Yesterday night I was reading some news on La Repubblica, when one of the latest news won my attention. It read: ‘an Islamist has been attacked in an English prison and is fighting for his life’. Because my recent research has focused on Muslim prisoners, I was curious to know the victim’s name, the reasons behind the attack and the prison in which it took place.
I expected that our English mass media would have promptly reported this piece of news; I was wrong. Even the BBC had not reported the incident. I had to resort to Google News to discover, on an Australian Internet News Service, that the victim was Mr Dhiren Barot. Ironically, the BBC, likewise all the other national and local newspapers, had devoted litres of ink to this man.
Today, while I am writing, Mr Dhiren Barot, the ‘Dirty Bomb’ plotter, is fighting for his life. Some fellow prisoners decided to throw hot oil and boiling water on his face and head. Even if he recovers from his injuries, he will remain scarred for life. The attack took place in Frankland Jail, Durham. Mr Barot was moved to Frankland Jail from Belmarsh, because of the concerns of some officers believing that Mr Barot was radicalising fellow Muslim prisoners.
I can imagine how some people, in particular some readers of the Daily Mail, may say ‘This is the punishment that Islamic terrorists deserve.’ Of course, populism is unsophisticated, but in this case it is also extremely stupid. The total disregard for Mr Barot’s suffering, for the criminal act that his fellow inmates have perpetrated, and the inexplicable lack of strong condemnation by politicians, are also a betrayal of our British Values. We are ready to defend them against terrorism but not against our hypocrisy.
Our values are based on justice rather than revenge, on rehabilitation rather than mere punishment, on rejection of vigilante culture rather than the praise of fascist mobs. The ‘War on Terror’, and not just the terrorists, is disintegrating our British Values. Today we are ready to deport people towards their torture and death thanks to shameful political agreements with tyrants who shun our democratic values. Today we may even support in our hearts the actions of those criminals who inflicted such medieval torment on Mr Barot. If we do not stand against this barbaric action, we are not better than those throat cutters whom hysterically scream (and in doing so insult) Allah’s name while their own knifes cut off heads.
But if morality and our British Values are not enough to convince you that Mr Barot’s facial disfigurement is a tragedy instead of a boon, I can tell you that Mr Barot’s alleged attempt to radicalise fellow Muslim prisoners may have failed, while now his mangled face, or, if he dies, his ‘martyrdom’, can easily succeed.
Of course Mr Barot was a very well known prisoner. I am not surprised, after having conducted my research in our prisons, that this incident took place. Mr Barot’s plans and actions received extensive mass media coverage. He was a natural target. He needed protection and safeguarding. I have highlighted many times to the Prison Service that extremism and radicalism are not just Muslim issues. Within the prisons there are visible increases in right-wing ideologies and a high level of unnoticed intolerance.
The terrorist threat, as well as the general representation of an ‘Us’ versus ‘Them’ Armageddon battle, is polarising, in a very dangerous way, prison life. On one side are the Muslim prisoners, with a minority of radicals but a majority of ordinary Muslims pushed towards the aforementioned because of the discrimination they suffer. On the other side are the non-Muslim staff and prisoners whom understandably develop resentment towards the terrorists, but which too easily becomes resentment towards the ordinary Muslim prisoners.
These circumstances maximise the possibility of attacks against Muslim prisoners, and consequently provide a fertile soil for successful radicalisation of Muslim prisoners.
Yet I have the impression that the Prison Service and the Government see ‘extremism’ as merely the product of ‘indoctrination’. Yet, as my research suggests, ‘extremism’ within prison should be tackled by rejecting over focused Muslim-centric security policies in order to develop an encompassing strategy against intolerance.
By failing to do so, the Government and the Prison Service can only help to increase the danger that we, both as Muslims and non-Muslims, face everyday.