In the lead up to remembrance Sunday, a campaign for Muslim women to wear a ‘poppy hijab’ has been run. As well intentioned as it is, as a memorial for Muslims that fought and died, it is ultimately patronising and just reinforces prejudices in the UK about Muslims.
According to Al Jazeera, “a poppy-themed headscarf backed by the Islamic Society of Britain (ISB) and British Future, an integration think tank, is this year offering Muslim women an additional way to support the campaign.” It continues to add that “The scarf is also intended to raise awareness about the 400,000 Muslims, most of them soldiers in the 1.2-million-strong Indian army, who served alongside British forces in World War I.”
Without a doubt, the intentions are completely correct. Many Muslims fought, and died, in the war.
They must be remembered.
But it is unfortunate that this campaign is tinged with politics. It is an unofficial attempt to improve the public image of British Muslims in terms of foreign policy, and that is both insulting and patronising.
Why should Muslims feel the need to wear it? If Muslim women want too, than of course it’s their choice. But there is no campaign for Sikhs to wear Poppy turbans. There is no campaign for British Jews to wear poppy kippot. Why just ‘the Muslims.’
The reason is arguably that the perpetual portrayal of British Muslims as disloyal, foreign and ‘the enemy within’, has to be countered somehow, by British Muslims.
Wearing a popppy hijab is an attempt to counter the public image problem which is created by negative media coverage.
Clearly though, British Muslims should be trying to counter this portrayal of themselves as a threat, not through pandering with symbolic gestures, but through tackling the root of the prejudice.
In submitting themselves to this campaign, there is an implicit agreement that Muslims recognise this insecurity over loyalty. British Muslims feel the need to look patriotic and integrated into British society; which includes celebrating and remembering British history.
The fact is, many Muslims in the UK are second or third generation British-Muslims, and are well integrated into British society already.
Wearing a hijab with a poppy on it won’t change people’s prejudices against Muslims, because after remembrance Sunday, people will still read the same negative news stories that promote discriminatory attitudes, and reinforce anti-Muslim rhetoric.
You can only tackle people’s prejudices through education and challenging their views.
Having a small recognition by British Muslims of embrace of a symbol of the past, of which many have very little direct cultural connection too, is largely hollow and insincere.
The overwhelming vast majority are ordinary citizens that should have nothing to prove. They shouldn’t need to grovel to people’s perceptions of them by wearing some piece of cloth with a poppy on.
A regular poppy is fine.