Post-Armistice Day: Diversity in the Public Imagination and British Army
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Wednesday November 14 2018
The 11th of November 2018 marked Remembrance Day commemorating a centenary since the end of the first World War. Tributes have been made over the weekend ranging from ceremonies involving world leaders to community-led procession with 10,000 people showcasing beautiful solidarity across the nation in remembrance of those who have died in service to their country.
Yet, some argue that it is also time that the public imagination pertaining to war efforts was more inclusive to the multi-ethnic and multi-faith contributions. Last week a statue of a Sikh soldier was built in Smethwick to honour the involvement of South Asian servicemen in the first world war. However, within a few days of its unveiling, it was vandalised. This suggests that, although acknowledgments are made to the involvement of soldiers from Commonwealth countries, it is not felt in the public imagination in the same way.
The Commonwealth refers to colonies and territories that formed the British Empire and includes 53 countries across the world. Some of these countries, such as India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Malaysia and Nigeria have significant Muslim populations; communities that have played a significant role during major wars, including helping the Allies secure victory in WWI and WWII.
Over a million individuals from the Indian subcontinent fought on behalf of Britain during WWII, securing their position as the largest volunteer army the world has ever seen. Of these individuals, it is estimated that 885,00 Muslim soldiers fought with the Allies in World War I, with over 400,000 Muslims fighting for Britain.
Prince Harry expressed his desire to include marigolds into the poppy wreath into his Cenotaph wreath to honour the participation of Indians in the first World War, but alluded to the lack of autonomy that he had in that decision.
The lack of representation of diversity in the British army and British history is also apparent in the whitewashing in the film Dunkirk.
In an effort to embolden the strength of the British Army, it has been announced that individuals from Commonwealth countries can join without having to have lived in the UK for five years. Previously, there was a 200 person limit on how many individuals from the Commonwealth could be recruited. Suffering from an 8,200 recruitment deficit within the ranks, the British Army once again seeks to lean on the support of the Commonwealth countries.
Recently, the British Army has also gone to significant lengths to recruit people from BME backgrounds more widely owing to a dearth of ethnic representation. In January 2018, the British Army spent £1.6 million on an advertising campaign that showed a Muslim soldier praying to illustrate that the Army can be “physically and emotionally supportive” to recruits of all backgrounds.
The Ministry of Defence published a report based on the UK armed forces biannual diversity statistics that stated that ethnic minorities are underrepresented among officer ranks (2.4%) and within the armed forces and this figure only rises to 8.7%. This is not a true reflection of the 12.8% of ethnic minorities that make up the population, however it is a step in the right direction.
The British Army has recently attempted to pay more attention in recruiting from ethnic minority communities, tapping into the patriotism prevalent within these groups. Indeed, ComRes data has stipulated 95% of Muslims feel a sense of loyalty to Britain, evident in the roughly 650 Muslims in the British Army at present.
However, what is ironic is that whilst the nation’s security forces are attempting to become more amicable to minority communities, the Home Office has, and is continuing to, impose(d) a ‘hostile environment’ policy. In 2012, the then Home Secretary, Theresa May, stated that the aim was to create a “really hostile environment” to make it difficult for individuals to gain citizenship in the UK, effectively reducing immigration. The policy in effect introduces barriers in getting access to citizenship, and exercising civic rights.
The anti-immigration stance of the Home Office is also evident in the run-up to Brexit, with skilled migrants, such as doctors and nurses, being told to leave because they do not have the right paperwork despite the NHS becoming increasingly short-staffed.
Earlier in 2018, the Windrush scandal (a Governmental scandal born out of the illegal deportation of legal British citizens who had their documents and landing cards destroyed by the Home Office) brought immigration to the centre with reports of individuals from the first wave of immigration from the Carribean 70 years ago who arrived as British citizens of the commonwealth, being deported after having lived and worked in the UK for decades.
Ms Achiume, The UN Special Rapporteur on racism and expressed concern over the stigmatising and hateful discourse surrounding Brexit and the subsequent anti-migrant and anti-foreigner rhetoric that has developed and been propagated by political opportunists.
It is, therefore, ironic that Commonwealth citizens can join the British Army and die for a country that they can’t make their home.
It is important for British Muslims to engage with all aspects of civic duties. In 2006, Jabron Hashmi was the first British Muslim soldier to die in service. He was reported to have been “fiercely proud of his Islamic background and equally proud of being British”.
MEND believes that there is a lack of unification in the message that is being told to citizens from minority communities and from Commonwealth countries. On the one hand, Britain is proud to have them serve the country and yet on the other, maintains structures propagating institutional racism and the continual marginalisation of ethnic minority communities.