On Monday the 27th of January members of VFP UK attended “A celebration of the multi-faith nature of the Armed Forces” organised by Faith Matters in Haringey. We didn’t know what to expect from an event which was described as “A community discussion highlighting the diverse nature of the armed forces and its role and work with faith communities”. Also in attendance were peace activists and concerned people from a variety of organisations and backgrounds including the Peace Pledge Union, Payday, Quakers, Christians, Sikhs and academics.
Faith Matters is run by Fiyaz Mughal and he chaired the meeting. The evening was kicked off and rubber stamped by Sheila Peacock, the mayor of Haringey. It soon became clear that the presentation was part back-slapping of fellow speakers and part display of personal status. It was quite amusing to listen to the various members of the panel deviate from the theme of the night and their own areas of expertise. Chief Supt Victor Olisa told us with authority that troops were killing in Afghanistan to keep our streets safe. Army Padre (vicar) Kevin Bell waxed lyrical about his time in the police cadets. He told us that he audibly witnessed the Birmingham IRA bombing in 1974, but failed to mention that 6 innocent people spent 16 years in prison as a result of police criminality. The Army’s only Buddhist Chaplin Sunil Kariyakarawana was having difficulty explaining how Buddhism and a career in the Army were compatible. He then produced a golden picture frame containing a letter from the Dalai Lama which he claimed justified his military service.
After congratulating each other on attaining the positions they occupied and painting a picture of the British military as a paragon/bastion of religious diversity and tolerance, they allowed some time for questions from the audience. The audience constituted peace activists and aging military personnel planted in the audience to provide biased and subservient interventions.
Over the next 30 minutes the panel was asked about:
- Racist and sectarian hatred within the Army.
- Racist and sectarian stereotyping of the enemy and civilians.
- UK involvement in torture.
- The racism and violence suffered by local Sikhs who had joined the Army.
- The aggressive nature of British foreign policy.
- How Christianity can possibly be compatible with military service.
- How the figures on faith diversity within the Armed Forces were greatly distorted by migrant soldiers and therefore not representative of British society.
- Police culpability in the death of Mark Duggan.
- The low number of rape allegations (2.5%) that result in convictions within the military.
The panel were quite unable to answer the questions. It is fair to say that we did not receive a single straight or sensible answer. Kevin Bell became so angry that he decided to patronise the young man from the Peace Pledge Union. Victor Olisa strayed further into unknown territory as he regurgitated sound bites about Afghanistan and the army. As chairperson Fiyaz Mughal could have been a lot better at getting the panelists to actually answer the questions, but why would he want to do that to his mates?
It was clear that the panel expected an easy time of it in Wood Green. They thought they would convince the locals that the Army is a force for good. They thought they could tell half truths and emphasise the positives of military service unchallenged. They were wrong. There wasn’t a single clap let alone a round of applause for any of the speakers.
What we learned from this experience is that even those hanging onto the coat-tales of the establishment will stop at nothing to infect society with the lies and fear-mongering that propagate war and militarism. We would encourage all members to attend such events in the future in order to challenge this disgusting non-sense.
Article by Chase Sydnor and Ben Griffin, VFP UK.