Islamist Radicalization in the Italian prisons
The radicalization phenomenon affects the Muslim penitentiary population in Italy and other European countries, such as France and the United Kingdom. It represents a typical by-product of incarceration, such as the aggregation of violent groups or gangs in order to obtain protection inside the penitentiary. Being part of a Muslim radicalized network gives them a sense of belonging that is protective and life saving at the same time. It represents, in fact, a sort of identity that they must safeguard.
The radicalization in jail and its effects for the entire community is a phenomenon quite limited in Italy, thanks to the policy of expulsion of extra-European citizens, guilty of crimes for which repatriation is foreseen without or at the end of their imprisonment. The Italian data is, at the moment, fairly limited if compared to other European countries, even though it is growing compared to when IS enjoyed much more fascination. Moreover, there is concern in Europe that the first releases of Islamist terrorists will take place in 2023, a date not too distant when we consider the need to articulate and test a preventive strategy about their reintegration and control. Once free, there could be the risk of their return to both radicalization and subversion.
Furthermore, in Italy, there are still no prison staff able to monitor Muslim prisoners with cognitive skills and adequate knowledge of the Arabic language and dialects. This ignorance also encompasses the security of the internal staff.
Moreover, the effort to counter the radicalization phenomenon both in and out of European prisons has led radicalized Muslim people to the practice of mimicry (taqiyya, in Arabic), as suggested by the jihadist manuals on Internet. This consists of not showing any signs of change in daily habits, such as prayers, food, clothing, etc. It is clear how difficult is to monitor such a vast population, even in jails, in order to identify, isolate and contain the radicalization process.
Furthermore, the practice of the Islamic rite in Italian prisons - although the Constitution guarantees religious freedom - is not officially recognized. So, there are no prayer facilities and religious personnel with appropriate preparation and orientation. The risk is the use of self-proclaimed imams, maybe bad teachers or subjects linked in various ways to jihadist networks.
Consequently, the organizational shortcomings and the lack of adequate religious facilities have given rise to feelings of exclusion, a sort of perception of the rejection of the inmates’ Muslim faith, which has become, in this way, in their perception, the religion of the “oppressed", and the “excluded”. It ends up sanctifying their envy towards the outside and non-Muslim world from which they feel rejected.
The risk is to accentuate the circumstances in which Muslim radicalization was born and nourished, such as the religious and racial discrimination and the lack of integration. In fact, at the moment, the real problem related to the jihadist threat in Italy is basically linked to failed integration, social alienation and a lack of economic opportunities. It is a problem as basic of failed expectations or xenophobic exclusion, up to a non-secondary, even dominant reason seen in the conversions of French jihadists for example, such as the involvement of Western countries in conflicts in Muslim regions, from Afghanistan to Libya, Syria and so on.
The radicalization process is not an instantaneous, rapid, or lightning-fast phenomenon. It requires a long and complex personal development. However, it also realizes on individuals and structures that guarantee the ideological and operational support to the new-radicalized subjects.
Italy is certainly at the forefront in terms of controlling the jihadist subversion. However it still remains extremely backward in preventing it.
This is why an in depth knowledge of this phenomenon and a wide-ranging preparation represent the necessary conditions for national counter-terrorism institutions to be always prepared to investigate but above all to prevent, counter and eradicate this subversive threat to domestic and international security.
23 February 2019