David Cameron has a new plan to tackle segregation and extremism. His latest rules state that from October, anyone coming to the UK on a five-year spousal visa will have to take a test half-way through this period to show they are making efforts to learn English. If they are unable to do so, there is no guarantee they'll be able to stay in the country. To help, he has set up a £20m fund to provide English lessons for migrants, only months after initially cutting £45m from the English language programme.
The PM is claiming that these lessons will do two things: first, they'll help to tackle segregation in the Muslim community. Cameron claims some 190,000 British Muslim women – or 22% – "speak little or no English despite many having lived here for decades", which is why they find themselves distanced from the rest of society. The second is that these lessons will also help to tackle extremism and will apparently prevent non-English-speaking Muslim women becoming radicalised. The second point is the one I find difficult to accept.
The proposal itself isn't a bad one but the truth is it just won't work. Speaking to the BBC's Today programme, Cameron admitted himself there's no link between language and extremism. "I'm not saying there's some sort of causal connection between not speaking English and becoming an extremist – of course not, that would be a ridiculous thing to say."
Cameron knows himself there's no link, so why put the two together? The issue of extremism isn't tackled by teaching people English, but by pairing the two together; he shows the world he is doing something to tackle the issue.
The 7/7 bombers, Lee Rigby's murderer and the three teenage 'Isis brides' from London all have a lot in common, including fluency in one mutual language – English. The issue isn't language, British Muslim women are not the most likely to become radicalised. The problem is rhetoric and alienation from society, that's what we have to tackle.
The policy has already faced fierce criticism. Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, the former Chairman of the Conservative party, said the Prime Minister was guilty of stereotyping the community and she's not wrong. As Warsi pointed out, it is "lazy and misguided thinking" – certainly not the best bit of PR from the Cameron camp.
I don't think it's particularly controversial to say misogyny in the Muslim community is a problem and I also don't think it's controversial to say that there are a lot of Muslim women who are alienated from the wider community because of poor English skills. These lessons could go a long way in addressing these issues and for that reason I think the policy is actually a positive one. Cameron has done a bad job in selling it: linking it to extremism is not only foolish but an attempt to stigmatise a large portion of the community. If British Muslim women feel as alienated as he says they do, the way he has phrased this policy will have just furthered that.
The potential punishment for not improving your English skills is deportation. Cameron has attempted to soften it slightly in the way it has been presented but that is what it is. We need to be careful here. The punishment is severe and will work to motivate people to learn English, but we need to remember it is extremely difficult to learn a language as an adult and there aren't strict parameters to determine how much you've improved. The punishment runs the risk of splitting up families, with mothers being deported because of poor English scores. Poor English doesn't necessarily mean these women are not contributing to society. Raising a family and looking after other British citizens is a major contribution and shouldn't be looked down upon.
This policy could potentially work wonders for an alienated community but it will do nothing in the fight against extremism. It might help tackle misogyny, but it certainly won't stop radicalisation.