Is Britain once again heading towards total absurdity as the Government sets up notorious Northern Ireland Maze style jails only this time confining Muslims targeted as suspicious. A review of so-called extremism in prisons has controversially suggested isolating those perceived as radicals as opposed to moving them around different prisons. The apparent aim is to stop these individuals in high security jails training others to become terrorists despite no evidence being produced to back up such claims.
Unlike in Northern Ireland during the 1970s, interning Muslims has not yet quite become official policy but the uncanny parallel cannot be overlooked. Will it become the case that those accused of espousing radical views will be housed in unique detention centres? Is the Government creating yet another issue that does not really exist? Internees at the Maze prison were given special-category status while those incarcerated at other prisons campaigned to be treated as political prisoners. It led to a chronology of infamous protests, the extraordinary hunger strikes as well as mass breakouts.
Such a comparison may be rather far-fetched. But it seems the Government is looking for something similar and by default creating a nightmare scenario. Muslim communities in Britain often feel under permanent surveillance from cradle to grave due to a catalogue of problematic decisions.
Apart from being perceived through the lens of terrorism, Muslims are already finding themselves being grossly disproportionately incarcerated for other offences. Over the past 12 years, the number of Muslims in jails in England and Wales has more than doubled to about 14 per cent of the prison population despite representing only 4.8 per cent of the country’s population.
Bill McHugh, Justice Director of the Criminal Justice Consultancy, PublicCo, suggests the rise is down to magistrates’ ignorance of and prejudice towards Islam. “I used to see families in court who felt it was the offender not the offence that was being judged,” he says. “They’re associated with terrorism when they’re up for shoplifting.” Only 130 Muslim prisoners – just over 1% of the total – are convicted terrorists.
The review commissioned by the then Justice Secretary, Michael Gove, on how to tackle extremism in prisons, was set up on a false premise much like the way he used Ofsted to target often successful Muslim-majority state schools in Birmingham when he was Education Secretary.
Last month, we also warned about the misperception of Shariah Councils that has made them also subject to a warped kind of scrutiny.
Theresa May has an ideal chance to disassociate herself with many of the past mistakes that she made under the premiership of David Cameron. Now is an opportunity for a complete break from what has gradually become a tightening of the noose of zealous surveillance of what is essentially a political phenomenon with very little to do with religion. Let’s hope she can start putting right the Government’s relationship with Muslims.