[Marxism] European prisoners turn to Islam

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Dec 8 11:50:53 MST 2004


NY Times, December 8, 2004
Islam in Jail: Europe's Neglect Breeds Angry Radicals
By CRAIG S. SMITH

NANTERRE DETENTION CENTER, France - Abdullah, tall and muscular, with a 
shaved head and closely cropped goatee, sat on a metal bunk in the cramped 
cell here and described how he got religion.

"When I was in La Santé, I read books about the Prophet," he said, 
referring to a notorious Parisian detention center, the third of five jails 
where he has spent time during the past two years for dealing drugs and 
stealing cars.

When he arrived at the fourth, Fleury-Merogis, Europe's largest, another 
inmate gave him a DVD about the life of Muhammad and later, while enduring 
a three-week stint in solitary confinement, he vowed to devote himself to 
Islam.

"People here find God," he said.

In less than a decade, there has been a radical shift in France's prison 
population, a shift that officials and experts say poses a monumental 
challenge.

Despite making up only 10 percent of the population, Muslims account for 
most of the country's inmates and a growing percentage of the prison 
populations in many other European countries, an indication of their place 
at the bottom of the Continent's hierarchy.

With radical strains of Islam percolating through Europe, authorities are 
unsure how to address the spiritual needs of the prisoners while guarding 
against the potentially toxic mix of extremist ideology and a criminal 
past. One result is often neglect, which officials say can be a still 
greater force for radicalization.

Prison populations have been expanding across Europe in recent years, 
partly because of stricter anticrime regimens influenced by the sort of 
zero tolerance on quality-of-life crimes that was epitomized by the former 
New York City mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani.

France's prison population has risen by 20 percent in the past three years, 
largely because of aggressive pursuit of lower-level crimes.

The proportion of Muslims in prison has been growing even faster, 
reflecting the relative youth of Europe's largely Muslim immigrants.

While there are no official data on issues of race and ethnicity in much of 
Europe - it is in fact illegal to keep such data in many places - experts 
on prison populations agree on the new disproportion of Muslims here and 
elsewhere.

Two months ago Pierre Raffin, the director of La Santé detention center, 
warned officials looking into the role of religion in France that extremist 
proselytizing in prisons was growing.

Other countries are facing the same problem. Spain's chief counterterrorism 
magistrate, Baltazar Garzón, said recently that the men accused of plotting 
to blow up the country's main counterterrorism court were recruited from 
among fellow inmates by an Islamic militant serving time for credit card fraud.

Most famously, Richard Reid, who tried to blow up a Miami-bound airliner in 
December 2001 using a bomb in his shoe, converted to Islam while in a 
British jail.

Those who are detained or convicted for terrorist-related crimes are not 
always separated from the larger prison population and are often ready to 
act as spiritual guides at a time when mainstream Muslim chaplains are in 
severely short supply.

Abdullah (prison rules prevented him from giving his last name) said that 
while he was at Fleury-Merogis, militants were active in the prison yard, 
preaching that Christians and Jews are enemy infidels. In May, the 
militants defied prison rules by organizing a prayer meeting during an 
exercise break. Several prisoners were disciplined as a result.

"Islam is becoming in Europe, especially France, the religion of the 
repressed, what Marxism was in Europe at one time," said Farhad 
Khosrokhavar, an Iranian-French scholar who has written a book on Islam in 
prisons. He says the growing Muslim prison population is evidence of an 
Islamic underclass that is developing across Europe and, at its margins, is 
increasingly sympathetic to the coalescing ideologies of political Islam.

full: http://www.nytimes.com/2004/12/08/international/europe/08prisons.html

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