To some, this may sound discriminatory and prejudicial, but the government in the UK is clear in its goals. British Prime Minister, David Cameron, wants Muslim women in the UK to obtain English skills at a level high enough to promote community integration and to become helpful in solving the problem of extremism.
Cameron said that more Muslim women should learn how to communicate in English so that they can become powerful moderating forces. He also said that language classes would be given to Muslim women to help prevent radicalization. Muslim mothers, in particular, are expected to play major roles in stopping their sons from joining extremist causes. For Cameron, one of the primary reasons why male Muslim youths become susceptible to radicalization is the culture of Muslim communities wherein women are traditionally submissive. As such, they become helpless when radical Imams try to influence their families.
£20 Million Allotted
This plan has emerged after the Prime Minister instructed the UK Director General of Government’s Troubled Families Unit to helm a comprehensive review aimed at enhancing opportunity and integration to enable Britain to become unified as a nation. The plan seeks to ensure that more of those who come from ethnic minority backgrounds realize that they also play a role in British society and to inquire into the possibility of using families in addressing the problem of radicalization.
The policy calls for a language test after 2.5 years for those who are on a 5-year spousal visa. If they fail, they will have to leave the UK.
A £20m fund has been allocated to support classes for all women who struggle to communicate in English. These classes will not be limited supporting the English language training of Muslim women but Cameron highlighted that of the 190,000 in the UK who have limited or no English skills, 38,000 are Muslim women.
Stigmatizing Muslim Women
While there are many who have become receptive to the policy that will be implemented in October this year, there also parties who expressed disappointment on the policy. Specifically, the threat of getting deported for lacking adequate English skills is dividing the public and those in the government.
Labour Party home affairs spokesman Andy Burnham criticized Cameron for his “clumsy and simplistic approach” which is accordingly stigmatizing an entire community. Burnham believes that Cameron is taking the risk of causing more harmful consequences than good, and that there exists the threat that the policy could end up stimulating radical sentiments instead of preventing a problem.
Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron also criticized the policy, calling it “dog-whistle politics at its best.” He believes that there is no basis in linking Muslim women who don’t speak English to extremism and that it only singles out the people Cameron is supposedly trying to help. Liberal Democrat politicians support the funding for English classes to help those who have inadequacies in communicating in English but do not want to make such classes focused on a particular group or community.
Expectedly, Muslim groups and personalities reacted negatively to the newly announced policy. Ramadhan Foundation Chief Executive Mohammed Shafiq calls Cameron’s plan a “disgraceful stereotyping.” Sayeeda Warsi, a former co-chair of the Conservative Party, accused Cameron of being “lazy and misguided” and criticized him for stereotyping Muslims in Britain. Additionally, the Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain, Shuja Shafi, questioned Cameron’s methods but expressed support for the core idea of compelling all British citizens to become fluent in the country’s language.
The UK has no laws that require government offices to provide translation or interpreting services to non-English speakers in the UK. In the US, at least in the healthcare sector, hospitals and other health service providers are required to provide free competent interpreting services to help American patients. As such, this move by the UK government does not come as a surprise. There are also those who view it as a sensible policy.