Jabron Hashmi came to Britain at the age of 12 with his family from Pakistan. He was comfortable as a Muslim and a Briton, proud of his community and, after embarking on a career in the armed forces, keen to serve his country.
L/Cpl Hashmi, 24, was killed on Saturday in Helmand province, Afghanistan, the first British Muslim soldier to die in the "war on terror" in Iraq and Afghanistan. His death, along with 27-year-old Cpl Peter Thorpe, brought the number of British troops killed to five in three weeks, and added to concern over the Afghan mission.
But the life and death of L/Cpl Hashmi is also deeply symbolic at a time when many Muslims feel increasingly alienated by the foreign policy of Tony Blair's Government.
Yesterday, his older brother, Zeeshan, said Jabron was proud to have fought for his country and said he felt his ethnic background and Muslim identity was an advantage. "He personally felt he was in a unique position because of his background and that he could contribute by creating a better environment. He personally considered himself a Muslim first and foremost, and a British Pakistani and was proud of both identities."
Zeeshan said he hoped the memory of his brother as a British Muslim soldier fighting for his country would benefit community relations.
"Jabron, like me, thought that the majority of the problems in British society came down to the absence of understanding of each other's culture and my brother has, by example, proved the fact that in this difficult time we can bridge these gaps. Most of the problems can be solved and he was proud of the fact he joined the military and wanted to use his background in being a Muslim as well as being British to make the world a better place.''
In a statement released last night, L/Cpl Hashmi's family said it had been his lifelong dream to join the Army. "Jabron wanted to join the British Army as a young boy growing up in Pakistan. He was proud of his role as a serving soldier and looked forward to his deployment to Afghanistan.
"He felt privileged to represent the Army as a Muslim British Pakistani who wanted to use his background and position to contribute at a time where there exists a lack of understanding of cultures, ideologies and religious identities."
His brother added: "He was very courageous in committing himself. Unfortunately he ended up giving his life to achieve something positive. My brother and sisters are grateful to Allah to have had him for 24 years."
Jabron Hashmi was born in Peshawar, in the North-West Frontier province of Pakistan, but his father moved to Birmingham in November 1994 with three of his five children including Jabron, Zeeshan, now 27, and their sister Zoubia, now 29. His mother and two younger sisters, Absa and Tajalla, stayed in Pakistan until May 2001 when they were able to get British citizenship as well.
Zeeshan said his father, Ishtiaq Hussain Hashmi, and his mother, Imeiaz Bano Hashmi, had emigrated to Britain in hope of a better life and education for their children. His father had lived in Multan where he was a deeds writer in court but retired when he came to England.
"A major factor in all of us coming to England was so we could have a better education,'' he said.
L/Cpl Hashmi was attached to the Royal Signals and found himself in support of the 3 Para Battlegroup in the Sangin Valley, a particularly dangerous area at the moment with regular attacks from a resurgent Taliban. His commanding officer, Lt-Col Steve Vickery, of 14 Signal Regiment, said: "Enthusiastic, confident and immensely popular, he displayed all the qualities of a first-class soldier. His enthusiasm for the role he had been given was outstanding."
Details of the two men's death emerged as the Government was forced to make a Commons statement on Afghanistan to deny that its mission was "confused" or "unfocused". John Reid, the previous defence secretary, had earlier predicted that the three-year British mission could finish without a shot being fired in anger.
The Defence minister Tom Watson, standing in for the Defence Secretary, Des Browne, said the attacks had always been expected. "That was why we sent an air-mobile battle group, artillery and Apache attack helicopters. We wouldn't have deployed such a formidable package if we didn't think there was a real threat to the safety of our armed forces. We are only at the start of our three-year operation. There is still much to do."
By Charlotte Reeve
The Government has faced increasing pressure in the past few years to increase the level of ethnic minorities represented in the British armed forces. At present there are 320 people who have declared themselves as Muslims serving in Britain's forces, out of a total strength of 185,000. Altogether there are about 10,000 personnel, approximately 5.5 per cent of the forces, who are non-Caucasian. This includes foreign nationals as well as Britons. The drive came after the discovery that for 20 years, from 1957, the British Army secretly restricted the number of recruits from ethnic minorities. There are approximately 3,000 Fijians estimated to be in Iraq, either for the British or Fijian armies, or on private work. At least 16 have been killed in the past year. The Prince of Wales placed himself in conflict with the MoD in 2001 when he put forward plans to raise a Sikh regiment within the British army. The Prince, the Colonel-in-Chief of a number of regiments, has always taken a keen interest in ethnic minority recruitment, but the MoD feel such a force would be immensely difficult to organise.Reuse content