British Prisons as Islamic Universities

In the last month alone Britain has seen 16 Muslims convicted of terror related crimes. Politicians and the media have used these convictions and the attacks in London and Glasgow to heighten Islamophobia and scaremongering amongst the British public. British premier Gordon Brown and the head of the Police Officers Association have taken this opportunity to raise the prospect of internment, detention without trial most notoriously and ineffectually used by the British state against the Irish Republican Movement.

There are already one hundred Muslim terror suspects in British jails waiting trial, and internment, compounded with the probable increase in conflicts in the Middle East, will lead to hundreds more being detained in prisons. Filling Britain’s already critically overpopulated jails with Muslims will bolster the ranks of alienated and radical Islamist youth both inside and outside of the prisons. This like so many of Britain’s foolish policies, will rebound against their security and foreign policy interests.

Not a day goes by without headline news of another individual or group of Muslims being convicted of terrorist-related offences. Although there are many other secular and left-wing movements on the list of proscribed foreign terrorist organisations, the message is that Muslims are the main enemy, and the main subject of the Islamophobic racist offensive by the West. This strategy is successful in criminalising Muslims and Islam in the minds of the majority of British people, and also in humiliating and incensing Muslims and progressive minded people.

These convictions are significant for two main reasons: they set precedents for convictions, not for having been involved or in the planning of terrorist acts, but for distributing material on the internet or being in possession of terrorist-related reading material, and they create a favourable political climate for pushing through further draconian emergency legislation, with internment being the most important and controversial.

The convictions of three people who were in total given 24 years between them were the first ever in Britain against those involved in incitement to commit terrorist acts through the internet. Referring to convicted 23-year old Moroccan Younis Tsouli, Judge Openshaw said “He came no closer to a bomb or a firearm than a computer keyboard” and recommended that Tsouli should be deported back to Morocco after serving his 10-year sentence.

28-year old Yassin Nassari was given three and half years for possession of terrorist-related material given to him on an external hard dive by a friend in Syria while he was there studying Arabic.

The jury failed to convict him on the greater charge of involvement in terrorism, a charge made on the sole basis of an email from his wife while in he was in Syria. Again, as in the case of Tsouli, Nassari was not found to have been involved in any planning or act of terrorism, and if being in possession of these files were so dangerous, why has the British right-wing Telegraph website re-printed the blueprints of how to make al-Qassem rockets that were found on Nassari? In the case of Nassari it seems what is important about his conviction is not the prevention of possible terrorist attacks, as there is no evidence that he was connected to any, but setting a precedent to convict other people for being in possession of the ambiguous ‘terrorist-related’ materials.

The jury’s verdict meant that anyone who downloaded such material, whatever their intentions, was at real risk of being convicted under Britain’s terrorism laws, and the judge at Nassari’s trial said “the sooner that is understood, the better.”

When it comes to the Muslims and the conflicts in the Middle East, the official media and British state discourse remains Blairite. The softer, more ‘reasoned’ tone of Brown attempts to win back those voters the Labour Party has alienated. It seems that on an executive level, all that has changed is a slight re-arranging of the deck chairs, as a string of security swoops is taking place against non-Islamic groups in Britain which remains unreported, while terror-related convictions of Muslims are the context in which Brown is seeking ‘cross-party’ consensus on further emergency legislation. Scotland Yard, Britain’s police headquarters has supported the head of the Association of Police Officers proposal of internment with no definite time limit to replace the upper time limit of 28 days that exists at present, a period which Brown has already said he wants to extend. In all likelihood the government will succeed in getting internment through in the absence of any serious and effective opposition to it inside or outside parliament.

Recent history in the British military occupation of Northern Ireland has already shown the counter-productiveness of internment which contributed to turning British prisons in Ireland into hotbeds of radical Irish Republicanism, so much so that Britain’s most notorious maximum security prison in Northern Ireland Long Kesh or ‘The Maze’, was dubbed the ‘Republican University’ by the Republican Movement.

There are already warning signs as to what internment would mean for British security. Mukhtar Said Ibrahim, who was the ringleader of the 21/7 attempted London bombing, spent time in Feltham and Aylesbury Young Offenders Institutes, and is alleged to have been radicalized by Imams there, as it is alleged was the ‘shoe-bomber’ Richard Reid during his time at Feltham.

More recently the Islamist prisoners being held in Belmarsh, many of them awaiting trial for many months, are already creating headaches for the prison authorities. Tariq al-Daour, one of the first convicted in Britain to be imprisoned for inciting terrorism over the internet, was caught allegedly making a website which encouraged armed struggle. A prison riot ensued between prison officers and Muslim prisoners when al-Daour refused to hand over his laptop. If this is the situation with a handful of Islamist prisoners in Belmarsh, one can predict the crisis that will occur when Britain has to deal with hundreds of radical Islamist prisoners organising from and recruiting inside British jails. The Vice Chair of the Prison Officers Association Steve Gough has warned that in five years terrorist and suspected terrorist prisoners will increase by a thousand and these highly politicised and often charismatic prisoners could influence produce a new wave of radicals among other inmates.

Throughout much of the prison populations in the West, as well as outside of them, Islam holds a special attraction. Most famously, it was Malcolm X / Malik el-Hajj Shabazz that undertook the transformation from street-hustler through a path of redemption to Islam and soon became US’s greatest radical Black leader. From being known as ‘Satan’ by his fellows, he turned to Islam after befriending a fellow prisoner who was a member of the Nation of Islam. Malcolm X’s auto-biography continues to be the most requested book by prisoners in the West.

In British jails Islam is the fastest growing religion amongst inmates. Wandsworth prison in London, Europe’s largest, sees more Muslims attending prayers than all the other faiths combined across London’s prison system. Gough himself states that the majority of the prison population is comprised of angry young men, disenfranchised from society, “It doesn’t matter if they’re English, Afro-Caribbean or whatever. These types of people are ripe for radicalisation.”

Few British people from the inner cities do not know of fellow students at college or university who turned away from a life of drug and alcohol abuse, sexual promiscuity and disrespect towards the opposite sex, towards Islam as a route out towards a life of moral uprightness and knowledge. After 9/11 many of these youths were incensed by the oppression of their co-religionists in Somalia, Afghanistan, Palestine and Iraq. These young people who try to make sense out of the tragedies and challenges that are befalling the Ummah are further disturbed by what they see as the decadence of the West which takes place alongside war and occupation.

Those who are imprisoned for terror-related crimes and who are awaiting trial are not, unlike the Irish Republican prisoners until the late 1990s, part of a mass radical social and armed struggle in Britain. They are prisoners who are mostly isolated from the Muslim community in Britain, and as such constitute convenient targets for the British government to justify the introduction of further draconian measures.

Ironically, it may well be the introduction of these measures that will swell the ranks of radical Islamist prisoners in British jails, which will in turn in the near future increase the recruitment of radical Islamist youth both inside British prisons and in the communities. The British state security response to this might be to introduce even further measures such as isolation cells and sensory-deprivation techniques that are used in other parts of Europe.

It must be borne in mind however that these measures will not stop plenty of other Islamist prisoners amongst the prison populations, whose charisma, message of rejection of Western decadent society and hypocritical concepts of democracy and human rights will find receptive ears and recruits from some of the most alienated and disenfranchised youth in British society who maybe looking for retribution for their perceived injustices that they and their co-religionists have faced.

SUKANT CHANDAN is a freelance journalist and poltical analyst. He runs two blogs and and be contacted at


Sukant Chandan is a London-based decolonial anti-imperialist activist and analyst. He advocated justice for Libyans in visiting Libya three times during the Nato onslaught in 2011 and reports frequently on English-language news channels based in Russia, Iran, China and Lebanon on which he discusses issues pertaining to the challenges of the struggle to end neo-colonialism. He can be contacted at