Last week I had the huge honour of receiving an award from Asian Voice. It presented me with the ideal opportunity to pay tribute to a community whose contribution to our country- culturally, economically and philanthropically has been immense.
This is especially the case when it comes to Defence. What was so pleasing about last year’s Great War commemorations was that they gave us the chance to recall the enormous role of Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus in that vast conflict. Millions travelled from the furthest flung corners of the globe to fight for liberty in the fields of Flanders to the shores of Gallipoli and sands of Mesopotamia. But even more remarkable than the 9200 decorations including many Victoria Crosses awarded for gallantry by Indian forces, is that every last soldier, sailor and airman was a volunteer.
Their selfless contribution continues today. As I write, our proud service personnel from an Asian background are performing incredible feats across the world – whether tackling Daesh terrorists, helping Afghanistan build its fledgling democracy or keeping the borders of Eastern Europe safe from aggression.
But why aren’t we doing better at getting the community on board? I want to see 10 per cent of our forces coming from minority communities. And I want to see a new generation of British Asian generals, air marshals and admirals emerging. This isn’t about hitting a target for the sake of it. It’s not even about making sure our military properly represents the people it serves. It’s about making sure we don’t lose an immense pool of talent.
To those who say the Armed Forces is not for them, I say why not? Today’s 21st century military is a haven of opportunity. It’s a place where you can become anything you want to be. It’s a place where faith is celebrated not disdained. Dress regulations respect faith requirements. Dietary needs are accommodated. Rooms are set aside for prayer. It’s a place of faith networks so strong that in 2017 10 of our Muslim personnel completed the Hajj to key religious sites in Saudi Arabi led by Imam Asim Hafiz, our Islamic Religious Advisor. The point is being a good Muslim, good Sikh or good Hindu and being a good MOD employer are compatible. We share fundamental values. And our commitment to service, our desire to give back to society, our ambition to do global good is the same.
As we leave the EU, those opportunities to make a difference internationally are growing by the day. And as we strengthen our global alliances and strike out on a new path, I look forward to continuing to work with you. Together we’ve written many glorious chapters in our nation’s history but I’ve no doubt the best is yet to come.