Remembrance Sunday

November 11, 2008

I didn’t have time to post this on Sunday, but I think Armistice Day is as good a time as any.

It is vitally important that we remember our loved ones who have died, and particularly those who have died in conflict. You may not agree with the war itself, but it’s not the fault of the troops. Many give their lives for their countries, and those who don’t are away from home, away from their loved ones and in the middle of very hostile situations fighting for a cause which they may or may not agree with, and facing traumatic events risking life and limb on a daily basis. As the saying goes, those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it.

I went to the Universities’ service for Remembrance Day. It was held in the Playfair Library at Old College, followed by a parade around the quadrangle by the cadets. It was a fairly impressive affair, attended by representatives from Napier, Queen Margaret’s, Heriot Watt and Edinburgh Universities. Anyone who’s been reading the blog since its beginning may remember that I was very angry at myself for missing the ceremony last year. I suspect at that time I may have been a lot more indignant at what I saw. People may consider this an inappropriate thing to say in a post about such a somber event, but I want to make it absolutely clear that I am not criticising the act of remembrance, and neither am I criticising the University for hosting such an event, just that the type of commemoration seemed inappropriate. I feel obliged to make some kind of comment, although it is not easy to do so delicately. What follows should not be read in an agressive tone, merely a disappointed one.

What astounded me is that it was explicitly a Christian, and more specifically it seemed to me a Protestant affair (I say that because I noticed the version of the Lord’s Prayer was taken from the King James Bible, widely used by Protestants but not much at all by Catholics). Now don’t get me wrong, every other ceremony I’ve been to has been Christian, but they all took place in church, so I wasn’t surprised. Here, the ceremony took place in a library, at an educational institution which is supposedly secular, taken by a chaplain based at a chaplaincy which professes to serve people of all faiths and none, and none of the advertising for the event I saw suggested that it would have any kind of religious flavour, which is why I was so surprised. This is not a criticism of anyone in particular, but does having an explicitly Christian ceremony not undermine the sacrifices of people of other faiths and of no faith whatsoever?

Remembrance Sunday is widely considered a way of remembering and paying tribute to all those who have died in conflict, not just the World Wars, and not just people on ‘our side’. It is unrealistic to believe that all of those people were Christian, indeed if you go to the military cemeteries in Europe (as I did in the Netherlands in 2005), a large contingency of the headstones bear the star of David rather than a crucifix, and I wonder how many of those with crucifixes actually held religious belief. This website suggests that many Sikhs, Hindus and Muslims fought for Britain too. Equally it is not at all fair to presume that only Christians would like to participate in a remembrance ceremony.

I don’t object to religious organisations holding Remembrance Day services, I openly applaud it. But a secular institution like the University, with such a multicultural membership, shouldn’t have any kind of service other than a secular one. Trawling the internet briefly, I can’t find any mention of any kind of non-Christian Remembrance Day service closer than Oxford, and even that still has Christian blessings. You can blame that on secularists, but in my opinion the University service should be one of them. I had previously been impressed with the University that other official ceremonies had no mention of any God or religious belief. If members of the University want to pray, that’s they’re prerogative, but appealing solely to Christians can only contribute to cultural fragmentation. It appears Remembrance Sunday has become a Christian celebration.

I apologise if I have offended anyone, but if you leave a comment I will happily discuss any issue.

Holocaust Memorial Day

January 29, 2008

I’m a bit annoyed with myself. This year is the first year I’ve missed a Holocaust Memorial Day service, which took place last night at the Chaplaincy at the University. It wasn’t my fault; I had to work. But at the same time if I’d thought ahead I could have made sure I wasn’t working. What’s worse is that I also missed the Remembrance Sunday service because my alarm didn’t go off and I slept straight through. Back at home I normally mark this occasion with a big parade through my local village with my scout district and it was a shame to not be there this time. So this is my way of commemorating the event

I think it’s imperative that we continue to mark events such as Holocaust Memorial Day. Only by remembering the mistakes in humanity’s history can we ensure that something similar doesn’t happen again. It is for this reason that Holocaust Denial is a crime in some countries; if we don’t remember it, it could end up happening again.

The problem is, though, that similar things have happened again. Saddam Hussein’s extermination of the Kurds and Marsh Arabs, the Rwandan genocide of the Tutsis by the Hutu, the Bosnian genocide in Srebrenica, and the Darfur conflict, which Colin Powell declared genocide in 2004, and which still continues today.

So is humanity learning from its mistakes? I don’t think so, in spite of the efforts of the organisers of Holocaust Memorial Day. It seems to me that the only time this remembrance is ever put into practice is when the government brings in a particularly adventurous piece of legislation, or an example of the “nanny state” is brought up, then people refer to it as “Nazi” in order to garner up opposition to it.

This is an insult to the memory of the millions of people who died in the Holocaust and in the Second World War.