The Minister of Defence Rt Hon Earl Howe visited various religious establishments around Birmingham with the intention of promoting cohesion and understanding between the armed forces and local Muslim, Hindu and Sikh communities. The day was also used to raise awareness of careers in defence. The busy day saw the Minister visit South and City College Birmingham, Hindu Temple Durga Bhawan, Sikh Gurdwara Guru Nanak Nishkam Sewak Jath and St Chads Cathedral. The visit included a stop at Birmingham Central Mosque, one of the country’s earliest built Mosques.
It was an intimate and enlightening day where the minister observed prayers with Mosque attendees before speaking of the need for good relations between the armed forces and South Asian communities. We spoke to the Minister about this new initiative and why cohesion is integral to communities.
How are you engaging the armed forces with local communities?
I think it is important that we have days like today to promote mutual understanding and awareness of what the armed forces are there to do and represent, and maybe to dispel some misunderstandings that can build up about them. One of the things I have been saying is that we should look at the values of the armed forces because their values of courage, self-sacrifice, integrity, loyalty and discipline are what religious communities hold high in their estimation. So it is by building that understanding that we come together and maybe even show some young people that the army can be a career for them because there are many opportunities there.
Do you think South Asian communities have a good relationship with the armed forces?
There is undoubtedly work to do but I think in some communities there is a very good understanding. I was in Leicester earlier this year where we did a lot of work and so did the communities there, to help build that understanding. In Birmingham I found an open door wherever I have gone which has been fantastic. People have been very welcoming and do understand the armed forces. Maybe we can all work together to ensure there is a wider degree of acceptance and enthusiasm about the armed forces who are there after all to protect us.
Do you think Birmingham can be a great example of that engagement?
I think Birmingham can be a beacon of that excellence to show the whole country how it is done. Everything I have heard at Birmingham Central Mosque, the Sikh Gurdwara and Hindu Temple have told me that Birmingham is already a place of social cohesion, it has been a great success particularly since 9/11 and there is real willingness to work together on the basis of shared values.
Rt Hon Earl Howe is the Deputy Leader of the House of Lords and Minister of State for Defence.
For more information on the Ministry of Defence visit www.gov.uk/government/organisations/ministry-of-defence
For more information on British Muslims and the armed forces visit the Armed Forces Muslim Association (AFMA) at afma.org.uk
To work for the armed forces visit www.army.mod.uk