It is ridiculous and impossible to suggest ditching the Remembrance poppy

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Saturday 04 November 2017 16:52
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Understanding our shared history can play a role in shaping an inclusive British identity today
Understanding our shared history can play a role in shaping an inclusive British identity today

Otto English’s proposal that we ‘ditch’ the Remembrance poppy (Voices, 1 November) is as ridiculous as it is impossible. Why? Because the power of remembrance and of wearing a poppy in November, as he points out, is that it is voluntary.

Nobody alive today experienced the trenches of the First World War directly. “The last Tommy”, Harry Patch, died in 2009 aged 111 and there are now fewer than 11,000 Britons who were alive when war was declared. The war of 1914-18 has passed from living memory into history. That is a reason to work harder to remember it – not to give up on it and hope it goes away.

British Future’s research found that more than 80 per cent wanted a centenary that focuses on the importance of preserving peace, the sacrifice of those who lost their lives and the shared history of our multi-ethnic society.

Our present-day British identity is shaped by our history, of which the two world wars form a crucial part. And the multi-ethnic, multi-faith army that fought for Britain in the First World War looked a lot more like the Britain of 2017 than that of 1914. Understanding our shared history can play an important role in shaping an inclusive British identity today.

The First World War saw 1.5 million soldiers from undivided India, 400,000 of them Muslims from what is now Pakistan, fight alongside British and other Commonwealth soldiers. A total of 80 per cent of the public thinks that telling this story of shared contribution would be good for integration today. Knowledge of the contribution of Indian soldiers is growing and most people are now aware of their contribution, but the story of Britain’s WWI Muslim soldiers remains little-known: just 27 per cent of people know that more than 10,000 Muslims fought for Britain in WWI, according to a 2014 ICM survey.

A project from British Future and New Horizons in British Islam, Unknown & Untold, is addressing this, telling the story of the WWI Muslim soldiers in mixed workshops around the country. Next week, a new film shows what happened when Muslim and non-Muslim teenagers in Bradford came together to learn more about their shared history and then worked with a local rap artist to express in lyrics what they felt about British identity.

If history was just nostalgia, or remembrance was little more than jingoistic flag-waving, Otto English would have a point about the red poppy. But we don’t just look to history for a ripping yarn or a heart-warming tale of times past. Our history shapes who we are today – a history shared by young British Muslims growing up in Bradford and by new military recruits at Sandhurst. If we come together to remember that history for a couple of weeks each year in November, that is only to our benefit.

Steve Ballinger, director of communications, British Future

This generation needs education as to the real reasons behind wearing a poppy. It only takes a bit of a colour on the WWII documentary films to make history feel as close, just in case somebody is suffering from a sense of detachment. Ask the Holocaust survivors what the Second World War was about, if you do not believe me. How can we also forget WWI? The horrendous number of lost lives – “the cannon fodder generation” – includes my great-grandfather, whom my paternal grandfather had never met, as he fell in the first month of the conflict. A bit of a genealogy is in order here, to find out how many of us are touched by past conflicts. never mind more recent wars and ongoing fighting.

Monika McKay

Liverpool

We should be ashamed of sending animals into space

On your report of Laika, the first dog in space (4 November), and all the other unlucky animals so “sacrificed”, I was sickened by Nasa’s statement (“They gave their lives and their service in the name of technological advancement”). No animal “gives” its life and service to science. Millions of animals are robbed of their own earthly potential because human beings are too cowardly to take risks, just as they are too scared of new medicines, household liquids, cosmetics and countless other products and “adventures”. We should be ashamed.

John Bryant

Kent

Gavin Williamson will not bring cabinet unity

The secret isn’t what the plan for Brexit may be, but the fact that there is no plan to leave at all, because May is never going to get us out of the clutches of the EU.

Also, it is no coincidence that the Remoaners have gained another seat in the Cabinet and, unrelated to Brexit, we can expect more pointless foreign skirmishes under the new “Defence Secretary”.

Fred Nicholson

Essex

Animals at Westminster

Much has been said about the new Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson and his pet tarantula Cronus. I would strongly suggest that the new incumbent pops along to the Natural History Museum and takes a look at the new exhibition called “Venom”. One of the stars of the show is the Tarantula Hawk Wasp “Pepsis heros”, which hunts said species of spider ruthlessly and with 100 per cent success. It surely should be a salutary lesson to all MPs that whoever you are there is always something more powerful and deadly than you.

Robert Boston

Kent

Sexual harassment affects everyone

Power corrupts, they say. Let’s not pretend this sexual exploitation by politicians is something new. Both left and right have been using power for sexual abuse. This includes the Socialist Workers Party in the 1980s and the notable “Trotskyists” and “Leninists”. None of them should be thinking they’re squeaky clean.

Richard Kimble

Leeds

Femininity and masculinity are natural products of the process of evolution and are of inestimable value physically, psychologically and socially. Unhappily, these crucial virtues are being drowned in a maelstrom of machismo, raunch, consumerism and mutual exploitation. A wider debate is required.

Steve Ford

Hexham

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