A day that made me feel proud to be from Blackburn

Wednesday 1st December 2010 will I am sure be remembered by Blackburn people for many years to come.  There had been much publicity in the lead up to the Homecoming Service and parade by the Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment and most expected it to be well supported by the public.  However, I for one was amazed by the sheer number of people who came into town to welcome home the brave troops and stayed for hours in spite of the snowy winter weather.  It really goes to show how much the public values the sacrifices being made and the duty shown.

Estmimates have put the total number of people attending the parade at 10,000 which is a truly magnificent level of support.

Much can be said about the merits of military action in far off lands but what must be recognised is the absolute sense of duty and dedication shown by our armed forces in not only ensuring that they work together as comrades but also for a better future.  Afghanistan is far from perfect today but what is clear to me is that the troops knew that they were working to improve the lives of people there and create a more stable and prosperous future – and we are now nearer to that than we were before the coalition forces intervened.

The recognition is well deserved and I for one was proud to be there on a day when Blackburn showed the North West how much it appreciated the efforts of the 1st Battalion the Duke of Lancaster Regiment.

Repugnant that ‘Islam4UK’ plans protest march

Wootton Bassett is a small market town in Wiltshire. A few years ago it would rarely have made the front pages of the newspapers.

But for the saddest of reasons, Wootton Bassett has come to signify the fundamental decency of the British people.

It is through Wootton Bassett that the bodies of British servicemen and women killed in Afghanistan are carried from nearby RAF Lyneham, where the planes carrying their coffins land.

The town has duly become famous for the way local people line the streets to pay tribute to the bravest of the brave, those who have given their lives in pursuit of a better life for others, at home and abroad.

It is moving beyond words. Having family, or close friends, on active service is worrying enough, even where the loved one returns from a tour of duty in one piece.

The pain for those who do lose someone forever is terrible.

Nothing can bring back the father, mother, husband, wife, brother, sister, friend, but the extent to which the rest of us can salute and honour their memory can make a significant difference to the grief of those who lose near and dear.

They need to know that their loved ones died for a purpose, protecting the rest of us; that we recognise their supreme and selfless sacrifice.

So it must surely be some comfort for the bereaved to see so many in Wootton Bassett paying tribute to the fallen.

So I therefore find it repugnant that the radical group “Islam4UK” is planning a protest march through the town.

It shows absolutely no respect for the families of dead troops, or indeed for Wootton Bassett, which has been keen to avoid these solemn occasions being used for political ends.

What I find particularly objectionable is that the proposed march is designed entirely with the intention of creating publicity and inciting anger – there can be no other purpose.

And the views of “Islam4UK” are not remotely representative of the overwhelming majority of British followers of Islam. There are many more British Muslims in our armed forces than there are members of this group.

It reminds me a little of the row in 2006 when there was understandable anger in the Muslim community over cartoons published in a Danish newspaper.

I said then that while we all respect freedom of speech, there is also an obligation on us all not to “insult or to be gratuitously inflammatory” as I felt the newspaper had done.

A similar test applies here. I will defend the right of anyone to protest against the military action in Afghanistan.

I wouldn’t agree with them, but the right to protest and to free speech is the sort of right which the Afghan government is seeking to entrench in its fledgling democracy, with our forces seeking to help them do that, as well as reduce the serious threat of Al Qaeda terrorism which has already killed and maimed people here.

But rights have limits and there is no right at all to insult, or to be gratuitously inflammatory, and that is exactly what ‘Islam4UK’ are trying to do by proposing to march through Wootton Bassett.