Under current immigration rules, spouses coming to Britain must show basic fluency in English before they arrive. On Monday, Prime Minister David Cameron said such immigrants must prove they’re continuing to learn English, or could be deported.
There’s a rub: The proposal focuses on Muslim women.
Outrageous, his targeting one group, right? This might surprise you, but I’m an American Muslim whose parents immigrated to this country after a few years in the United Kingdom, and I’m on board.
The policy would be good for Britain, great for Britain’s Muslims and terrible for the far right.
What’s not to like?
On the American far right, Donald Trump has seen his support surge with calls for blanket evictions of large numbers of Americans, and he’s even gone so far as to challenge the idea of birthright citizenship altogether.
Following a series of sexual assaults on women in Germany that authorities said some Middle East refugees were involved in, New York Times columnist Ross Douthat argued that all able-bodied refugee men should be deported from Germany. This left me wondering: Should we put them on planes or trains?
Cameron’s proposal is different for two important reasons.
Unlike Douthat, he’s not proposing deporting people because of who they are. Instead, it’s because of who they are, what gender they are, and because they’ve failed to meet an achievable testable standard! To me, that last part makes the other two parts possible to stomach.
I recognize this is complicated. Although he claims he wants to defeat Muslim patriarchy, Cameron puts the onus on Muslim women. After all, if he thinks Muslim men rule the roost, shouldn’t they be deported if their spouses aren’t fluent in English? But some of his proposal, in my view, points to an unfortunate truth. There are real problems with patriarchy in some Muslim communities, and educating women anywhere can’t be a bad thing, even if you’re focusing on only one kind of woman.
I recognize I’m looking at the bright side here. But I think it’s significantly bright.
Unlike Trump and Douthat, Cameron actually cares about the people he’s threatening to remove. Cameron has called for $28.5 million to push this initiative. He’s going to actively invest in communities to make them smarter, give them a leg up on jobs and education and help them become that much more politically successful and economically mobile.
It’s discrimination, sure, but a positive kind. Which is why this proposal is so ground-breaking, so exciting and so interesting. Imagine if a Republican presidential candidate had said: “Until and unless Latino immigrants complete these English-language education programs which will help them get jobs, make more money, communicate more successfully, and become more impactful more quickly, they’re not going to be allowed to stay.”
But isn’t it, you ask, potentially heartless to rip up someone’s family just because they can’t learn a second, third or even fourth language? At a time when many Britons have trouble with the one language they’re born speaking, forcing Muslims to become more educated, and weeding out the lesser-educated ones, might sound like eugenics, except it’s not clear who’s supposed to be the master race. Although I would’ve expected a Labour government – not Cameron’s Conservative one — to come up with this kind of social engineering and artificial selection, nevertheless this unfair discrimination in the present will give fast-growing Muslim communities an unfair advantage in the future.
What better way to help Muslims enter society, succeed in government, and communicate their ideas more effectively, than to help them communicate in the first place! It’s almost too good to be true, unless… could Cameron be a “closet Muslim,” like President Obama? If I were an anti-Muslim bigot, I might be suspicious.
For perspective, most British Muslims come from South Asia, where English is already the official language (Pakistan), or an official language (India). Cameron’s program will only help those in the British Muslim demographic who don’t yet feel fluent in English get there faster. And then try to join the job market as members of the most discriminated demographic in the British economy.
A side benefit: Improving their English will help distinguish them even further from anti-Muslim bigots! A common trait I’ve found in that tribe – and among xenophobes of all kinds — is an ironic inadequacy. They insist foreigners are destroying America, or English, or the white man, or Western civilization, but they seem strikingly unlike the people who made these things great in the first place. For starters, take their ineptitude with the English language. To put it simply: Many anti-Muslim bigots often cannot spell simple words. Or communicate in a publicly dignified way in the language they are dedicated to protecting.
Writing frequently on Islam, foreign policy and Muslim communities, I’ve been subjected to quite a lot of love and tenderness. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told to “go back to you’re country,” the location of which I do not know. “MUSLINS DON”T BELONG IN AMERICA,” they might all-caps scream text at me, unaware that though Muslims may wear muslin, that doesn’t make us literally muslin. Ben Carson got hummus confused for Hamas, which is outrageous, because how can we tell the bad Hamas from the good hummus?
And who’s Baba Ghannoush? Why’s he hate our freedoms?
People who see Muslims only as threats, as competitors, and hardly ever as compatriots, who might even feel like immigrants are stealing their jobs, aren’t going to look forward to a policy that might give fast-growing Muslim immigrant populations a leg up.
If only American Muslims could translate the low regard in which our communities are also held into beneficial outcomes too. Maybe we just need to frame our demands in a language the far right can understand.
I, for one, know 100 percent that I would be far better integrated into America if I could afford an apartment with a parking spot so that I could drive from my home in New York City to the “real America,” which doesn’t use public transportation or believe in other socialist Marxist Islamofascist “New York Values.” And I’d be totally Westernized if I could afford cable so I could watch FOX News whenever I liked, and fully understand why Muslims should be banned and that there’s no such thing as Islamophobia.
It’s not my fault the channel comes bundled with ESPN, which I honestly don’t want, or that there’s currently a special offer that offers six in-home DVRs for free, which is just perfect for my huge Muslim family with our out-of-control birth rate.
Then again, given the way the American far right is going, I might have to move to England.
At least I can apply for a job to teach English.
Haroon Moghul is a senior correspondent for Religion Dispatches, a fellow at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, and is working on a memoir, “How to be a Muslim.”