| Anti-war protesters in London on Saturday. (AFP)
London, March 22: Muslim protesters were once again well represented in anti-war demonstrations which took place in many cities in Britain today — and this helps to explain why the parents of Tariq are keeping quiet about their son’s involvement with the British army.
Tariq (not his real name) is a Muslim serviceman, currently in the Gulf, attached to the 3rd Battalion of the famed Parachute Regiment. His duties are mainly clerical but there are no passengers in his regiment and he has a weapon by his side and has accompanied his colleagues into battle. His whereabouts today are secret.
He was born in Leeds of Pakistani immigrant parents and is proud to be British. Before deploying to Kuwait in his capacity as a corporal with the Parachute Regiment, he prayed in a mosque in Leeds where other members of the congregation were also praying prior to taking part in anti-war demonstrations.
Tariq’s parents proudly keep a photograph of their 27-year-old son in uniform on their mantelpiece but are afraid of a possible backlash from extremist elements in their community. This is why they keep news of Tariq’s six-year involvement with the army confined to a tight circle of trusted relatives and friends.
Tariq’s story, highlighted in a pooled despatch from the front, has wider significance. The British Armed Forces are keen to increase the proportion of ethnic minorities serving in their ranks so that they become truly representative of the country as a whole. In fact, Geoff Hoon, the defence secretary, accompanied by senior members of all the services, attended an Asian newspaper function a few months ago to show racism in the forces is a thing of the past and the services are keen to recruit from the Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi populations in Britain.
But Tariq’s dilemma — a Muslim soldier sent into battle against a country where Islam is the main religion — shows the government will have to mend many fences if it is to gain the confidence of British Muslims.
As for Tariq, he has managed to rationalise his own situation. “It was a difficult decision being a Muslim to come here but I realise this is not a religious war, however some people are trying to paint it,” he said.
“I firmly believe this war will be a means to help people, rather than an exercise in killing,” he added.
Tariq recalled: “I was in a mosque back home shortly before we deployed and they were organising to go on the anti-war march in London. I prayed for peace, too — but sometimes a lasting peace is by fighting.” Tariq went on: “It’s Saddam who needs his head testing. The sooner he gets out of the picture, one way or another, the better it is for his people.”
Tariq’s family has military connections. His mother’s uncle is in the Pakistani army. But he had no ambitions himself of going into the Pakistani forces.
“I was born in Leeds and I’m British — there was only ever one army I was going to join,” he declared. The irony is he has to keep quiet about it for the foreseeable future.