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Wednesday, December 08, 2004


DEFENDERS OF THE FAITH: EUROPE'S PRISONS ARE BECOMING INCREASINGLY MUSLIM  


(Ed Alcock for The New York Times)
In Nanterre, France, solace in the Koran. Other religious care is scant.

I have been to the Muslims slums of Paris and I have seen many Muslim immigrants in German cities like Berlin. The United States has justifiably come under criticism through the years for the treatment of blacks and other minorities but nothing compares to the abject discrimination, isolation and dehumanization that Europe subjects its minorities. Walking through those segregated French Muslim slums I could tell how neglect and alienization have affected the younger generations. Europe's declining birth rate caused it to allow Muslim immigrants to infiltrate their countries but the "outsiders" have been kept at a distance, as if they are second-class citizens. The opposition to the Iraq war, in some circles, was motivated by the fact that European politicians are very well aware that they are sitting on a powder keg.

Europe is going to pay a big price for its racist attitudes. Despite (and probably because of racist fears) European politicians appeased Muslim extremists when it cames to international politics - the situation is out of control.

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.

Europe has been slow to adjust to the changing ethnic and religious makeup of its prison inmates. France, in particular, has resisted approving Muslim prison chaplains, worried that inadequate screening could unleash potential militants into the system.


The New York Times-Islam in Jail: Europe's Neglect Breeds Angry Radicals

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