A new initiative from UK Prime Minister David Cameron would require Muslim immigrant women to improve their English skills by enrolling in state sponsored language courses. The initiative is said to be an opportunity improve “national cohesion” and dissuade extremism.
On Monday, Prime Minister Cameron pledged to fund English language classes for Muslim immigrant women, The New York Times reported. Cameron committed 20 million pounds ($28.5 million) to help Muslim immigrants facing social isolation and rejection. Cameron emphasized that the program is designed to help immigrants assimilate to life in the United Kingdom. However, Cameron warned that those immigrants who failed to reach certain standards set by the program would face deportation.
“There are obligations that we should put on people who come to our country, and chief amongst them should be obligations to learn English because then you can integrate, you can take advantage of the opportunities here and you can help us to build the strong country that we want,” Cameron said. The prime minister noted that nearly 190,000 Muslim women currently living in England speak little or no English.
Cameron’s announcement, however, sparked outrage amongst Muslim community leaders. Criticisms of the initiative were largely aimed at Cameron’s parallel between Muslim extremism and language abilities. “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,” said Sayeeda Warsi, a former cabinet member for Cameron. “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 U.K. who are British and your spouse is British’ is, for me, a very unusual way of empowering and emboldening women.”
Cameron argued that parents who lacked English language skills had less of a chance to prevent their children from becoming radicalized. The UK has long struggled with young Muslims becoming radicalized and leaving the country to take part in conflicts in Syria and Iraq.
The fact is, many Muslims living the UK feel singled out by Cameron’s initiative.
Shuja Shafi, secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, said, “The Prime Minister’s aim to have English more widely spoken and for better integration falls at the first hurdle if he is to link it to security and single out Muslim women to illustrate his point.”