`What have you been up to recently?’ Sally asked Azi.
`Writing a book,’ she replied.
`What’s your book about?’ Sally continued.
Azi is the Treasurer of the Branch and has worked in the City for years. So, the topic, I wondered,too. Money maybe? The internet business she set up? Management Consultancy?
`Being a Muslim in the British Army and not telling my family about it,’ came the immediate response.
We were both instantly intrigued, surprised, curious. Having not known her long, I was unaware of her time in the Army. Sally was not, but hadn’t heard of her being a front line recruit to the 21st SAS regiment. Neither of us knew the half. As she expanded on her story it was clear she had a great book.
By the age of twelve, Azi had been fully trained in “knitting, sewing and sitting pretty”. In her words, “all the skills her mother thought necessary to become the perfect housewife.”
The book World’s Apart, published by the Robson Press, covers her time at Chelsea Barracks undergoing selection training with eleven other girls and 200 men, all hoping to become part of the British Army’s most elite fighting force – the SAS.
More riveting is the gender prejudices from both sides of her life and the events of 9/11 are unhelpful. While Azi deals with non-halal ration packs, squaddie drinking culture and the most rigorous tests of mental and physical strength, her parents, completely unaware of her double life, are husband hunting.
Despite joining the Army, she’s a moderate feminist. When we spoke about gender differences based on her own experiences, she thinks women serve better behind the front line instead of on it, which would disappoint those who insist women should ape men to secure their equal status.
In the general election of 2015, Azi stood in her first seat as the candidate for Rochdale. Hopefully she will continue with her ambition to build a political career. She brings to the Conservative Party a voice on some of the pressing feminist as well as cross culture issues of today’s UK. Many, not all, are linked. All are difficult to tackle at source. From domestic violence and forced marriage to radicalisation and sexual grooming it takes writers and politicans with courage and ambition to raise matters others are more inclined to sweep under the literary carpet.