Thursday, November 07, 2013

Poppy wearing by Muslims

There is some imprecise terminology used in the Independent article on poppy wearing by Muslims in the United Kingdom:

I don't wish to disparage the efforts of Dilwar Hussein's grandfather (Dilwar Hussein is Chair of the charity New Horizons in British Islam) but it is extremely unlikely that he served in the British Army - he almost certainly served in the Indian Army defending India from Japanese invasion.  Indeed, it was an act of altruism by the United Kingdom to allocate British forces to the defence of India in the Second World War (which had already been promised self-government and a road to independence) when it would have been more logical to have abandoned the territory and concentrated on the defence of the British Isles.  And although the Islamic Society of Britain refers to Indians "facing down the hatred of Nazism" no mention is made of the activities of Subas Chandra Bose and the Indian National Army who were actively in alliance with the Nazis and are regarded as war heroes in India today.

The role of Indians in the First World War is more complex.  Again the number of Indians who served in the British Army was miniscule - almost all the Indians who served were in the Indian Army or princely regiments.  Technically India was ruled by a Viceroy who theoretically could have decided to remain neutral although in practice there was never any doubt that India would participate in the war.  But the fact remains that India entered the war as an ally of the United Kingdom, with a volunteer army (no conscription in India) and initially pursuing Indian war aims (the Indian conquest of Iraq was intended to add that territory to the Indian Empire, Indian activity in German East Africa was meant to pacify the Indian Ocean etc).  India participated in the 1919 Versailles Peace Conference as an equal to the Dominion governments Australia, Canada and New Zealand (against the wishes of the Americans).  One of the most impressive First World War memorials is the India Gate in New Delhi, and that is arguably the most appropriate focus for remembrance of the Indian dead of both world wars.

All this needs pointing out because a narrative is circulating that because Indians "defended Britain" in the two world wars this somehow legitimises immigration of Indians and Pakistanis into the United Kingdom.  This is a false argument.  Not only is there no proven correlation between the Indian participants on the Western Front and the Indian families who subsequently migrated to the United Kingdom (against the wishes of the majority we should note), India and Pakistan were given independence as a reward for their participation in the two global struggles and thus no "debt" exists between the British and the Indians.

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