Last week, we witnessed multiple atrocities carried out by French home-grown jihadis. The Kouachi brothers purportedly made clear in communications during their warehouse siege that they wished to be “martyred.” There was speculation among commenters here on Breitbart and elsewhere at the time that the most appropriate punishment for these people would be life in prison:They should be denied their ardent wish to be killed at the hands of the kuffar and be forced to spend decades with their liberty constrained, to reflect on what they have done.
Unfortunately, such a punishment may be no ordeal at all for these people, and for three mutually-reinforcing reasons:
First, there are the general conditions of prison life. The kind of ascetic existence that would be deeply depressing for many Westerners is not necessarily such a hardship for the idealistic jihadi. They are permitted to continue their religious practices and observances in our prisons, including having access to special halal dietary provision, prayer mats, dedicated prayer and ablution facilities and even Islamic study classes.
The 2012 figures from the Ministry of Justice show that Muslims make up 13.1 per cent of the prison population, contrasted with 4 per cent of the general population. Over time, the historical divergence from general population trends is even more striking. This contrasts with the most represented group, Christians, who have a lower representation in prison than the general population according to the same Ministry of Justice figures (50.1 per cent in prison compared to 61.3 per cent of the general public).
The Gates Institute looked at figures going back to the 1990s, concluding, “[t]he rate of increase of Muslim inmates in British prisons is eight times faster than that of the overall prison population.” The foreseeable trend is that this will continue, especially as the radicalisation of, especially young, Muslims continues apace within the UK and the divergences between communities widen.
One of the fears that most people have of prison life in the UK is the fact that they will be surrounded by people who are very different to them and quite possibly hostile as a result. A British jihadi, whatever his differences with moderate counterparts, may not experience this. For example, while I know I do not get along with every right-leaning individual I encounter, I do believe that I would have a much more comfortable existence in prison if we were over-represented there and able to form a relatively homogenous group.
Even if there were many disagreements, it would still provide a receptive environment for my own ideological corners of libertarianism and climate scepticism. Especially if other comparably large groupings were relatively dispersed and heterogeneous in comparison.
Such homogeneity in prison was clearly indicated in the HM Inspector of Prisons’ 2010 report, Muslim prisoners’ experiencez. Interview evidence provided in the report paints a particularly striking account of how Muslim prisoners define themselves: “The vast majority of Muslim prisoners felt that their religion was more important in defining them than ethnicity, nationality, age or gender.”
The HM Inspector of Prisons’ report paints, in rather bland terms, the importance of converting to Islam for many prisoners as a crutch for coping with prison life. If it were just such a coping mechanism there may not be such an issue even in spite of the over-representation of Muslims and Muslim converts in recent years. However, several prisons have now become notorious for being dominated by Islamist groups. And in the cloistered prison environment where homogeneity is so easily catalysed and enforced this means that even moderate converts and already practising Muslims will quickly be dominated by extremists.
Indeed, continuing recruitment and radicalisation in UK prisons was reported on by the BBC five years ago. The story quoted an anonymous prison officer: “Muslim gangs was something I was very concerned about – the situation changed where underworld gangsters who used to keep discipline and order were no longer in charge in the prison.” The article also quoted Colin Moses, the chairman of the prison workers’ trade union at the time. He said that the Muslim gangs were also working to take over the illicit activities and trades that are active in prison.
The very same article attaches a boilerplate denial at the end from a Prison Service spokesman, stating that such claims were “unsubstantiated.” Yet this was in 2010, and matters have demonstrably worsened since. In direct contrast to this official denial, a 2012 Ministry of Justice report shows that there is, in fact, quite a substantial problem.
In contrast to the national average, the report found that in HMP Whitemoor in Cambridgeshire, 39 per cent of the prisoners identified as Muslim. Prison staff and non-Muslim prisoners when interviewed made it clear that this is no peaceful, contemplative bunch but a “protection racket” and “organised gang.”
The report indicates that of the prisoners sampled, half of the Muslims were “inside conversions.” This is an important point to remember. Our friends amongst the simple minded Useful Idiot brigade are continually looking for signs of “islamophobia.” They will thus happily interpret a disproportionate number of Muslim prisoners as evidence of “institutional racism” or “islamophobia” when the truth of the matter may be that a significant proportion consists of prison conversions, some of them under duress.
Tellingly, the document also states that “[s]upport for moderate interpretations of Islam was ‘muted’ at the time of the research.” That’s an unnecessarily mealy-mouthed way of saying that the extremists dominated. This is despite the fact it is evidenced that both prisoners and staff lived in fear of the Muslim gangs, so much so that both proposed “segregation of Muslims and non-Muslims (by prison, wing, and kitchens) in order to curb the ‘contamination’ influence (that is, conversion, or radicalisation).”
Similar testimony can be found easily about other prisons in the UK. HMP Long Lartin in Worcestershire, for example. A letter was sent to the prisoner’s magazine, ‘Inside Time’. In the immediate wake of the Lee Rigby murder, the anonymous prisoner wrote about his experiences at the prison. He said that extremist views were aired publicly supporting the slaughter and that he had “come to realise in this prison…that these extremist views are not frowned upon by other Muslims”.
Worse, he describes living conditions for non-Muslim prisoners that are nothing short of intolerable, “We are able to cook our own food here but if we attempt to cook pork in the communal kitchen it is deemed dangerous, even a threat to your life. The kitchen is usually occupied by 90 per cent Muslims and we have been told if we cook pork we will be stabbed.”
Such routine behaviour in the kitchen is also referred to in the report on HMP Whitemoor. The writer clarified his main reason for submitting the letter was to raise awareness of the extremism that is becoming increasingly rampant in his prison. The whole missive makes for quite depressing reading, especially as he strongly implies that even the prison staff are afraid.
A catastrophic confluence
These factors create the perfect storm. Familiarity, networking, a cloistered environment, maintaining key religious freedoms, aggressive recruitment and the ability to isolate themselves from the prison staff and even intimidate them. All contribute to an environment conducive to radicalisation and an increasingly higher conversion rate. There is no more striking example of this than the creation of Islamic State in an Iraqi prison. And right under the noses of the Americans, as reported by the Guardian.
One IS jihadist, Abu Ahmed, made clear in an interview that prison unwittingly provided opportunities he and his co-religionists would not have had otherwise. He says “We could never have all got together like this in Baghdad, or anywhere else… It would have been impossibly dangerous. Here, we were not only safe, but we were only a few hundred metres away from the entire al-Qaeda leadership.”
In response to such convenient networking and recruitment facilitated by prison life, the French have just announced that they are going to implement a policy of “isolation” for identified prison radicals. However, that is unlikely to work, and may in fact worsen the situation. Such treatment is likely feed the jihadists’ delusional sense of being on a divine mission and of martyrdom.
There is also strong evidence that prisoners can find ways around even the most draconian conditions. The notorious Butyrka prison in Russia strictly forbids communication between prisoners. There is no common exercise, the walls are too thick for prisoners to even shout from cell to cell and any attempt to communicate at all is immediately punishable by solitary confinement.
Despite this, the prisoners developed a communication system based on string, passing packets from cell to cell (a literal ‘packet switched network’, like internet routing protocols) until the marked recipient is reached.
Similarly, the report on HMP Whitemoor found that the extremist leaders never came to the attention of prison staff. They were, in fact, reported to be “model prisoners”. They used a network of “runners” for communication and ordered foot-soldiers to carry out violent orders on their behalf.
All of this raises some extremely awkward questions. First of all, how should the government and prison authorities respond to such developments? The impression is often given that our Dear Leaders simply do not take the jihadist threat seriously and what paltry policies they do have are in complete disarray. We are all now quite inured to Cameron’s constant, and insulting, platitude following every violent outrage that “it is nothing to do with Islam”.
He has just this week been flatly contradicted by his own culture secretary, Sajid Javid. Worse, Andrew Gilligan has written an eye-opening account detailing just how close this government, and its counter-extremist programmes, are to genuine extremists. The response of those tasked with protecting us from extremist threats is at best a complete shambles and at worst, a hapless aid and comfort to the enemy.
Which raises the second, and far more pressing question. These extremists do not fear death and, in fact, would welcome it as martyrdom. Similarly, it would seem that prison life in the UK is far from a severe punishment for the dedicated jihadi. The kinds of freedoms that are removed in a British prison are not those that a jihadi would necessarily care about or even miss. And those freedoms they do maintain facilitate continuation of their own poisonous belief system and its metastasising to other prisoners and the world outside of prison. So what’s to be done?