Thinking Aloud: For Queen or Caliphate?

Aug. 27, 2014 by Darius 

People beheading other people don’t normally have a British accent anymore.  The ISIS fighter who beheaded American journalist James Foley did, though, and that stirred up a lot of controversy.  A rather startling fact has made the rounds in the days since the video:  according to British Member of Parliament Khalid Mahmood, there are twice as many British Muslims who are fighting for ISIS as there are in the British military.

On its face, that statistic seems to make the point Mahmood was making: that Britain needs to enact measures to combat radicalization in British Muslim communities.  That point is valid.  After digging a bit deeper, though, for me the most telling thing about that statistic is the pathetically low number of Muslims serving in the British military.

It is thought that about 1,500 Britons have gone to fight in Iraq and Syria whereas there are about 600 Muslims in the British military.  Britain has more than 200,000 active-service military personnel.  That means that only 0.29% of the British military is Muslim.  By contrast, 4.4% of British citizens are Muslim.  Clearly, Muslims aren’t even close to being proportionally represented in the British military.  Why not?

To start with, the relationship between the British Muslim community and the British military is not good.  Muslim soldiers have reported harassment by other Muslims for their decision to join the military.  Others are not eager to fight fellow Muslims, which has been the bulk of British military engagement for the last 15 years.  Relations between the government and the Muslim community are sometimes tense.  As in the US, Britain’s Muslim community is often the target of increased surveillance and police harassment.  

Britain’s military is doing better, albeit very slowly, at integrating Muslims into its ranks.  In 2005, there were only 300 Muslims in the military.

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