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Cameron's 'Muslim women's English classes' raise concerns

David Cameron speaks to women attending an English language class in Leeds [Getty]

Date of publication: 18 January, 2016

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British Prime Minister David Cameron has come under intense criticism following his latest announcement of a series of measures designed to help Muslim women "integrate" into British society.

A heated debate erupted in the immediate aftermath of a speech by the British Prime Minister relating to Muslims in the UK, on Monday.

Following his New Year's message where the Prime Minister promised to confront any "appeasement" of "Islamist extremism", the British Prime Minister waded in with more solutions to halt the "Muslim extremist" problem on Monday.

This time the focus was on Muslim women, and in particular, their ability to speak English.

But little time passed before politicians, journalists and Muslim community activists lined up to pour scorn on the tone and subject of Cameron's announcements.

Questions are being increasingly raised as to whether Cameron's counter-extremist "strategy" has any internal coherence and vision or is merely a muddled series of headlines and populist slogans.

In a major radio interview as well as in an article in The Times newspaper, David Cameron announced on Monday a series of measures designed to help Muslim women integrate into British society.

The Prime Minister, defying his government's austerity policy, announced the launch of a 20 million pound fund to help Muslim women living in Britain to learn English.

He further suggested that immigrants on "spousal visas" may not be guaranteed leave to remain in the UK if they fail to learn English.

In his interview, Cameron argued that the lack of English language skills hindered integration, which could make extremist Islamist groups more alluring, as he claimed.


Together the measures were aimed at overcoming "backward attitudes" with the hope that learning English could foster integration and stop Muslim women from being "seduced" by extremism.

"This is about building a more integrated, cohesive, one nation country where there is genuine opportunity for people," Cameron said.

In his interview, Cameron argued that the lack of English language skills hindered integration, which could make extremist Islamist groups more alluring, as he claimed.

Somewhat curiously however, he was at the same time eager to insist there is no "causal" link between speaking English and extremism.

"If you're not able to speak English, not able to integrate, you may find therefore you have challenges understanding what your identity is and therefore you could be more susceptible to the extremist message coming from Daesh," he added, using the Arabic acronym for Islamic State.

But the public announcements of the prime minister were quickly criticised.

Ex-Conservative government minister and House of Lord Peer Baroness Warsi wasted little time to denounce parts of the speech, calling it "lazy and misguided."

Warsi, who famously resigned after describing the Cameron government's policy on the 2014 Israel-Gaza conflict as "morally indefensible," said while the announcement of language training funding was useful, the focus on Muslim women was unclear.

"Why should it just be Muslim women who have the opportunity to learn English? Why not anyone who lives in the UK and can't speak English," Warsi tweeted.

In his desire to grab easy headlines, David Cameron risks doing more harm than good. His clumsy and simplistic approach to challenging extremism is unfairly stigmatising a whole community
- Andy Burnham


The ex-Conservative party Chairman also added: "[My] mum's English isn't great yet she inspired her girls to become a lawyer, teacher, accountant, pharmacist, cabinet minister."

Labour Party Front-Bencher Andy Burnham further criticised Cameron for "headline grabbing."

"In his desire to grab easy headlines, David Cameron risks doing more harm than good. His clumsy and simplistic approach to challenging extremism is unfairly stigmatising a whole community," Burnham said.

"There is a real danger that it could end up driving further radicalization, rather than tackling it," he added.

Liberal Democract leader Tim Farron joined in the chorus of condemnation.

"Linking women in the Muslim community who struggle with the English language to homegrown extremism only serves to isolate the very people Cameron says he is trying to help."

Muslim community activists as well as social media commentators were also quick to air their disapproval.

While the offering of language tuition to immigrant women was widely approved, focusing on Muslim women and connecting it to extremism was equally condemened.

Others were eager to point out the issue should be framed as one of advancing women's education rather than one of counter-extremism.

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