More must be done to recruit soldiers from ethnic minorities and in particular the Muslim community, the Head of the British Army has admitted. General Sir Nicholas Carter, who took up the role of Chief of the General Staff last year, said that ethic minority representation in the military is “nowhere near where it needs to be”.
“We have to do more. My highest priority is ensuring we continue to have the best possible talent throughout our Army,” he said. Figures released by the Ministry of Defence reveal there are only 480 Muslims serving in Army.
That is only 0.54% of the total regular force of 88,500. Moreover, not all of those Muslims are British – some joined from Commonwealth countries. Overall, all ethnic minorities – including black, Asian, Sikh, Hindu and Fijian people – make up less than 10% of the force.
The military’s Islamic Religious Advisor welcomed General Carter’s comments.
“In my view, the values of the Armed Forces are fully compatible with the values of Islam as well as other faiths,” said Imam Asim Hafiz.
“Anybody wishing to pursue a career in the Services, Regular or Reserve, and is prepared to work hard can be assured of a very rewarding experience.”
Senior figures in the military and Ministry of Defence recognise that conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have led to negative perceptions of the military in Muslim communities. General Carter wants that to change through closer interaction and engagement with ethnic minority communities.
Muslim and Sikh recruits training in the British Army say their faith is not an issue, but at times it can present them with a few dilemmas. “If I was out in Afghanistan in uniform I would be shot at right away, as the Taliban would not know who I was or my Muslim background,” says Akhtar Hussain. “So for me, it’s who shoots first.”
The 19-year-old British Muslim from Brighton joined the Princess of Wales’ Royal Regiment seven weeks ago and is currently undergoing a 26-week training program at Vimy Barracks in Catterick. He says his faith does not really affect his army training, and the attitude to British Muslims at the barracks is positive. “They cater for my needs and if I want to pray or observe Ramadan I can,” says Private Hussain. Halal food is also provided for.
But when Pte. Hussain finishes training, he might be posted on a tour of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan – and he is aware British Muslims joining the army has become a contentious issue. “Obviously coming from my background, it plays on my mind. I may end up in this situation but I don’t think religion comes into it, it’s more about terrorism.”
Footage that allegedly shows a group of men practising military-style techniques in a New Forest terror training camp has been seen by a jury. A British Army officer told Woolwich Crown Court that the drills were similar to those of al-Qaeda insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan.