Don't Be Scared About Prisoners Converting to Islam

If you're looking for another source of unnecessary anxiety -- if Harry Reid's dread of Guantanamo detainees being housed in American prisons isn't enough to make you hide under your bed -- you should read the Wall Street Journal's alarmist warnings that the dark forces of Islam will find "fertile ground for terrorist recruitment" in the nation's prisons. This latest fear arises from the "possibility" that the four men charged with plotting bombings in New York are Muslim and that "some may have converted in prison." As usual, the WSJ story ignores the likelihood that the "plot" was devised and/or encouraged by the government informant who gave them away.

Terrorist recruiters looking for a collection of people with antisocial tendencies will certainly find them in prison. To convert criminals into terrorists, however, the recruiter must himself be sent to prison, and must build relationships with violent inmates who are willing to betray their country by engaging in risky mayhem without profit. His recruitment pool will be limited to inmates who will be released while they're still young enough to do some harm -- a serious limitation since the most violent criminals will be serving lengthy sentences. And since prisons are filled with snitches, the recruiter must do his work without being exposed to prison officials who will happily lock him up in segregation on an informant's say-so. On the whole, the threat that inmates will join an Islamic terrorist cell seems less dire than the threat that they'll join a violent group of white supremacists like the Aryan Brotherhood.

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The WSJ's fretting that one of the New York bombing plotters might have converted to Islam in prison is balanced nicely by this news:

The authorities have made no overt claim that the four suspects — James Cromitie, Onta Williams, David Williams IV and Laguerre Payen — hatched a plot in jail or that their experiences behind bars led to their alleged acts. In fact, it is uncertain just how much of a role their faith played in their motivation.

Criminologist Mark Hamm studied the issue of religious conversion in prisons for the Justice Department.

He concludes that generally, “there is no relationship between prisoner conversions to Islam and terrorism.”

While Hamm said in a New York Times interview that small gang-like cliques practicing "prison Islam" give a religious overlay to violent behavior that creates a potential threat upon an adherent's release from custody, he noted that Islam is more often a moderating influence among inmates. An imam who is also a prison chaplain told the Times that the "direction of Islam in prison remains reformation and community upliftment."

More importantly, Hamm's study concluded that "foreign terrorist organizations like al-Qaeda ... were not directly involved in the radicalization process." That salient conclusion doesn't appear in the Wall Street Journal story, despite the study's ready availability on the Justice Department's website. Of course, adding Hamm's conclusion to the story would have defeated the purpose of alarmist hand-wringing: scaring readers.

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  • Display: Sort:
    all of those inmates i've ever (none / 0) (#1)
    by cpinva on Mon May 25, 2009 at 03:42:03 AM EST
    heard of, who converted to islam (or christianity, or budhism, etc) in prison, seemed to use it as a means of altering their obviously destructive lifestyles, the lifestyles that put them in prison to begin with.

    as you note, the violent groups tend to be the various gangs and white supremacist groups, not the religious ones.

    clearly, there is something drastically wrong with me: i'm tragically white, upper middle-class, middle-aged, and i'm not quaking in my boots over these guys.

    is counseling in order?

    That reminds me.... (none / 0) (#5)
    by oldpro on Mon May 25, 2009 at 01:02:23 PM EST
    time to reread "The Autobiography of Malcolm X."

    The documentary is pretty great, too.


    Damn Right (none / 0) (#3)
    by Repack Rider on Mon May 25, 2009 at 10:11:35 AM EST
    Kill 'em all and let Allah sort 'em out.


    P.S. I found this through Mikes Blog Report on C&L.

    Why? Because that's what (none / 0) (#4)
    by oldpro on Mon May 25, 2009 at 12:59:24 PM EST
    life is...just one damn risk after another.  The trick is to minimize the really big ones by education of the individual.

    Eliminate ALL risk?

    Yeah...there's a plan, alright...got a fiscal note on that?