Rock Paper Scissors

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Team America

Or how the French interior Minister thought a handbook would save the day…

This week’s Economist, or should I say this week’s just gone, features an interesting article entitled “Jailhouse Jihad”. It mentions the fact that in France, there is an active recruitment of radical Islamists in overcrowded prisons.

I found this article quite interesting as terrorism has now become a day to day reality for all of us, and our countries strive hard to keep it under control. Since “the Economist” referred to an article published in the french newspaper “Le Figaro”, I decided to follow up this path and see what more I could find out on the matter.

The Figaro’s article (in French) published on the 23rd of September, gives us the stats on recruitment going on in prison. The figures show that 211 prisoners are already “on the path to radical Islamisation”, 80% of which are French citizens of North African origin.

In an earlier interview in “Le Figaro” with Michèle Alliot-Marie, France’s interior minister, she confirms the danger of the recruitment of terrorists within France, who end up going to Afghanistan in order to undergo jihad training.

Her solution, is to publish a “handbook” on how to recognise the signs of radical islamic recruitment in prisons, even though she later on admits in the interview that over the years Al Qaeda’s techniques have evolved and changed, making it harder to pinpoint where the action is coming from.

In sum, Michele Alliot Marie, Le Figaro and the Economist have all reached the same conclusion: the threat of terrorism at home is real, but what is to be done about it? Michele Alliot Marie, as well as her “handbook” suggests a closer cooperation on a EU level. The Economist and Le Figaro both seem to think that there is a catch 22: one cannot put all the jihadists together in a prison and leave them to plot against us, and yet if we move them from prison to prison we risk helping them to spread the word.

Some interesting points come to mind from these different articles. For a start, it seems to me that all three seem to be forgetting a very important point: why people turn to radical Islam in the first place. In fact, in the “handbook”, it turns out a few of these are mentioned such as: “life in the suburbs, lack of education, marginalization of certain ethnic groups”; all of the above are cited. If they have reached the handbook, why then, are they not being discussed by the Interior Minister and on a European level?

Let’s face it, the Muslim or other ethnic minorities in Europe suffer from a fair amount of marginilization, of poor living conditions, are not represented politically… Of course this does not justify the choice of radical Islam but it may be something to think about. Instead, in 2002 the French nearly brought to power a man well known for his racist remarks, and in 2007 elected a president who vowed to clean out the “scum”. How does this help us in any way?

Farhad Khosrokhavar, cited both in the “Economist” and in “Le Figaro” makes a note of these factors in his book: “L’Islam dans les prisons”. These are indeed important points, and in my opinion much underestimated/overlooked. I think we should pay more attention to his work (also in English for those who don’t read French) and try and gain some insight from it. It would probably also be worthwhile to refer to the work of Fred Halliday on this matter, I’m thinking in particular of the book “Islam and the myth of confrontation”, though he has written many more of course.

As a conclusion I suppose we could say that handbooks are all very well for a while, but the problem lies much deeper than within the four walls of European prisons. It lies within the fundamental societal problems faced by ethnic minorities in Europe, and handbooks won’t help you get rid of those!

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