David Cameron wrote an article in the Times that I found absurd, inaccurate and Islamophobic. In his article Cameron suggested that concerns of forced gender 'segregation', abusive marriages and the social isolation of women have been expressed to him by Muslim women and therefore, he has a duty to speak out and act! He then announced funding to teach Muslim women English as part of his strategy to tackle 'extremism'.
Let me get few things straight here:
As a Muslim woman whilst I agree to some extent with some of these concerns, I do not agree with such Islamophobic comments and sentiments, which are used as a mere attempts to justify the new proposed anti-extremism laws, that not only demonise Muslims but also undermine our British civil liberties. What Cameron is failing to recognise is that these women's problems are in fact universal and not limited or restricted to one religious or racial group. Yet Mr Cameron somehow is singling out Muslim women as if they are responsible for all of these social ills. This kind of rhetoric reminds me of the British colonial era when white men promised to 'free' Muslim women from their own evil! Excuse me Mr Cameron, Muslim women are championing these issues and quite frankly they do not need you to tell them what to do and what not to do.
Just imagine the same kind or rhetoric being used against any other minority, for example black people, Jews or Eastern Europeans. "Polish women need to learn English otherwise they will be deported", "Jewish men must allow women to read and touch the Torah" and "Black women are responsible for the crime rise in their streets". How stereotypical, divisive, irresponsible and patronising is such rhetoric, yet when it comes to Muslims this rhetoric is completely fine and socially accepted.
I led a listening campaign with Citizen UK in Cardiff, where we listened to around 10,000 people, of which 1000 were Muslim and I organised many focus groups with women to investigate the top issues that concern the community and women specifically. We found that the top problems for Muslim women were Islamophobia and discrimination in the work place, which resulted in social isolation and unemployment. It was not Muslim men forcing women to be socially isolated as Cameron is suggesting. Muslim women are the first victims of Islamophobia because of the obvious religious symbol of the Hijab (head-scarf) or the Niqab (the face veil) and because of this some have restricted their movement and are frightened to go out in public places. Other Muslim women are struggling to find jobs that match their qualifications and skills due to the triple discrimination they face: against their faith, gender and colour. They, therefore have to work twice as hard to break the glass ceiling and progress in their careers. Mr Cameron also must appreciate that women in general, including Muslim women have the right to be house wives and look after their families if they want to. This might lead to them becoming economically inactive but, they are not lazy and jobless women because guess what Mr Cameron, being a mother is one of the hardest jobs and if Muslim mothers have broken English it is not because they are refusing to adopt your British 'values' and to integrate but, it is because they have families to look after.
This leads me to the next point about the English classes for Muslim women. Whilst I welcome any initiative to further education and development, it should be noted that the funding that Mr Cameron announced is in fact a reduction. Six months ago £45 million worth of funding was cut for 47 colleges for ESOL courses by the department of business. However, the main problem with this announcement is not only the reduced funding but Mr Cameron's attempt to link lack of English skills to 'radicalisation', suggesting that Muslim women with broken English are somehow prone to 'extremism' and 'radicalisation'!
Now, let me get this straight. Does this mean if any of my Muslim parents or acquaintances has broken English, he or she will be joining ISIS?! Subsequently, does that mean I have to report my parents to the discriminatory PREVENT law?! Sadly, this does not make any sense. Did Mr Cameron not know that the majority of the 600 Britons who joined the brutal group ISIS, or as I prefer to call them Da'esh (they very name they hate), are actually British born and fluent in English and were politically rather than religiously motivated to join Da'esh? In addition, according to the 2011 Census only 6% of the British Muslim population struggles with English, 43% of full-time Muslim students are female and 24% of the Muslim population have a degree level or above.
I am very sorry Mr Cameron but we Muslim women are busy pursuing our Masters and PhDs and we do not desire your constant stigmatisation.
I just wonder how many Muslim women Mr Cameron has met and whether he would be willing to humble himself and get down from his ivory tower to have a mature fruitful dialogue with us rather than exclusively talking to those whom he agrees with. Unfortunately, Mr Cameron your rhetoric and comments regarding Muslim women are demonising and alienating the very segment of society you want to empower and engage with. You can have a swift glance over the comments below your Facebook post to sense the danger and the negative implications of your comments on the cohesion of our British society.
More information about British Muslims in numbers can be found here: http://www.mcb.org.uk/muslimstatistics/