Returning David Cameron’s favour


When has the phrase “Speak English or get out!” ever had anything to do with racism?


The British Prime Minister has expressed his concern for the welfare of Muslim women, asking them to learn to adequately speak the country’s national language or risk deportation. I believe an idea this glorious and not-at-all ethnocentric should be strongly implemented in all countries, starting with Englishmen living in non-English speaking countries.

My sarcasm should be obvious. The very idea that the third world nations should force a Western expatriate (not “immigrant”) to learn Punjabi, Bengali, or Hindi to ‘integrate’ in the given Eastern environment, is comedy at its finest. Such sacrifice is wholly unnecessary. Why not simply allow us the honour of retaining English as Pakistan’s official language for roughly three-quarters of a century after our independence from British rule?

It should be noted that this policy is meant specifically for migrant spouses coming to the United Kingdom, who have two and a half years to learn to speak English well enough. It should also be noted that this is in addition to immigration rules that already require spouses to speak English before they enter the country, making this new policy a redundant gate-keeping mechanism.

You may have to pardon my skepticism about English language tests. As a professional English writer forced to toil for two months to pass IELTS, achieving the required score after one failed attempt, there’s some residual fear in me about being repeatedly subjected to language proficiency tests.

Conservative supporters have expressed their appreciation for David Cameron’s announcing a £20 million fund to help non-English speaking women learn English. Historians are far less enthused, and by “historians” I mean people with memory stretching back to the summer of 2015, when the Conservative government axed a £45 million English language programme. ESOL, or English for Speakers of Other Languages, was designed to facilitate the integration of non-English speaking people. As Labour MP Helen Hayes observes, this signifies Mr Cameron’s lack of understanding of the cause of effect of his own policies.

One could empathise with the government’s need to assist British-Muslim women in learning English. There is a real risk of non-English speaking immigrant women from conservative Muslim cultures getting cloistered into their communities, depending entirely on their husbands or brothers to bridge the communication gap with the rest of the predominantly English-speaking country. One should be wary of this problem being exaggerated to make a racist point, but it would also be unwise to assume that the problem is imaginary.

But there are clear indications that the government isn’t thinking about Muslim women’s interest. For one, in the above mentioned scenario, why would one threaten to punish the victim of forced cultural segregation, by chucking her out of the country? This is as ludicrous as the burka ban in some European states, masquerading as compassion for the ‘oppressed’ Muslim woman while imposing fines on the ‘oppressed’ woman herself.

Secondly, the focus on ‘Muslim’ women is ominous. Surely, British-Korean people would benefit just as much from this programme? Wouldn’t it behoove East Europeans residing in Britain to integrate better by learning English?

That question is answered by David Cameron’s hypothesis that not speaking English makes Muslims more susceptible to the message of extremist groups like ISIS. English, we’ve postulated, has natural antiseptic properties against the germs of religious fundamentalism, which is probably why Jihadi John and most of the 9/11 attackers did not speak English.

Or perhaps they did. In fact, common sense dictates that a terrorist organisation may prefer to recruit citizens who speak the language of the country they’re expected to operate in.

Of course this move has nothing to do with the historic paranoia that people of colour gathering up in a group and speaking a foreign tongue are shady and intimidating.

Of course this has nothing to do with the white saviour complex, and the long-honored colonial tradition of cultural domination by regulating the body, language and behaviour of the ethnic woman – “their” woman.

Of course this has nothing do with mollifying racists of all shades, who complain that their government has been paralysed by the virus of ‘political correctness’, and left totally unable to respond to the gross abundance of Muslim immigrants and the existential threat of Islamism.

Perhaps my reckless use of the ‘R’ word is uncalled for, because when has the phrase “Speak English or get out!” ever had anything to do with racism?

This has nothing to do with ISIS, almost nothing to do with national security, and even the expected benefits to unintegrated Muslim women appear accidental in the light of some of the remarks made by David Cameron.

Even if it is a well-intentioned move, critics may understandably be forgiven for suspecting a primal motive of asserting cultural dominance over the Muslim minorities, while pandering to the increasingly impatient political right.

If excuses are to be made, one might additionally consider a programme to teach more non-European languages, arguing that monolingual Englishmen are more susceptible to racist outlook, or an imperialist agenda.