THE British military has been a leading example of interfaith collaboration for more than a century, a former Liberal Democrat leader, Lord Ashdown, has said.
He was speaking at an event hosted by the think tank British Future, to commemorate the contribution of 400,000 Muslim soldiers who fought as part of the British army in the First World War.
Referring to the often forgotten part played by many Muslim soldiers, the director of British Future, Sunder Katwala, argued that “the army a hundred years ago looked very like the Britain of 2017.”
“I think the military is probably an organisation where that kind of sense of integration [between faiths] is as good as most other places — and better than a lot,” Lord Ashdown said, drawing on his own experiences in the British army as well as those of his father. “In active service, you depend on the man next to you, whatever their creed, religion, or colour is. If you ain’t integrated, you ain’t going to survive.”
This integration was a proud part of the British army’s heritage, he added, and he welcomed the chance to “remind people of the part played in defending our country at its finest hour by the Indian soldiers and Muslim soldiers. . .
“Since, now, we are in an age when hate crimes are rising, when we fall into the terrible mistake of saying every Muslim is a potential terrorist, it is essential to realise as a country that we owe our survival in part to Muslim soldiers.”
Dr Irfan Malik, a First World War historian who visits schools to discuss the part played by Muslim soldiers, also spoke. He estimated that the Indian government’s financial contribution to the war effort was £479 million — £19 billion in today’s money — in addition to soldiers and supplies.
Lord Ashdown later told the audience that he “owed his existence to Muslim soldiers” who had served under his father’s command in France during the Second World War, and with whom he safely evacuated from Dunkirk in 1940 without losing a single soldier. “I was conceived when he arrived on the other side,” Lord Ashdown said, to laughter.
In his concluding remarks, Dr Malik asked why — “if, a hundred years ago, people of different faiths and no faith could stand side by side in the trenches all over the world, fighting against a common enemy— can’t we live in peace at the moment?”