Someone took some of their own property, defaced it in a perfectly safe and easily avoidable manner, posted a picture of it online, and spent last night in a jail cell.
You’ve probably already heard about this, and no, I can’t make any more sense of it than you can.
The red poppy dates back to 1920 as a symbol of remembrance for soldiers who’ve died in war, and in Britain they can be seen being worn by pretty much everyone for, it seems, the several weeks surrounding November 11th, the day which saw the end of World War I.
It’s turned into something odd since then. The harmless artificial flower has started to become a focus point for an inexplicably intense sense of righteousness, indignation, and nationalism. Beyond simply something people do as a personal gesture of remembrance, it’s been turning into something you must do, and must do publicly enough that we all know you’re doing it, if you don’t want people to conclude that you hate Britain, or hate dead soldiers, or don’t care about the heroic sacrifice of something-or-other.
Those who most ardently claim to support the wearing of the poppy are also those most vocally encouraging this shift in attitudes, even though it goes against their purported interests. If it’s important to be able to wear a poppy to demonstrate your respect for the deceased, why would you work to make yourself indistinguishable from crowds of others, who bear the same emblem but don’t share your feelings – who wear the poppy more out of fear that they’d be branded “disrespectful” if they failed to do so, than from any sincere appreciation of the bravery of past generations? It seems counter-productive.
Similarly, show me an American who developed a greater respect for his country as a result of its coercive measures that prevent him from burning a flag. You can’t force people to feel the same way you do, and making them put on a show while hiding their true feelings serves no purpose except to help you live in a fantasy world, at the expense of others’ autonomy.
I’ve got a little distracted here by my opposition to certain zealously patriotic organisations and Facebook groups. What sparked my interest, though, was this 19-year-old guy being arrested and thrown in jail over an image of a poppy being set alight.
In every comment on this story, it seems obligatory to mention the nature of the sacrifice that the poppy represents, and bring to mind those who gave their lives fighting to defend the very freedoms which some people now use to defile a revered symbol.
The irony may be of some interest, but it’s irrelevant to the important point. Even if the concept of freedom had never had anybody die in an effort to defend it, locking people in a cage for burning a poppy in an act of disrespect is an insane way for any civilised country to behave.
And something else that should be irrelevant to how we respond to tyranny is the arsonist’s intentions, or how public he made his display, or how provocative he was attempting to be. A few weeks ago, when Islamic extremists were losing their shit over a blasphemous YouTube video, Penn Jillette was discussing it (I forget where) and said something like: “I wish we could all stop talking about what the rape victim was wearing”. A lot of people prefaced their condemnation of that religious violence by vociferously deploring any insult against Islam. It was an appalling, abusive, low-quality, tenth-rate film, we were told. This didn’t excuse the violence of the response, of course, but…
Leave aside how apt a rape comparison is for something about poppies. It’s an analogy of principle; the details and the scale of it aren’t supposed to carry across. The point is, there’s really no good reason to give the tiniest fleck of a shred of an iota of a toss whether this guy’s a total ass, or how obnoxious a sentiment he may have been expressing in the caption to the image. What matters is that the police came and took him away from his home and forced him into a cell, because some people thought he was acting offensively by posting a picture of a burning flower online.
Our law is set up such that it’s entirely possible he’ll end up being charged with a serious crime, a conviction for which could land him in prison for a number of months, as well as branding him as a criminal for the rest of his life.
If you’re going to allow that, why not cram people into a cage against their will because they used swear words on a website that children might potentially visit? Or because they jumped into a river and got in some posh people’s way? Or because they commented that the Queen looks a bit bloody miserable in any given public appearance?
If that sounds ridiculous, it should. If it sounds like it could never happen… Don’t get complacent.
As an incidental postscript, white poppies are for peace.