It is reasonably encouraging that the British Prime Minister wishes to fund the teaching of English language to British Muslim women who have been left behind by ‘progress’, as it were, but the backdrop to his statements are however deeply problematic, as well the implications they raise.
In the 1950s, British ‘coloured immigrants’, as they were referred to then, were not integrating supposedly because of some cultural deficiency to do with the lack of language acquisition. This view was perpetuated throughout the 1960s and 1970s, although at the time the general rubric of ‘Asian women’ was used. But in 2001, when the ‘northern disturbances’ occurred, which were effectively a series of ‘race riots’ in Bradford, Oldham and Burnley, the then Home Secretary David Blunkett argued that the lack of English among mothers created divisions within the home, thus leading young Muslims to become hostile, antisocial and even criminal. Today, the Prime Minister and others are associating the idea that the lack of English among Muslim mothers is one of the reasons why young Muslims join the Islamic state. This is indeed a huge leap of the imagination. Moreover, the lack of English is seen as representing ‘backwardness’. All this does is foster community tensions, placate failing government policies and place the onus back on Muslim groups as both the cause and the solutions to all problems, all of which are defined by government and dominant media political discourses, not by evidence, research or years of existing knowledge.
In a few instances, especially when the media highlights it, there are indeed concerns relating to the invisibility of Muslim within a patriarchal home and within society. But the vast majority of Muslim women have a significant role to play within households. Many Muslim women find themselves remaining in households because there is no work in the labour market that pays them enough to sufficiently absorb childcare costs. There is no overt incentive to learn English because there is no need beyond specific roles within the domestic sphere, ones that do not necessarily limit their life chances or opportunities. But if a Muslim woman does desire to learn the English language, and they regularly do, there is often limited opportunity because of cutbacks to the funding of language training and development, which disprportinately affect poorer urban areas.
The Tory party has yet again proven itself to be out of touch, outmoded and wholly presumptuous in relation to groups in society with whom it has no purchase. The entirely spurious links between English language acquisition and radicalisation is not just condescending and patronising but it is also deeply damaging for community relations already facing pressures due to the ridiculous utterances of political elites, including on the other side of the pond. No other minority group’s mothers or wives are targeted by this policy of integration through language. No other group is referred to in relation to questions of radicalisation. The only conclusion to be drawn is that the Prime Minister is simply unable to grasp the complexities and diversities of British multiculturalism and that the Conservatives will do everything they can to disassociate radicalisation from grievances associated with foreign policy, as did New Labour. In this particular case, some of the most isolated, marginalised and racialised groups in society, people who are also most likely to face violence and intimidation in public spaces due to the ever growing phenomenon of violent Islamophobia (as opposed to passive Islamophobia), are the victims of an Orientalist and exoticised dominant male gaze with little or no consideration of the impact it has.
What is most bitter about these latest developments concerns itself with two intermingled issues. First, concentration on the English language is based on a colonial mentality that defined the British Empire, the legacy of which very much remain as ghosts in the system. To use the idea of deporting Muslim women if they do not achieve certain levels of English language acquisition, potentially tearing them apart from their children – because they know not a language, is staggering. Second, there is the rather incongruous focus on values which has further entered into the recent debate on deradicalisation. A lack of English here is being equated with the potential for extremism. The Tories are augmenting values into Prevent thereby, placing a much broader net around their cause-of-radicalisation model. It acts to place all the emphasis on Muslims and away from policy.
The recent utterances by David Cameron reaffirm existing patterns of the ‘securitisation of integration’. It is utter bullying and posturing. It is scaremongering, aimed only at placating voters lurching further to the right.