Sarah Goldsmith

Naked Politics Blogger 

David Cameron has recently received a backlash for his controversial comments associating Muslim women’s inability to fluently speak the English language with the threat of radicalism, claiming that non- English speakers could be “more susceptible” to extremism. Society is presently high on emotion due to the terrorist attacks on Paris in November last year, therefore any talk of radicalisation and terrorism is taken very seriously and is bound to cause a reaction.

Cameron claims this new language fund scheme he is putting into place and investing £20 million pounds into will be successful in reducing extremism and confront the patriarchal oppression and ‘damaging control’ that Muslim men have over Muslim women, by providing them with this skill of fluently articulating the English language. The government has estimated that currently there are 38,000 Muslim women who cannot speak the English language at all and 190,000 Muslim women who speak limited or no English at all.

The question I pose to Cameron and the government is: why the specific targeting of Muslim women? Muslim women are isolated and stigmatised enough as it is and comments such as this from Cameron that have been successful in grabbing the headlines, only segregates and demonises the Muslim community even further and feeds the racism and ignorance that is already worryingly present in society. Shadow home secretary Andy Burnham has criticised the flippancy of Cameron’s comment regarding Muslim women, stating that his ‘clumsy and simplistic approach’ could end up stoking extremism.

The Tory peer and former party co- chairman Sayeedi Warsi undermines Cameron’s claim, by revealing that evidence suggests gang culture, Islamophobia and responses to foreign policy are greater drivers of radicalisation than a failure to learn English. It is also important to note, as Shabana Mahmood has highlighted, that reports of radicalisation have also been associated with individuals who have received a university education, therefore suggesting that the link Cameron is attempting to make is futile.  It seems like Cameron is making these bold, controversial claims based on a lack of factual evidence to back up his argument, and instead is engaging in dog whistle politics whilst avoiding the true evidence.

Shabana Mahmood passionately contested Cameron’s association between non- English speaking Muslim women and radicalisation on BBC Question Time when she said:

“The Prime Minister, who is supposed to set the tone of debate in our country, decided to make this spurious, unfounded link between English language and radicalisation which is frankly nonsense, but is also deeply dangerous.” 

It is easy to question Cameron’s logic when the government cut £40 million last year from funding for migrants wanting to learn. It has been reported that approximately 2,000 fewer women have attended ESOL courses in the last year due to these spending cuts. However, these facts and figures seem to be suspiciously absent from the headlines.

These careless comments by Cameron are divisive and misjudged in a society that certainly does not needs its Prime Minister feeding into the ignorance and hatred that, unfortunately, already exists.

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Last Update: April 29, 2018