July 21, 2017 admin

The Institutionalisation of Islam

Authors: Professor Basia Spalek and Abdul Haqq Baker[1]

Statistics suggest that across Europe, Muslims are disproportionately represented in prisons. The reasons for this are numerous – the young age profile of Muslims, social and economic deprivation, counter-terrorism legislation that criminalises acts that previously would not have been criminalised, and so forth.   Perhaps unsurprisingly, therefore, the number of Muslims found guilty of terrorist and terrorist-related offences in prisons has generated significant concern for prison authorities. Officials are concerned that Muslim prisoners convicted of terrorism may pose a risk in relation to radicalising other prisoners, and so a range of measures have been discussed and implemented, including the creation of isolated units for prisoners convicted of terrorism and terrorist-related crimes so that they are unable to influence other prisoners.

Crucially, the teaching and practice of Islam within prisons has generated substantial policy interest and focus, with prison officials keen to scrutinise the schools of Islamic thought and teaching that are taking place within prisons. Critics argue that this comprises of a further example of the ways in which Islam is being securitised, whereby an entire faith is being viewed through a security lens, and Muslim populations are seen as a risk to nation state security. Importantly, the intrusion of security service personnel into the lives and faith practices of Muslims can lead to eroding any relationship that Muslims have as citizens with their governments. There have also been reports of inappropriate, offensive and Islamophobic behaviour of prison guards towards Muslim prisoners, some of this stemming from a lack of knowledge of how Islam is practised.

It is somewhat naïve to think that the ways in which Islam is being taught and applied inside prisons may have an impact upon radicalisation. Most prisoners have a very rudimentary knowledge of any faith they may follow or convert to whilst in prison, partly because many prisoners have identity issues in that often they are confused about who they are and how it is that they find themselves to be incarcerated. Having counselled many prisoners as a prison psychotherapist, I have experienced individuals who are searching for a sense of self, looking for ways in which they can become more resilient to some of the factors that have led them to a life of crime and violence, and for some of these individuals religion, including Islam, may be part of a solution.

Radicalisation is complex. As a psychotherapist I draw upon the Transtheoretical Model (TTM) developed by Prochaska & Norcross (2010), to shed light on some of the complexities to radicalisation. This is a psychosocial model that conceptualises and analyses psychological and behavioural change, and so when exploring the journeys that prisoners have made in relation to their ideologies, actions, personal and other identifications, it seems that this model might offer some useful insights, or at least raise questions for future research. According to the TTM, psycho-behavioural change can be conceptualised through stages, levels and processes of change. There are six stages of change – pre-contemplation, contemplation, preparation, action, maintenance and termination. There are five levels of change that a person can experience – at the level of their situational problems, their cognitions, their interpersonal relationships, their family relationships and their own, intra-personal, conflicts. The processes of change within the TTM explain how people undergo psychological and behavioural change: consciousness raising; dramatic relief; self re-evaluation; environmental re-evaluation; self-liberation; social liberation; counterconditioning; a helping relationship; amongst others. Thus, when mapping the experiences of prisoners in relation to the stages, levels and processes of change and radicalisation, there is a complex picture. This would suggest that prison authorities need to be careful of not imposing any one particular school of Islamic thought upon prisoners, believing that this will reduce the risk from radicalisation. Every individual prisoner is on her or his own unique journey and so a nuanced approach must be applied.

Identifying the stage of a prisoner’s cognitive development is essential within an institutionalised environment as the potential for radicalisation can be further exacerbated by the misapplication of rehabilitative strategies or methods. The complexities surrounding Muslim identity and potential markers of radicalisation could be more effectively addressed by prison authorities through the adaptation and implementation of the TTM to existing but complementary frameworks applied to prisoners who were previously radicalised. The four stage Life Cycle of Converts’ Post-Conversion Process (Baker, 2011) illustrates the cognitive phases both converts and returnees to Islam undergo. These four stages are founding, youthful, adult and mature. The first two relate to formative and, therefore, more vulnerable stages of development. The third and fourth encapsulate the progressive and subsequently, more reflective stages where resilience and the ability to robustly counter radicalisation are strongest.

In addition to understanding these cognitive stages among prisoners, awareness of their previous socio-religious environment is essential as these are likely to be replicated at a microcosmic level in prison. McCants, Brachman and Felter (2006) provide a theoretical framework that broadly categorises Muslims into four socio-religious constituencies; Muslims, Islamists, Salafis and Jihadis. The Jihadi constituency is considered a minority, nested within a wider Salafi community, which in turn exists as an integral part of the larger Islamist one; itself a component of the overarching Muslim population. Recognising a prisoner’s social and therefore, ideological positioning as he enters an institutionalised setting can assist the rehabilative process. This can facilitate pastoral procedures, providing robust and integrative socio-religious programmes.

By understanding these processes as they relate specifically to Muslim prisoners, authorities will be in a better position to introduce more holistic approaches that focus on identity instead of restricting them to current radicalisation strategies. Application of the TTM and associated processes will further widen the prism through which Muslim prisoners are increasingly viewed, enabling a more comprehensive understanding of behavioural as well as ideological identity markers. At present, the overemphasis and reliance on behavioural identity markers dominate securitised apparatus. Without a comprehensive definition of behavioural extremism, it is unsafe to use this as the sole marker to determine an individual’s propensity for violent extremism. Like the multitudinous definitions for terrorism, existing classifications for behavioural extremism are subjective according to different contexts or environments. Only when ideological inclinations or beliefs become established can particular behavioural practices – the most obvious being the willingness to commit violence – be unequivocally established. That is not to say, rehabilitative processes be avoided until then; however, neither should focus be solely on inevitable behavioural changes that often reflect a prisoner’s increased religiosity as a method of adapting to his new environment.

If existing or proposed strategies are to work more effectively, a review on the type of terminology used to categorise Muslims is also required. A conclusive conference report, prepared by Aberystwyth University (2007), highlighted the problematic use of particular language conflating previously innocuous terminology with Muslims and extremism. Subsequent discourse has resulted in wider sections of Muslim communities being marginalised and targeted as non-violent extremists (David Cameron, Munich, 2011). Redressing the misapplication of terminology via more transparent and evaluative processes when categorising Muslim inmates will reduce the stigmatisation they currently experience within the prison environment.

[1] This is the original English version of the translated article printed on 1st July 2017: http://www.perspektif.eu/2017/07/01/mueslueman-mahkumlara-de-radikallestirme-tedbirleri/

& PDF version: http://www.perspektif.eu/sayi.php?no=263

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