British Muslim groups accused Prime Minister David Cameron on Monday of demonising their communities by saying 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 2-1/2 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 demonise and marginalise 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 pounds ($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.
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.
About the author
Research Associate at Center for Islam and Global Affairs (CIGA) at Istanbul Sabahattin Zaim University