Remembrance should be for all victims of war #RoadToPeace ~ Lindsey German, MIDDLE EAST EYE, Wednesday 11 November 2015.
The commemoration has morphed from being a call to end all wars, to one used by British politicians to support our wars in the Middle East
Today Hilary Benn, Labour shadow foreign secretary, made a speech in Coventry Cathedral where he praised Western military intervention and argued that there should be such intervention in Syria.
Coventry has the dubious honour of having been victim of one of the most intense German bombing raids in Britain during the Second World War. Its cathedral was very badly damaged, many were killed and injured and thousands left homeless. The intensity led to the bombing being known as “Coventration”.
Ironic that his speech, delivered at a peace event 75 years after the bombing there, was to justify further war. It was delivered on Remembrance Day – the anniversary of the end of the First World War in 1918. Perhaps that isn’t so surprising, since in recent years Remembrance Day has been increasingly used by politicians and the military to justify wars, rather than to argue for no more of them.
And since modern wars – especially those in the Middle East – have become more unpopular, an increasing emphasis has been put on supporting the troops, as a means of getting people to support war.
The whole of the British establishment, from the BBC to politicians to the education system to the armed forces themselves, decree what this remembrance shall be and what its purpose is. The result is a sometimes jingoistic pressure whose outcome is to back up the military and to support current and future wars. It was surely no accident that General Sir Nicholas Houghton, chief of defence staff, used Remembrance Sunday, when royalty and politicians gather at the Cenotaph, to attack Labour Opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn’s opposition to nuclear weapons.
The overwhelming sentiment at the end of the First World War was “never again”. It was famously described as “the war to end all wars”. An estimated 20 million died in a war which lasted four years, spread across several continents and ended in radical upheaval and revolution in some of the major belligerent powers.
Barely a family in countries such as Germany, France and Britain were unaffected by the war. When it ended there was such an outpouring of grief that the Cenotaph in Whitehall, originally constructed of wood as a temporary memorial, was rebuilt in stone. War memorials were constructed in every town and village. The Poppy Appeal was launched to raise money for the injured ex-service men.
Fast forward 100 years. Remembrance Day has become something different. The Poppy Appeal is all pervasive. Poppies are painted on trains. Main line stations have military bands drumming up support. All the television broadcasters demand the wearing of red poppies by all their guests. Poppy-related events are sponsored by arms companies. The right-wing papers pounce on any real or imagined failure to fully respect the dead – as Jeremy Corbyn discovered when his bow at the Cenotaph was deemed insufficiently deep.
The sentiment of “never again” has morphed into the idea of supporting “those who serve”. This rather subverts the whole idea of Remembrance Day, and instead demands a measure of support for the armed forces.
It also denies the truth of modern wars, in which the overwhelming majority of victims are civilians. Whereas during the First World war around 15 percent of casualties were non-combatants, now it is the other way round. These casualties, while paid lip service to, are rarely mentioned.
Even less mentioned are the casualties of British wars elsewhere around the world. Deaths in the Middle East are impossible to quantify – the army counts its own conscientiously, but not its opponents. Estimates for deaths from the Iraq war and its aftermath range from the Iraq Body Count, whose latest figures are 224,000 (although this method needs two verifiable media reports, so underestimates the number of deaths) to over 600,000 in only three years from 2003 to 2006, according to a Lancet survey.
Deaths from the bombing of Libya in 2011 are estimated at 30,000, although many more have died from the civil war which still ensues. More than 200,000 have died in Syria in the past four years and thousands in Yemen as a result of the recent Saudi bombing there.
These deaths are barely remarked on in Britain, nor are they part of the commemorations. Last year when an installation of ceramic poppies represented nearly 900,000 British First World war dead was mounted in the Tower of London, there was no commemoration of any dead from other countries, whether allies or enemies.
Little in the commemorations refers to the British involvement in the Middle East. Yet Gallipoli was a bloody and costly battle, and the British were involved in military activity in the “mandates” they were given following the war from the old Ottoman Empire, including in what was then Mesopotamia, now Iraq, where the first bombing of civilians by British planes took place in 1920, known by the euphemistic name of “aerial policing”.
Indeed the First World War marked the beginning of modern intervention in the Middle East, with the British and French running large parts of it and carving up its borders for their own interests, not least in Palestine.
On this November 11 we should remember the dead, but we should remember the dead of all sides, and the terrible costs of war. We should also remember that the politicians and the military always justify these wars. It is those who suffer in them who campaign to end them.
– Lindsey German is convenor of the Stop the War Coalition and co-author of A People’s History of London.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.
Photo: A member of the British armed forces looks at names inscribed on the Armed Forces Memorial during an Armistice Day service of remembrance at the National Memorial Arboretum in Alrewas, central England on 11 November, 2015. (AFP)
The following are 10 reasons why one should abstain from the two minute silence on Remembrance Day 11 November. This practice was initiated by King George V in 1919 so that “the thoughts of everyone may be concentrated on reverent remembrance of the glorious dead” from World War I. King George further said, “The hush is not solely an act of remembrance; it is also a moment of dedication, when those who still live undertake to be worthy of those who died.”
(1) World War I resulted in the end of the unified Muslim rule under the Ottoman leadership. Allied forces invaded the Muslim world and colluded with different tribes to divide the Muslims.
(2) Over 1 million Muslims were killed during this period. Many of these martyrs fought hard to protect the Muslim land.
(3) The Muslim land was divided into many different parts and colonised. The dissolution of the Ottoman rule after World War I was a significant blow to Islam and Muslims worldwide, the effects of which remain visible today.
(4) Palestine was colonised and the Balfour declaration was signed in the UK in 1917. This eventually paved the way for Zionist control of Palestine.
(5) Other Muslim lands were divided and gifted to puppets and tyrants. Many of their descendants continue to rule over these lands today, suppressing Islam and Muslims.
(6) Our scholars from as far as India such as Shaykhul Hind Moulana Mahmoodul Hasan Sahib (May Allah have mercy on him) was instrumental in supporting the Ottoman rule. The Silk Letter Movement and his arrest from Makkah Mukarramah and subsequently his imprisonment in Malta are all well documented. The suggestion that some Muslims fought for the Allied forces in World War I does not in any way justify their actions and necessitate honouring them. It is rather reflective of the colonial exploitation that was prevalent at the time.
(7) Remembrance Day is also used to remember those soldiers who died in other wars such as both the Iraq Wars and the war in Afghanistan. These wars have resulted in the death of millions of innocent people and the torture and abuse of many others. Consider how their families would feel if they learnt that their brethren are honouring some of the very perpetrators who may have committed those crimes. Where would this leave the concept of brotherhood and the notion of one Ummah?
(8) Participating in the Remembrance Day is to honour the colonial forces who spearheaded the divide and rule policy and defeated Muslims. What is happening in Palestine, Iraq and Syria today is not disconnected to World War I. Participating in the Remembrance Day and accepting the so called ‘freedom’ narrative implies that the Ottoman rule was restrictive and repressive and what followed was superior.
(9) It is not permissible to honour the memory of aggressors and endorse their aggression. Almighty Allah says, “Cooperate in righteousness and piety, and do not cooperate in sin and aggression” (Qur’an, 5:2). Almighty Allah also says, “O those who believe, stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to Allah, even as against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin” (Qur’an, 4: 135).
(10) Exemplifying good behaviour and showing respect to non Muslim neighbours and colleagues is at the heart of Islamic teachings. There is no harm in recognising the work of those who champion humanity, charity, justice and equity, though they may not share our faith. It is worth noting that the Prophet (Peace be upon him) and the companions would never honour the memory of aggressors, Muslim or otherwise. In fact, the Prophet (Peace be upon him) said, “Help your brother, whether he is an oppressor or he is an oppressed one”. People asked, “O Allah’s Messenger. It is all right to help him if he is oppressed, but how should we help him if he is an oppressor?” He replied, “By preventing him from oppressing others” (Sahih Bukhari, 2312). This is the message of Islam, and this should be our hallmark every day, not just on Remembrance Day. Highlight the injustices of the past and present and become a champion of justice, peace and humanity. These values are what the vast majority of our peace loving British friends and neighbours cherish and this should permeate our approach to such national events.
May Almighty Allah unite the Ummah and make us from among those who stand up for justice and righteousness.
Yusuf Shabbir, Blackburn, UK
27 Muharram 1437 H. – 10 November 2015