The UK has announced plans for a new set of laws on migrant spouses, which will see them tested on their English skills after 2.5 years, and their visa terminated if they are found to be lacking English skills. David Cameron is selling this as both a law to empower Muslim women, and also to help fight terrorism.
This law is so stupid and cruel it is unbelievable, and the language being used to justify it is so heartless and idiotic it’s hard to believe that anyone takes it seriously. Is this a paper-thin veneer on another stupid racist law, or are the Tories genuinely so stupid that they think this law is worthwhile in any way? Sadly, I think it might be the latter. In any case, the law is both cruel and pointless.
The law is a heartless abomination
I don’t know if Cameron can speak any second languages (most Brits can’t) but if he can my guess is that he’s passable in some kind of dialect of English, like French. I live in a country (Japan) with a language completely different to English, which any adult learner (like me) has to really battle with, and which is absolutely essential if you want to really enjoy the life this country has to offer. I know a lot of people who manage to contribute significantly to this country without every learning a single word, and I know a lot of British migrants here – many with spouses – who contribute nothing to this country but still haven’t learnt a word of the language. There are many reasons why adult migrants to Japan don’t, won’t or can’t learn a word of the language, but here are a few:
- Some people just can’t learn languages: In my intensive course I had a good friend, Ali, who was fluent in Arabic and English but couldn’t learn a word of Japanese no matter how he tried, and he really did try. I had another friend, Rana, who was a great reader and listener who couldn’t speak a word. This isn’t because they were stupid or ignorant – both knew at least two languages already, and were qualified doctors – but because learning a new language as an adult is really fucking hard. Sure, if the language is basically just a variant on your existing tongue – like Korean to Japanese, or French to English – it’s not hard, but if it’s genuinely different – like English is to a lot of people – then learning it is really challenging
- There are no opportunities: I cannot stress what an exhausting waste of time it is to try and learn a language in all its depth and complexity from a few hours a week of poor-quality teaching at a night school. In a country like Japan it is almost impossible for most people to find a class for more than an hour or two a week, it’s even harder to find a class that is taught well, and it’s even harder to stick with it when you have a full time job, family, etc. Many of the white people in Japan are English teachers, which means they work evenings and weekends in an exhausting job. The idea that they will put in hours of intensive study at weird times to pick up a language is really stretching it. In the UK, the Cameron government has massively cut funding for English teaching. What are the chances that a poor migrant spouse who doesn’t need the language will be able to find a class?
- Learning languages sucks: It’s tiring, boring, and often humiliating and the teachers are often really poor quality. There’s always someone else in your class who should be in a higher class and humiliates the students with his (it’s always a he!) skills, and a lot of what you learn is irrelevant to actual life. Many classes require you to perform your piss-weak language skills in front of others, and you’re constantly screwing up and embarrassing yourself. Then you go out into the real world and none of the language people use with you is taught in class (this is a universal problem). Try to keep that up for 2.5 years!
- You don’t need the language to contribute to society: A challenge for shallow Tories like Cameron to comprehend, but you can actually contribute to society without being able to speak a word of its weird gobbledigook. From the trivial – working hard and paying taxes – to the culturally deep – writing books that introduce the culture to other societies – it’s possible to contribute without ever learning a word. In Japan I have known people who are having multiple children (a big contribution here), who are working wonders in their chosen field, or who are big figures in a movement to popularize the works of a famous writer. I know people who have lived here for years, never learnt a word, and have children who are fluent in Japanese, speak no English, and are really engaged with the local culture. How do those parents compare to a wife-beating Japanese pachinko addict who speaks perfect Japanese? Language is a useful tool but a welcoming and accepting society doesn’t need you to speak it in order to contribute.
- Adult life betrays your efforts: No doubt whatever patois of crappy French Cameron speaks, he picked up in high school, when he had all the time in the world, and anyway it was easy. But could he learn Pakistanian if he lobbed up in Pakistan as an adult, living with his wife and kids, working a 40+ hour week and only hanging around with Pakistanis who spoke fluent English? I think you might find that he could not learn a word, because he doesn’t have time for serious study, none of his friends expect him to, it’s embarrassing to struggle to say hello in Pakistanian to someone who can debate the Quran with you in English, and when he’s at home he speaks English exclusively because wtf?
For all these reasons, it’s really common to find adults who are really committed to the country they moved to but who don’t speak a word of its native language, or are only dabblers in the complexity of that language. Even people who are determined to learn, as adult learners, will be struggling to get their language together in 2.5 years. But despite all their efforts and the vagaries of life as an adult in the modern world, Cameron aims to deport these people. His reasons are so horribly shallow, as well. Today he said:
If you’re not able to speak English, not able to integrate, you may find therefore you have challenges understanding what your identity is and therefore you could be more susceptible to the extremist message coming from Daesh
This is a hilarious piece of stupidity. If you’re staying home, not learning a word of English, and a woman in a traditionalist Islamic family, chances are that you have a very strong identity centred around hearth and home, and there’s almost zero chance you’ll be susceptible to extremist ideology. It’s fascinating to see a party that has traditionally respected the role of housewife (and criticized feminists for undermining that role) suggesting that such an important and powerful cultural figure would “have challenges understanding” their identity. Is this really the party of Thatcher? Was Thatcher ever so cruel? Because rest assured this law is cruel. But it is also pointless.
This law is pointless
Cameron seems to think that deporting the wives of Muslim migrants after 2.5 years is going to prevent terrorism. Maybe he really hates his wife, so much that he wouldn’t resent the government if it took her from him after 2.5 years, or maybe he’s just really ignorant, but does he not think that separating families on completely arbitrary grounds might possibly be a source of radicalization? Even putting aside the obvious counter-productive images (and court cases) we’ll be seeing in 2.5 years’ time, there are so many reasons why this law is targeted at all the wrong people. For starters, all the people we know of who were radicalized in the UK appear to have been born there, and seem to speak really good English that the “intelligence” services try to track down by using a database of regional British accents. Secondly, it’s likely that the standard they set for staying in the UK is going to be pretty low, and well below the level at which it is possible to debate nuances of religious theory, so it’s unlikely that whatever English skills the spouses learn will be sufficiently advanced to enable us to engage with them to prevent radicalization, or for them to be exposed to anti-radicalization messages by chance. Thirdly, if the reason they’re being held back from learning English is “patriarchy” as Cameron suggests, it’s unlikely that the spouses are the people we have to worry about in the first place.
Finally, of course, Cameron previously introduced a law that requires migrants to the UK to have a certain minimum amount of savings before they can bring their spouse. This amount is high enough that it’s unlikely your average Middle Eastern migrant will be able to bring their spouse over in the first place unless they’re from a social class that already speaks English really well – or are a refugee. Which means that this law is going to break up refugee families in 2.5 years’ time – as if they hadn’t been through enough hoops just to get to the UK. A cynic would suggest that was his purpose all along …
This cruel stupidity would make UKIP blush
Immigration policy under the Tories has been moving into the gutter over the past few years. The savings requirements for bringing one’s spouse over are vicious, nasty policy that achieves nothing at the expense of perfectly legitimate relationships between British people and their foreign lovers. These laws are absolutely reprehensible, unjustifiable nastiness. The new proposal simply adds a new level of viciousness to a migration system that is vindictive and petty beyond all reason. All of this is being done because Cameron is desperate to show he is tough on migrants without actually touching the main source of UK voters’ apprehensions about migration: Europe. Cameron is campaigning for the UK to stay in the EU even though most of the British public are skeptical, and even those who want to stay in the EU want to see the end of the rules on free movement. He can’t do that and keep his business mates happy, so he needs to try and show he is doing something to keep out migrants to counterbalance his weakness on this issue. But the real source of British fears about jobs and benefits is EU migration, not a couple of badly spoken Muslim wives. Publicly humiliating those women will work for him in the short term, but will it fool grassroots Tories in the referendum? Or will we see the UK leave the EU even as it introduces ever harsher, ever stupider rules on non-EU migrants?
I think we will. And I think those rules will be a disaster to ordinary families, and will do nothing to prevent extremism.
fn1: Good to see a once radical idea becoming a mainstream conservative principle. I’m looking forward to mandatory gay sex abortions for all British citizens now that the Tories have found their radfem groove.