of ‘neutrality‘.

Last year it was that newspaper’s columnist, ‘the Squinter’, who took anti-poppy bile to a new low, by describing the British Legion’s fundraising campaign as a “three week orgy of ‘up yours fenian face’”.  I posted on that occasion, lamenting the tendency to perceive a simple act of remembering as a hostile political act.

There’s no particular need to rehash the same old arguments for the Relatives for Justice campaign.  It’s enough to note that there are also more hopeful stories, as Remembrance Sunday approaches.

Margaret Ritchie, the SDLP leader, will wear a poppy at the ceremony in Belfast.  The BBC reports that she will become the first nationalist leader to do so.  She calls it an act of ’reconciliation’.  Hopefully it’s also intended to represent how much history is shared between the traditions in Ireland.

Certainly a cross-border service held in Drogheda last Saturday acknowledged a legacy of common sacrifice.

Such gestures offer hope, that a time when respect and tolerance for the act of remembrance can become the overwhelming norm, is not so very far away.


Timothy Belmont said...

Isn't it heartening to hear that Margaret Ritchie has decided to wear a poppy.

It's nothing to us; hugely symbolic, not to say, reconciliatory (is that correct grammar!) and reaching out to the Unionist population for any Irish nationalist.

I think it would be difficult for us to reciprocate by, say, all wearing shamrocks or whatever...

peteram79 said...

Another example you didn't mention, Chekov, but is, in my opinion, worthy of comment is Marc Wilson and the poppies-on-shirts controversy last season. Despite the fact that there are a significant number of players genuinely from the Republic of Ireland playing in the EPL (as opposed to the Anglos with Irish grannies' brigade), not one of them raised any issue with wearing a poppy on their shirt. However, Wilson, the only Northern Irish player in EPL action with such a warped sense of his identity that he can't play for the Northern IRISH team but has to assert his Irishness by playing for a diffent Irish team, was also the only one to kick up a fuss about the British oppression involved in being forced to waer a symbol of imperialism.
Equally, a fringe of the Celtic fans who do themselves discredit with their poopy protests would be the same fringe that would happily sing pro-IRA songs. While you might find similar songs on the terraces at Clftonville, Donegal Celtic, Newry "City" or Derry City, I'm willing to bet that such tunes wouldn't be common at Shamrock Rovers, Bohemians or St Pats (except maybe from hangers-on that emerge from under their rocks when the Setanta brings the Blues or Glens south).
I guess what I'm trying to get at is that the poppy issue is another manifestation of how out-of-step Republicans, particularly those from outside the RoI, are with the majority attitudes of the "Ireland" to which they profess to have such affection.
Margaret Ritchie will no doubt be savaged by the Shinners for her "West Brit" sympathies. However, ironically, her behaviour would better reflect the tolerance of another culture (not the embracing of Britishness, I'm not arguing that) that would define a larger portion of the citizens of Ireland as a whole than the Republicans' hate-driven monocultural narrowness. Hence her decision is a greater step towards realising a viable united Ireland — it's not a major step and that concept remains as fas away as ever — than anything the Shinners have ever done.

Gary said...

Good on Ritchie. Whilst it's not going to make me run out and vote for a united Ireland any-time soon, it is a brave move and should be seen for what it is, the hand of friendship being held out, it is after-all a shared history we are talking about. That IRA bomber and self-proclaimed Officer for Unionist Engagement Martina Anderson could learn a thing or two from Margaret Ritchie.

Anonymous said...

My wife a I lost three uncles in the Second World War and we do not need an act of reconciliation to help us, and the community who chooses, to remember their sacrifice and our not even knowing two of them.One thing does strike me is that M/s Ritchie and I most certainly would not be wearing Haig Fund Poppies in 2010 except for their sacrifice.Also is she reconciling herself with all the Sikhs who lost their lives in order to help us defeat the Nazi scourge.More Sikhs laid down their lifes than all the combined Welsh,Scottish and Irish fatalities put together. M/s Ritchie do not score cheap political points on dead men's graves.If she chooses to wear a poppy she should,please, do it in their memory not as some tacky Alastair Campbell type spun artificial act of hypocritical vote grubbing gesture.

Anonymous said...

Well the BBC might as well not wear the poppy when you read this on their website:
Remembrance Day: Where they fell

Their story about British military deaths since 1914 omits those killed in Ireland from 1918 to 1922. [How many were there?]

The whole tone of the article is as if from a socialist workers party or anti-imperialist outlook, and far from neutral.

Three points of many on bias and inaccuracy:

Egypt - "the burning of Cairo" in 1952 sounds as if the whole city was destroyed, and almost as if our troops were responsible.

The "new villages" in Malaya were a response to the Communists' rebellion not a cause and regarded as successful. The current Malaysian state is still grateful for our efforts.

The British presence in Cyprus began 45 years before 1923.

I wonder was this piece reviewed before publication or is it so standard a BBC outlook as not to be noticed.

If I was a young British person reading it, I would say this country's sacrifices should not be commemorated.

Chekov said...

Peter - wasn't actually aware of that re Wilson. Happy enough that he didn't play for us after hearing that.

Chekov said...

Interesting contribution anon. Not exactly on the topic you raise, but related. During the summer I visited the British and Commonwealth Cemetery at Haydarpasha in Istanbul. Although many of the graves were from the Crimean War, there was an extensive section set aside for Muslim Indian soldiers, killed in WW1, who had been interred in India. When funds ran out for that cemetery, their remains were re-interred in Turkey, presumably because it is Muslim country.