The Prime Minister has announced a £20m fund to teach Muslim women in the UK to speak English in order to tackle segregation and help them resist the lure of extremism.
While there was no “causal connection” between poor English and extremism, language lessons would make communities “more resilient”, Mr Cameron said.
The PM also suggested failing to learn English could affect people on spousal visas who wanted to settle in the UK.
The government says 22% of Muslim women living in England speak little or no English – a factor it argues is contributing to their isolation.
Segregation, the prime minister says, is allowing “appalling practices” such as female genital mutilation and forced marriage to exist, and increasing vulnerability to recruitment by ISIS.
He is also announcing a review of the role of Britain’s religious councils, including Sharia courts, in an effort to confront men who exert “damaging control over their wives, sisters and daughters”.
There was a mixed reaction in the Muslim community to Cameron’s comments.
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Some said they welcomed any attempt to help people learn English but others questionned Cameron’s attempts to link the issue to the counter-terrorism debate.
It is also thought that a good proportion of the Muslim women in this country who cannot speak good English are in fact older women from immigramnt communities who pose no threat to national security.
Massoud Shadjareh of the Islamic Human Rights Commission, said Mr Cameron’s comments were “ignorant.”
“It’s an astonishing level of ignorance by the Prime Minister or those who are advising him, ” he said. “You can’t say people who don’t speak English are less civilised and the fact is that Britain has a long way to go in terms of gender equality too. And his attempts to link this issue to extremism is the height of ignorance.”
Meanwhile, the Muslim Council of Britain welcomed the Prime Minister’s call for more efforts to have English taught, but cautioned against the language used to make such calls, and links to securitisation.
Dr Shuja Shafi, Secretary General of the MCB, said: “The Prime Minister is absolutely right in wanting English to be taught more widely. Mosques and Muslim civil society would be eager to play their part by hosting English language classes, as many mosques do.
“But the Prime Minister’s aim to have English more widely spoken and for better integration falls at the first hurdle if he is to link it to security and single out Muslim women to illustrate his point.
“Muslims are only one third of minority population. Reports suggest a significant proportion of immigrants from Eastern Europe struggle with English. And just last week, it was reported that a Jewish ultra-orthodox school was shut down for teaching Hebrew only.”
And the Muslim Association of Britain said while it believes that such an initiative would do little to prevent young radicals from joining ISIS, it welcomed it as a positive step in empowering women in the Muslim community.
Dr Omer El-Hamdoon – President of MAB – said: “Although the actual number of non-English speaking Muslim women is low, we welcome this initiative. We believe Muslim women who speak English as well as another language will be a positive influence in society. It will also mean they will be better positioned to continue their own education as well as support their families.”