Why I Don’t Wear a Poppy

The First World War was a disaster for the Arab World: and we may be facing are-run

By Abdelbari Atwan

At this time of year, many British people make sure to pin red paper poppies to their chests as in solidarity with the soldiers who lost their lives on the frontlines during the First World War.

I would often appear on TV programmes as an analyst or commentator on Middle East affairs, and still do, and would be almost the only person who broke this rule, by which broadcasters and guests alike would abide. For many years, I was subjected to questions about this behaviour.

Once, a fellow journalist of African origin asked me why I wasn’t wearing this red flower. I replied that many of these soldiers we were supposed to be glorifying and honouring had been fighting my people, occupying our land, putting it under British and French mandate, and killing thousands of Arabs and Muslims.

I offer this as an introduction to the huge festivities that were staged in Paris on Sunday, attended by 60 world leaders (including three from the Arab Maghreb but, curiously, none from the Mashreq), headed by the presidents of the US and Russia, to mark the centenary of the end of the First World War.

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That war witnessed the biggest deception ever perpetrated against our Arab rulers by the English and the French. They urged us to rebel against the Ottoman state – on the grounds that we were of a different ethnicity – in exchange for being granted full independence in a unified Arab state.

Sharif Hussein Bin-Ali believed this lie and took the British bait, and proclaimed the Great Arab Revolt. But after the war ended the British reneged on their promises as usual. They shared out the Arab remnants of the Ottoman Empire between themselves and the French under the Sykes-Picot agreement, and Lord Balfour issued his infamous Declaration granting Palestine to the Jews to establish a national home there… and we all know how who that turned out.

One hundred years on, history is repeating itself. The US is playing the same role the British and French did before: setting the stage for a second Great Arab Revolt. This time it is in the name of a Sunni Arab Nato, and the war it aims at waging, with Israeli participation, is against Iran.

Sharif Hussein launched his Great Arab Revolt from Mecca. His Saudi successor, or rather his nemesis, King Salman or perhaps his son Muhammad, is set to lead another ‘Arab Sunni’ action, under an American and Israeli umbrella, against Iran’s extension of its influence which supposedly threatens the region. Ironically, Jordan is set to be a member (along with the six Gulf states and Egypt) of the alliance that – if things go to the plan envisaged by Netanyahu and Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner – is to be launched at summit in Washington in January. The ‘Deal of the Century’ it is set to unveil will be tantamount to a new Balfour Declaration.

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We are, in short, facing a new ‘great deception’ that may prove more damaging than the deception we faced a century ago. It could turn us as Arabs into fodder for a new war that drains what remains of our resources and ends in the destruction of our cities and villages and the burning of our oil-wells. The big difference, though, is that Israel, which has ben inciting for this war, will not be spared its consequences. It will in one way or the other share in the destruction and devastation inflicted on the Arab Nato countries in the destruction.

Trump and Netanyahu have turned us into a laughing stock and punching bag. We are being led to the slaughterhouse with our eyes wide open eyes and our chests falsely puffed up in an unprecedented state of division. To make matters worse, many of our kind, some of them at the pinnacle of power, dress up this disgrace as a virtue and try to promote it to the region’s peoples.

The settlement that followed the Frist World War barely survived for 20 years. Because of the injustice and humiliation it inflicted on Germany set the stage for the outbreak of the Second World War.  We cannot rule out a similar scenario being repeated in our region, with Israel and its Arab allies in collusion with the US emerging as the main losers in the long run.