by Soeren Kern
The number of young Muslims in British prisons has skyrocketed over the past two decades and, according to a Muslim advisor to the United Kingdom's Prison Service, Islamic preachers are to blame.
There are now almost 11,000 Muslim males, mostly in their teens or twenties, in British prisons. This figure is almost six times what it was 20 years ago and represents 12.6% of the total prison population in England and Wales -- a huge over-representation considering that Muslims comprise around 5% of the British population. By comparison, in 1991 there were 1,957 Muslim inmates in British prisons.
In a January 13 interview with the London-based newspaper, The Times (registration required), Ahtsham Ali, the President of the Islamic Society of Britain, and who also advises Her Majesty's Prison Service, said that outmoded attitudes among imams were the primary reason record numbers of young British Muslims, many of Pakistani origin, are turning to crime.
Many mosques, Ali said, fail to offer facilities relevant to young, British-born second- and third-generation Muslims, while imams who do not speak English and focus only on religious rituals and measuring beard lengths, are frequently brought in from abroad. As a result, apparently, many disillusioned Muslim youth are turning away from religion. Ali also blamed family breakdowns, problems resulting from arranged marriages, drugs and the absence of good male role models for the increasing numbers of Muslim males under the age of 30 who are ending up in prison.
"Nearly all mosques are their own independent kingdoms," Ali said, "and they will decide what to do. Mosque committees have supreme power. Most will get imams imported from other countries who cannot speak English. More importantly they cannot relate to second and third-generation youngsters growing up here."
"It is a tragedy," Ali continued. "I have seen youngsters -- the next generation -- just totally switch off from it. This is dangerous. It allows others to take advantage, to take up the vacuum."
Ali said that often the only time Muslims encountered imams who could speak fluent English was when they ended up in prison.
In other news, according to official figures compiled for the first time, 371,000 immigrants who were admitted to Britain to work, study or go on vacation are now claiming unemployment benefits. Of these people, 258,000 are from outside the European Union.
An investigation conducted by the British government revealed that most of these migrants are from Muslim countries, primarily Pakistan, Somalia, Bangladesh, Iraq and Iran. The migrants -- who can claim unemployment, housing and incapacity benefits -- are currently costing British taxpayers billions of pounds a year.
In a January 19 article for the London-based Daily Telegraph, Chris Grayling, the employment minister, and Damian Green, the immigration minister, said that the large number of migrants claiming benefits has been increased by the "organizational chaos" of Britain's immigration system. "It should never have been allowed to happen and Labour should be embarrassed by what it left behind."
"We are determined to sort things out," they added. "Firstly by building an immigration system that is properly controlled and which people can have confidence in. And secondly by building a new generation of data systems that will ensure that no one can come to Britain and claim benefits to which they are not entitled."
The revelations came just months after it was discovered that tens of thousands of Muslim immigrants in Britain are practicing bigamy or polygamy to collect bigger social welfare payments from the British state.
The September 24 media report shows that the phenomenon of bigamy and polygamy -- permitted by Islamic Sharia law -- is far more widespread in Britain than previously believed, even though there it is a crime, punishable by up to seven years in prison.
The rapid growth in multiple marriages is being fuelled by multicultural policies that grant special rights to Muslim immigrants who demand that Sharia law be reflected in both British law and the social welfare benefits system.
The report quotes two senior social welfare experts based in Lancashire (one of the most "multicultural" areas in Britain), who estimate that there are now at least 20,000 bigamous or polygamous Muslim unions in England and Wales. This would imply that if the average size of such a "family" is 15 people around 300,000 people are living in polygamous families in Britain.
Further, the multiple marriages are encouraged by recent changes to the British welfare system: it allows Muslim immigrants to have a second, third or fourth wife (or in some cases five or more) treated as a single mother who can get a house and an array of other state payments for herself and her children at the taxpayers' expense.
In other news, the BBC reported on January 16 that the use of Islamic Sharia law is growing in Britain, with thousands of Muslims now using it to settle disputes each year.
At least 85 Sharia councils are now operating in Britain and some Sharia bodies such as the Islamic Sharia Council -- based in Leyton, east London, it is the largest such council in Britain -- have seen a large increase in their cases in the past five years.
Sheikh Haitham al-Haddad, a representative of the Islamic Sharia Council, told the BBC that his cases have "easily more than tripled over the past three to five years. On average, every month we can deal with anything from 200 to 300 cases. A few years ago it was just a small fraction of that. Muslims are becoming more aligned with their faith and more aware of what we are offering them."
Separately, a prominent lawyer, Sadakat Kadri -- who also happens to be a Harvard Law School contemporary of US President Barack Obama -- called for Britain to become more Sharia-literate.
In a January 15 interview with the Guardian newspaper, Kadri said it is "very important that they [Sharia law councils] be acknowledged and allowed to exist." He also said the courts were good for "the community as a whole."
Not everyone agrees. Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society, has long opposed the use of Sharia in Britain, and told the Guardian that the rule of law "must not be compromised by the introduction of a theocratic legal system operating in parallel."
"There can be no convincing case made for it," he said, "to have even a toe-hold in Western societies that have developed a mature and far superior legal system. I regard any legal system based on a theocratic model as being dangerous and innately unjust. There is no escaping the fact -- whatever interpretation you put on it -- that Sharia treats women differently from men."
In other Islam-related news, three Muslim men from Derby in central England have become the first people in Britain to be convicted of homophobia after they distributed leaflets calling for homosexual people to be killed.
In what has been called a landmark case, a jury at Derby crown court ruled on January 20 that Ihjaz Ali, Kabir Ahmed and Razwan Javed had breached hate crime legislation by handing out the leaflets outside the Jama mosque in Derby in July 2010.
The leaflets said, "The death sentence is the only way this immoral crime can be erased from corrupting society and act as a deterrent for any other ill person who is remotely inclined in this bent way." The only dispute among "the classical authorities" of Islam was the method employed to carry out the death penalty, the leaflet claimed.
Meanwhile, an atheist group at University College London sparked uproar after publishing a cartoon on its Facebook page depicting Jesus and "Mo" sharing a beer at a pub. A student Muslim group demanded the cartoon be removed, but the atheist group refused and started a petition to defend its freedom of expression. The final outcome of this controversy is still pending.
Also in London, the British media regulator Ofcom on January 20 revoked the broadcasting license of the Iranian news channel Press TV. Ofcom said Press TV, a 24-hour news and propaganda channel owned by the Iranian government, had broken licensing rules by failing to declare that its editorial base is in Tehran rather than London.
The dustup began in December after Ofcom fined Press TV £100,000 ($155,000) for broadcasting an unauthorized interview with the Newsweek journalist Maziar Bahari, who was imprisoned in Iran in June 2009 in the wake of the uprising that followed the disputed election.
Ofcom said the interview with Bahari had been conducted under duress and that during the investigation of that case it had emerged that the Iranian government was controlling the editorial operations of Press TV directly from Tehran.
Finally, the British government learned that it is stuck with Abu Qatada, a radical Islamic preacher once described by the former Spanish judge Baltasar Garzon as the "spiritual head of the mujahedin [Muslim guerrilla warriors engaged in a jihad] in Britain."
The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg, France, ruled on January 17 that Abu Qatada (his real name is Omar Mahmoud Mohammed Othman) cannot be extradited to his native Jordan, where he has twice been convicted in absentia of terrorism charges, as Qatada claims that his trial there would be tainted by evidence obtained by torture.
The British government has been reluctant to put Qatada on trial in Britain; doing so in an open court would involve revealing intelligence secrets. Britain has therefore insisted that he be returned to Jordan.
The ECHR -- which sits above Britain's own Supreme Court as the final arbiter of appeals -- ruled that departing Qatada would "legitimize the torture of witnesses and suspects" and "result in a flagrant denial of justice." The court's decision can be appealed within three months, but if upheld, would require that Qatada be charged in Britain or released.
British Prime Minister David Cameron plans to travel to Strasbourg to present British proposals for limiting the ECHR's powers to overrule the findings of the domestic courts. One idea involves a "democratic override": it would allow national parliaments to annul court rulings on issues affecting national security.Soeren Kern is Senior Fellow for Transatlantic Relations at the Madrid-based Grupo de Estudios Estratégicos / Strategic Studies Group.
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