SHAFAQNA – British Muslim groups accused Prime Minister David Cameron yesterday of “demonizing their communities” after he declared that Muslim women needed to learn English to reduce the risk of extremism.
Cameron said some migrants to Britain who cannot pass an English test within two-and-a-half years of arriving may not be allowed to stay, a move aimed at fostering greater integration by Muslim women. He said while there was no direct causal link between poor English language skills and extremism, those who were not able to integrate into British society were at risk of being more susceptible to extremist ideologies.
“The statements from this government regarding Muslims continue to further demonize and marginalize the Muslim community and are counter-productive,” the Muslim Women’s Council said in a statement. “Whilst we welcome the additional funding pledged today by the prime minister for English language support for Muslim women, we do not agree with the assertion that there is a link between a lack of English and extremism.”
Cameron said there were 190,000 British Muslim women who spoke little or no English and Britain needed to take on the “backward attitudes” of some men whom he said exerted damaging control over their wives, sisters and daughters.
The government will invest £20 million (US$28 million) in English classes for women in isolated communities, and from October this year will begin testing those who have come to Britain on a spousal visa to check if their language skills have improved. Britain already requires prospective spouses to demonstrate English language skills to roughly that of a child starting primary school. Under Cameron’s new plan, spouses would have to improve that ability to a higher standard after five years — or face deportation.
Shuja Shafi, secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain said Cameron’s efforts will “fall at the first hurdle” if he were to link language skills and better integration to security, and to single out Muslim women.
“Muslims are only one third of the minority population. Reports suggest a significant proportion of immigrants from Eastern Europe struggle with English,” Shafi said in a statement. Faeeza Vaid, executive director of the charity Muslim Women’s Network UK, said it wasn’t just a lack of language skills preventing the full integration of Muslim women.
“We have broader societal issues of institutional patriarchy, discrimination and Islamophobia and all of those systems also need to be challenged,” she said. “I don’t agree that this sort of project should be linked to preventing radicalization.”
Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, a one-time member of Cameron’s Cabinet and a Sunni Muslim, said that while the money was welcome, the proposal had been announced badly.
“This lazy and misguided linking, and what I saw once again as stereotyping of British Muslim communities, I felt took away from what was a positive announcement,” Warsi told the BBC. “My parents came to this country with very little English — my mum’s English still isn’t great, even though she has been to English language classes.”
She said the government should be telling women that it will give them an opportunity to learn, rather than warning they could be sent back to their native countries.
“I think to threaten women and say to them that ‘unless you are of X standard we will send you back, even if you have children in the UK who are British and your spouse is British’ is, for me, a very unusual way of empowering and emboldening women,” she said.
Though Cameron acknowledged that problems of forced gender segregation and social isolation are not unique to Muslim communities, he did not mention other groups in his announcement.