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Monday, January 18, 2016 

Even when it seems to be a fuck-up, it isn't.

For anyone who missed it, last week saw the release of a video from the Metropolitan police that showed the authorities still don't have the slightest clue about challenging the propaganda narrative from Islamic State.  Aimed at young mothers tempted to travel to Syria, it featured three female refugees from the country telling them to, essentially, stop being so silly.  Why would anyone take babies to a war zone, they essentially ask.  Why indeed?  None of the women show any emotion, it's shot without any flair, as though to allow the message to be the focus, except the message is completely lacking.  If the women are meant to be speaking from experience, none relate for instance what they had to go through in order to leave, friends they left behind or others who might have died.

To be realistic, knowing how to counter-act Islamic State propaganda is really difficult.  One of the few ways that could work is to, sadly, sink to their level.  Respond to their images of death and destruction with images of their dead, especially if the footage showcases a band of apparently confident fighters one day only for the frame to update to the reality of the next, with bodies strewn across the dusty ground.  This approach obviously won't work with those whose whole aim is to give their lives cheaply, but might make others with a few more braincells think again.  Nor is it going to work well with the average female potential recruit, who is far more likely to be drawn to Islamic State by questions of identity, belonging, religion and rebellion than out of simply wanting to die for something, anything, coupled with knowing there will be little better on offer at home.

Of all the things that do not point towards potential extremism, being unable to speak English is pretty much right at the top of the list.  If anything, not being able to speak English is more likely to make someone less susceptible to becoming radicalised, precisely because that individual will inevitably be more reliant on those around them and less liable to venture further outside of what they already know.  Most of the tension around identity and belonging concerns dealing with the contradictions of feeling, being different in a society that treats you as though you are while saying that you're not; speaking English, being English, but not seeing yourself as English, or not feeling English, all are absent when you can't and so your experience is far more narrow.  Integration and extremism can be connected, but they are not interconnected.

David Cameron knows this.  He said as much.  He recognises there is no "casual connection" between not speaking English and radicalisation.  In his article for the Times he was more precise in saying it could be a problem, if say, a teenage boy from Bradford can't communicate with his mother as she came from Pakistan and can't speak English, and doesn't understand his life as she rarely leaves the house.  Leave aside quite how daft this notion is, as he would almost certainly be as fluent in Urdu or Punjabi or whichever language his mother speaks as he would in English, and it's a truth universal that parents just don't understand regardless of where they're from or what they do, and look instead for the announcement rather than the row surrounding it.  £20 million in funding for women who cannot speak English and who are "isolated" to be helped to learn.  In effect, it's the government making a u-turn on the cuts they've made to speaking English as a second language, as everyone has been pointing at.

Why are they doing so?  One would hope for the reasons that Naz Shah, the Labour MP for Bradford West pointed out.  It has nothing whatsoever to do with radicalisation, or the potential for extremism, and everything to do with integration.  However, it seems impossible for government to function, at least without also getting press attention for such a measure to be announced without also making reference to extremism.  Integration on its own is no longer enough.  At the same time, you can't announce a sum, even one as meagre as £20 million to help foreigns learn English without at the same time riling the exact same people who moan precisely because they can't speak English.  So, to placate them you say in fact it's about radicalisation, which shuts them up to an extent but then pisses off everyone else who quite rightly points out how clumsy the whole exercise has been and how it's idiotic that no English = radicalisation.  The whole thing also functions as a dog-whistle - isn't it about time these layabouts learned how to speak English, and why can't they speak English anyway, and why can't they be deported anyway, and aren't Labour to blame for all this anyway?

The positives for the Tories of making such an announcement in such terms have to outweigh the potential negatives.  Yes, they look as though they haven't a clue and are quite nasty with it, but the policy itself suggests they do have a clue and being nasty about it seems to work.  That the sum is £20m suggests, as the 2011 census did, that really very few people can't speak English whatsoever.  It won't help in the slightest with extremism, but then the government and frankly very few have the slightest clue about how to tackle extremism anyway.  For anyone that does, answers on a postcard.

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