THE Prime Minister has never been afraid to take on the subject of extremism among British Muslims, but he has not always shown the sensitivity it needs. Indeed, at times he has shown a tendency towards a form of fierce rhetoric that seems designed to fend off UKIP rather than make a constructive contribution to a debate that needs to be had in the UK.

His latest pronouncement on the subject shows little sign of improvement and once again leaves him looking like he is pandering to the right. Announcing a £20m fund to teach Muslim women in the UK to speak English – which is good news – David Cameron said improving English was important to help people become more resilient against the messages of IS, or Daesh. But he also suggested a lack of good skills in English could influence whether Muslim women are allowed to stay in the UK, which made it look like he was saying: improve your English or face deportation.

The government was later at pains to say language skills would only be one of many factors in deciding whether someone could stay in the UK. The Prime Minister also specifically said he was not suggesting there was some sort of causal connection between not speaking English and becoming an extremist, although he then appeared to go on to suggest just that. “If you’re not able to speak English,” he said, “you’re not able to integrate, you may find therefore, that you have challenges understanding what your identity is and you could be more susceptible to the extremist message that comes from Daesh.”

The problem with all of this is that a positive policy – investment in language lessons – ends up looking like it is conflating the issue of learning English with stopping extremism, particularly with a punitive element is thrown in with the threat of removing a person’s right to remain. Learning English in a society that speaks the language is a positive move, and it could help women, and men for that matter, integrate much more into British society. But directly linking English language skills with extremism is a mistake – for generations, millions of non-English-speaking Muslims have lived peacefully in the UK. And anyone familiar with the propaganda videos released by IS will know that many of its recruits can speak good English.

Where Mr Cameron is on to something is in talking about education generally. Many Muslim women are not encouraged into education or careers, and as it is often women who go on to encourage their children to do well at school, this might help explain the relatively poor records of many young Muslims in formal education (more than a third of British Muslims have no qualifications at all). Faced with extremists who are often poorly educated, the obvious answer is more and better education.

Mr Cameron could also do more to support efforts to promote women’s rights generally within Muslim communities across the UK. The Scottish charity regulator OSCR has criticised the management structure at Glasgow Central Mosque but, under new management, there are very encouraging signs of a new more liberal attitude to women. The longer term hope is that women will soon have equal access to the mosque and a place on its ruling committee. Threatening Muslim women who do not learn English with deportation might look like a good idea for a Prime Minister who is aware of the threat of UKIP, but helping those women assert their rights to equality and a good education is a much better one.