British Muslim groups accused Prime Minister David Cameron of demonizing 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 demonize and marginalize 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.
Faeeza Vaid, executive director of the charity Muslim Women’s Network UK, said it wasn’t just a lack of language skills preventing the full integration of Muslim women.
“We have broader societal issues of institutional patriarchy, discrimination and Islamophobia and all of those systems also need to be challenged,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.
“I don’t agree that this sort of project should be linked to preventing radicalization.”