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Shaista Aziz is a freelance journalist who has worked for the BBC, Al Jazeera and The Guardian. She writes about race, gender, and Islam.
Shaista Aziz is a freelance journalist who has worked for the BBC, Al Jazeera and The Guardian. She writes about race, gender, and Islam.

Shaista Aziz

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

Shaista Aziz is a freelance journalist who has worked for the BBC, Al Jazeera and The Guardian. She writes about race, gender, and Islam.

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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.

This is the subtext behind much of the hysterical tabloid media coverage of Muslims in Britain, in the age of the so called war on terror.

Many Muslim women here tell me that they feel increasingly uncomfortable in the country of their birth. They feel exhausted by having to constantly explain who they are and to prove they are loyal to their country every time there is a terrorist atrocity in the world - because the default position is they're guilty by association.

The politics of identity are becoming more and more loaded in an increasingly polarized world. It is becoming harder especially for young British Muslims to navigate their way through all the noise and increasingly hostile discourse around what it means to be a Muslim in the west.

Monday’s announcement is simply another failed and missed opportunity by the British government to build a meaningful dialogue with a section of the population that it needs to urgently reach out and engage with.

One Muslim woman I interviewed in London after the terrorist attacks in Paris late last year asked me "how am I expected to feel comfortable and at ease in my society if every time I leave my house I'm looking over my shoulder to see who might physically attack me because I'm a visible Muslim woman who wears a hijab? How can anyone expect me to feel like a valued member of my society?"

That is a very good question - and one Mr. Cameron should start thinking about carefully.

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