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France faces growing Muslim inmate problem - Seattle Post-Intelligencer, USA

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  • Zafar Khan
    France faces growing Muslim inmate problem Meeting needs is balanced against extremist threat By CRAIG S. SMITH THE NEW YORK TIMES
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 8, 2004
      France faces growing Muslim inmate problem
      Meeting needs is balanced against extremist threat



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

      "When I was in La Sante, 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.

      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
      in many places -- experts on prison populations agree
      on the new disproportion of Muslims here and

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

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

      Those who are detained or convicted of
      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 there are few
      mainstream Muslim chaplains.

      Farhad Khosrokhavar, an Iranian-French scholar who has
      written on Islam in prisons, says an Islamic
      underclass is developing across Europe and, at its
      margins, is increasingly sympathetic to the coalescing
      ideologies of political Islam.

      "Islam is becoming in Europe, especially France, the
      religion of the repressed, what Marxism was in Europe
      at one time," he said.

      More about Muslims in France at:

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