White Poppies

Symon Hill explains why the Quaker belief in pacifism leads him to wear a white poppy.

Symon Hill explains why the Quaker belief in pacifism leads him to wear a white poppy.

To be Quaker is to choose a religion fundamentally at odds with the dominant values around us. For me, this is both exciting and challenging.

Quakers often enjoy publicity at this time of year, because – like other pacifists - we wear white poppies. Like most Quaker commitments, this is often misunderstood. White poppies are not about insulting the dead, but about honouring them by working for an end to war. It was this visible commitment to pacifism that initially attracted me to Quakers, but the attitude grows out of something deeper.

The starting-point of Quakerism is that the inward light of God is available to everyone. Of course, we are all limited by our own contexts, egos and the inclination to fall back on human rules. I admit that Quakers – myself included - often fall for a shoddy substitute of our religion that mistakes sympathy for love and lack of commitment for open-mindedness. But Quakerism at its best is shocking in its radicalism. If God's light is present in all people, then to hurt another person is to hurt God, to refuse to learn from others is to set ourselves above God and to treat anyone as my inferior or superior is simply blasphemy.

Far from fluffy idealism, this involves a hard struggle to reorient our lives and to improve the world. I cannot believe in the universal availability of God without rejecting the lie that there is no alternative to war and poverty. This is no excuse for naivety: campaigning needs to be effective. I am proud of the role that Quakers have played in campaigns to abolish the transatlantic slave trade, reform prisons and secure human rights.

While I wear a white poppy as a memorial and a campaigning tool, it is also a sign of a belief in a different world. When protesting outside the London Arms Fair last year, I experienced a moment of powerful clarity when I was struck by the flimsiness and transience of the arms dealers' power compared to the everlasting light of God, accessible in all our hearts if we will turn to it.

The power that was in Jesus is available to us now. His teachings of love, justice and nonviolence are a realistic approach to life, society and politics. As a Quaker, I cannot separate personal from political, sacred from secular, earthly from heavenly. The Kingdom of God is within us. It is up to us to live it.

Symon Hill is a Christian writer and activist. His latest book is Digital Revolutions: Activism in the Internet Age, published by New Internationalist.

Steve Garry
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The footie is back. Three weeks in and what have we learned so far?

Barcleys, boots and big names... the Prem is back.

Another season, another reason for making whoopee cushions and giving them to Spurs fans to cheer them up during the long winter afternoons ahead. What have we learned so far?

Big names are vital. Just ask the manager of the Man United shop. The arrival of Schneiderlin and Schweinsteiger has done wonders for the sale of repro tops and they’ve run out of letters. Benedict Cumberbatch, please join Carlisle United. They’re desperate for some extra income.

Beards are still in. The whole Prem is bristling with them, the skinniest, weediest player convinced he’s Andrea Pirlo. Even my young friend and neighbour Ed Miliband has grown a beard, according to his holiday snaps. Sign him.

Boots Not always had my best specs on, but here and abroad I detect a new form of bootee creeping in – slightly higher on the ankle, not heavy-plated as in the old days but very light, probably made from the bums of newborn babies.

Barclays Still driving me mad. Now it’s screaming from the perimeter boards that it’s “Championing the true Spirit of the Game”. What the hell does that mean? Thank God this is its last season as proud sponsor of the Prem.

Pitches Some groundsmen have clearly been on the weeds. How else can you explain the Stoke pitch suddenly having concentric circles, while Southampton and Portsmouth have acquired tartan stripes? Go easy on the mowers, chaps. Footballers find it hard enough to pass in straight lines.

Strips Have you seen the Everton third kit top? Like a cheap market-stall T-shirt, but the colour, my dears, the colour is gorgeous – it’s Thames green. Yes, the very same we painted our front door back in the Seventies. The whole street copied, then le toot middle classes everywhere.

Scott Spedding Which international team do you think he plays for? I switched on the telly to find it was rugby, heard his name and thought, goodo, must be Scotland, come on, Scotland. Turned out to be the England-France game. Hmm, must be a member of that famous Cumbrian family, the Speddings from Mirehouse, where Tennyson imagined King Arthur’s Excalibur coming out the lake. Blow me, Scott Spedding turns out to be a Frenchman. Though he only acquired French citizenship last year, having been born and bred in South Africa. What’s in a name, eh?

Footballers are just so last season. Wayne Rooney and Harry Kane can’t score. The really good ones won’t come here – all we get is the crocks, the elderly, the bench-warmers, yet still we look to them to be our saviour. Oh my God, let’s hope we sign Falcao, he’s a genius, will make all the difference, so prayed all the Man United fans. Hold on: Chelsea fans. I’ve forgotten now where he went. They seek him here, they seek him there, is he alive or on the stairs, who feckin’ cares?

John Stones of Everton – brilliant season so far, now he is a genius, the solution to all of Chelsea’s problems, the heir to John Terry, captain of England for decades. Once he gets out of short trousers and learns to tie his own laces . . .

Managers are the real interest. So refreshing to have three young British managers in the Prem – Alex Neil at Norwich (34), Eddie Howe at Bournemouth (37) and that old hand at Swansea, Garry Monk, (36). Young Master Howe looks like a ball boy. Or a tea boy.

Mourinho is, of course, the main attraction. He has given us the best start to any of his seasons on this planet. Can you ever take your eyes off him? That handsome hooded look, that sarcastic sneer, the imperious hand in the air – and in his hair – all those languages, he’s so clearly brilliant, and yet, like many clever people, often lacking in common sense. How could he come down so heavily on Eva Carneiro, his Chelsea doctor? Just because you’re losing? Yes, José has been the best fun so far – plus Chelsea’s poor start. God, please don’t let him fall out with Abramovich. José, we need you.

Hunter Davies is a journalist, broadcaster and profilic author perhaps best known for writing about the Beatles. He is an ardent Tottenham fan and writes a regular column on football for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 27 August 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Isis and the new barbarism