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Learn English or leave? Mind your language, Mr. Cameron

January 19, 2016

By Shaista Aziz, Globe and Mail |

British Prime Minister David Cameron has called on Muslim women to learn English if they want to better integrate themselves in British society and counter radicalization.
In an article written for The Times newspaper, Mr. Cameron announced a $41-million program to improve the integration of Muslim women through promoting English language skills. The government claims 22 per cent of Muslim women in the United Kingdom – more than 190,000 women – speak little or no English.

From October, individuals arriving in the U.K. on a five-year spousal visa will be made to take a test half way through to check their grasp of English. If these women don’t meet the required standards of English, Mr. Cameron says he “can’t guarantee that they’ll be able to stay.”

This is misguided, to put it mildly: The Prime Minister is lecturing and threatening one of the most marginalized, vulnerable and scapegoated groups of people in society. If they fail to integrate, they could face being removed from the country.

On BBC radio, the Prime Minister said Monday, “If you’re not able to speak English, you’re not able to integrate, you may find, therefore, that you have challenges understanding what your identity is and you could be more susceptible to the extremist message that comes from Daesh.”

By linking immigrant Muslim women’s isolation and vulnerability to global terrorism and countering extremism, the Cameron government is only further alienating these women, leaving them even more open to being the targets of Islamophobic hate crime which continue to rise in Europe and North America.

If Mr. Cameron’s government is serious about immigrant women learning English, it first needs to reverse the deep funding cuts it has made to organizations providing these services.

Of course, speaking English is going to assist any woman living in the U.K. and will help her to navigate through her daily life with more confidence and ease. But no amount of learning English is going to help integrate a woman if her and her ilk are marked as a problem and a catalyst for fragmenting society.

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