Crime and Injustice

Across Europe, youth grievances focus on the police and the criminal justice system. From the 1980s onward, poverty and desperation led to rapidly rising crime against persons and property, which in turn encouraged white hostility against ethnic communities, Muslims and others. In turn, hard-nosed policing turned young city dwellers against authority, bolstering a sense of street solidarity. Encouraging a perception of official racism, Muslim officers are seriously underrepresented in most of the forces policing cities with large immigrant communities: although London's population is perhaps 9 percent Muslim, the Metropolitan Police has only three hundred Muslim officers, about 1 percent of the whole. As legitimate social structures declined in many suburbs and projects, so gangs and criminal organizations became powerful. With legal means to advancement closed, many young people aspired to rise through crime or drug activity, seeing as role models the characters in iconic American films like Scarface and the Godfather trilogy.

Organized crime and narcotics activity in Europe is incomprehensible except in the context of Muslim-dominated syndicates, often with terrorist connections—Albanian, Kurdish, Turkish, Pakistani, and Moroccan. Obviously, this activity implies nothing about the nature of Islam or its adherents but rather illustrates the well-known phenomenon of ethnic succession, in which crime represents the usual stepping-stone for the newest arrivals in any given society. For creditable reasons, scholars wishing to avoid negative stereotyping are reluctant to work on Muslim criminal underworlds, yet such activity is critical to understanding these communities, and as we shall see, for the potential for political radicalization. Muslims today represent the main component of criminal underworlds and prison populations in Germany, France, Sweden, or the Netherlands. Within the French banlieues, local gang leaders or caids wield an influence strongly reminiscent of the north African village chieftains from whom they borrow their titles. So powerful are such structures in some areas that state representatives— social workers, firefighters, even police—think twice before venturing in. In the phrase devised to describe areas of Irish Republican Army (IRA) control in the Northern Ireland of the 1970s, they have virtually become no-go areas.14

As Muslims are heavily overrepresented among petty thieves and robbers, among gangs and drug dealers, then naturally they contribute heavily to the prison populations of their respective countries. Exact numbers are hard to come by, since France especially, with its traditions of strict secularism, resolutely refuses to identify inmates by faith or ethnicity. Even so, scholar Farhad Khosrokhavar has no hesitation in describing Islam as "France's main prison religion." He suggests that Muslims comprise over half of inmates nationwide, the proportion rising to 80 percent or more in prisons near the banlieues. The overall prison population has grown steeply in recent years, as various administrations have adopted get-tough policies in response to public outcries over street crime. Usually, such waves of draconian sentencing chiefly affect low-level nuisance offenders, particularly petty drug dealers, which in practice means that Muslims are far more likely to be incarcerated. Muslims comprise around 2 percent of the Italian population but 30 percent of the country's prison inmates, with even higher shares in urban prisons such as Milan's Bollate. Nations vary in how far they accommodate Muslim needs, especially in providing appropriate halal food. British prisons do supply halal, but France requires inmates to buy it specially in the commissary, meaning in practice that poorer prisoners are systematically forced to eat forbidden food.15

As for urban black Americans, the prison experience has become a distressingly normal expectation of life for the poor. The result is to foster already strong forces alienating Muslims, and especially the young, from the mainstream society, and to foster new forms of solidarity. Increasingly too, those exposed to criminal and prison subcultures make those values and expectations a normal component of youth culture and of street society. Invisible cities develop their own laws, their own ethics, their own governments.

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