It is becoming clear now that the Conservative government has a very real, very smartly dressed problem with Muslims. When 6-year-olds in Waltham Forest were tested for leniency towards radical thoughts, their minds were the problem. When Theresa May wanted a ban on ‘extremist speakers’ organised by university Islamic Society speakers, it was a problem in the way Muslims were using their freedom of speech. And when Muslim women were told this week that them learning English could prevent their children joining Isis, conversation between Muslims was the problem.
Most discussions on extremism in politics these days should be titled “What to do with the Muslims”.
On BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Cameron stated that Muslim women would be more susceptible to radical ideas if they were unable to speak English. He swiftly contradicted himself by confirming that there was no causal link between language skills and radicalisation, but still remained confident that being an active part of British society would steer Muslim women – and their families - away from extremism.
But it wasn’t a language barrier that lured three London girls to Syria early last year. And it wasn’t a language barrier that compelled Michael Adebolajo to stab Lee Rigby in 2013. These extremist activities were carried out by British people, native English speakers. If learning English steers women from extremist values, then how did the Kardashian-watching British-born girls of Hackney Academy become radicalised?
I speak English. I’m British-born. I’m also Muslim and an active member of society. I grew up with a deeply religious Indian mother who moved here in the 80’s, who supported my sibling and I as a single mother, but who only just started taking the steps to learn English. Although she was fairly removed from society, her concerns were centred on providing a good life for her children.
David Cameron said that there’s “no opportunity for people if you don't speak the language” at PMQs this week. In some ways, I agree. Speaking better English could have given my mother leverage in becoming more successful. But I suspect her lack of language skills weren’t so much to blame for her lacking career progress as much as her thick Indian accent. She would still lack opportunity, even if she had known fluent English, because of her dress sense, her hijab, her accent and her brown skin.
So, David Cameron: I'm British-born, and speak English. But, like my mother, I face this sort of discrimination too.
As a first generation immigrant I’m aware that I have more progressive values because of British society. I’m a progressive at the same time as a person who wears a hijab and prays regularly. I’ve been given a prayer area at every workplace and study area I've been to because of the British values of tolerance and accommodation of other faiths. So you can imagine my confusion when I went to university and my lifestyle seemed to fit the Prevent anti-radicalisation agenda.
It seemed, for the first time, that being British and having freedom of expression was in total contradiction to the safety of my country.
Perhaps there is a fair and certain way to curb extremism. No one denies that home-grown radicalisation is a major concern that threatens Muslims and non-Muslims alike, but throwing statements around that lack any kind of credibility sets a dangerous precedent.
What David Cameron should really consider is how much he can curb the freedom of Muslims and allow their demonisation before they are completely driven out of the mainstream. Pointing to Muslim women as part of the radicalisation problem only contributes to that.
I’m certain that children who have had their mothers deported to another country will be more likely to become radicalised in anger at the British state, than the mothers who couldn’t learn English fast enough to prove they weren’t going to become or beget extremists. If you really want the solution, Mr Cameron, you need to make sure you’ve correctly identified the problem.
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