Cameron criticised over language ability remarks

Cameron accused of stereotyping Muslim women by linking fluency and extremism

Britain’s prime minister David Cameron with women attending an English language class during a visit to the Shantona Women’s Centre in Leeds. Photograph: Reuters/Oli Scarff/pool

Britain’s prime minister David Cameron with women attending an English language class during a visit to the Shantona Women’s Centre in Leeds. Photograph: Reuters/Oli Scarff/pool

 

David Cameron has been accused of stigmatising and stereotyping Muslim women after he warned they could be deported if they fail to learn English.

Announcing an extra £20 million (€26 million) funding for language classes for immigrants yesterday, the British prime minister said women coming to the UK on a five-year spousal visa could lose their right to stay if they did not improve their English. From October, new rules would oblige people with poor English to have their language ability tested after 2½ years.

“The evidence is that there are some 40,000 women in our country who really don’t speak any English at all and, perhaps altogether, some 190,000 with very poor English,” Mr Cameron said during a visit to Leeds.

“I think it’s quite right to say to people who come to our country that there are many rights that you have here – it’s a fantastic country to live in – but there are also obligations that we should put on people who come to our country, and chief amongst them should be obligations to learn English because then you can integrate, you can take advantage of the opportunities here and you can help us to build the strong country that we want.”

British values

“I am not saying there is some sort of causal connection between not speaking English and becoming an extremist, of course not. That would be a ridiculous thing to say. But if you are 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,” he said.

Islamist extremists

Andy Burnham

“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. There is a real danger that it could end up driving further radicalisation, rather than tackling it.

“The prime minister is right to talk about empowering women but his emphasis should be on women of all faiths and none.”

Conservative peer Sayeeda Warsi, a former faith and communities minister, praised the decision to increase funding for language classes but said it was a mistake to link it to radicalism: “Once again an important policy announcement has been tarnished by lazy and misguided links to extremism and terrorism resulting once again in stereotyping Britain’s Muslims communities as different and outsiders.”

Mr Cameron said he supported the right of Muslim women to wear full-face veils but said schools were also entitled to impose “sensible” rules on uniforms.