It is not Islam that has become radicalised, but the criminals who have become Islamized

by Giuseppe Terranova - 2016.11.21
It is not Islam that has become radicalised, but the criminals who have become Islamized
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If French prisons are overflowing with immigrants and foreigners with French citizenship, it does not necessarily mean that this group tends to commit crimes more than others do. A brain-teaser that we addressed with Laurent Mucchielli, sociologist and founder beyond the Alps of the Observatoire Régional de la Délinquance et de contexte sociaux (ORDCS).

Immigrants make up 6.4% of the French population but account for 18% of that in prisons. To this number we must add French citizens of foreign origin for whom there is no official data as France prohibits ethnic statistics. We do know, however, that 27.5% of French prisoners asked for a single and hearty single meal at daybreak during Ramadan. Why this figure?

The answer is very simple. The prison population is not the mirror image of the criminal one. For the simple reason that the majority of immigrants, in contrast to those from privileged social classes, do not have good lawyers and the financial resources to defend themselves in court. This is why they are more likely than average to end up in prison. Note, however, this does not mean that the judges are racists. The issue is more subtle as they tend to apply the prison sentence more frequently for the accused that do not have so-called “garanties de raprésentation”, such as an address or fixed employment. Not to mention police investigations. Inspections and the checkpoints are often influenced by the ethnic and social characteristics of the suspect. The penitential institutions are nothing more than the last link in a chain of discrimination. They are the punishment for the excluded, marginalised and the poor, particularly if foreign.

According to a recent ICSR study from London, 60% of foreign European fighters converted to Isis in prison. Are French prisons also a breeding ground for terrorists?

Yes and no. It should come as no surprise when it happens. Because the majority of prisoners do not have future prospects. They have nothing to lose. They know that they have no future; they live in a supervised enclosure with very little chance of reintroduction or integration into society. For this reason, a section of this population see Islamic ideology as a form of comfort and redemption that fills the void of a fragile existence without clear goals.

At this point, we could think be tempted to think that you share Olivier Roy's ideas: it is not Islam that has become radicalised but the criminals who have become Islamized.

Yes. It is grotesque to make the connection between a devote Muslim and a potential terrorist. The majority of youths who become radicalised have identity issues in the first place. In Islam they find a reason for being, rules and behaviour to follow and respect that convey a sense of reassurance and bring order to chaotic and goalless daily life. It should be said that these young Islam converts do not all become ruthless butchers and the instigators of mass slaughter. Many back out after having taken part in caliph training programmes in camps in Syria or Iraq. Those that continue are undoubtedly the most fearsome, willing to do anything as complete fanatics. I would like to say one more thing. In contrast to what you may think, the potential terrorists are both male and female. The dynamics that lead to conversion are the same (lack of identity), whilst the means of manifestation is somewhat different.

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