The Prison Preacher Problem
by Stephen Schwartz
Nearly to a man, Muslim chaplains in U.S. prisons - federal, state and local - continue to preach and teach the most extreme, radical and fundamentalist interpretation of Islam. The problem's been unmistakable for years - yet the authorities have done next to nothing about it.
It's just the kind of Islam that inspires al Qaeda, and brainwashed inmates are ripe for terrorist recruiting when they get out.
Yet it's civil servants paid out of American public money who are doing the brainwashing.
U.S. prisons, in other words, have adopted the same state religion as Saudi Arabia, home of 15 of the 19 hijackers of 9/11. (Critics call this death cult Wahhabism.)
Why, five years after that atrocity, is American law enforcement paralyzed by the challenge of identifying, analyzing and neutralizing the radical network among American Muslims - even in our own government-run institutions?
Countless U.S. prison chaplains are products of the Saudi Islamic curriculum, at entities like Cordoba University (formerly the Graduate School of Islamic and Social Sciences) in Ashburn, Va., which also trains chaplains for the U.S. armed forces.
Such chaplains are certified by the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), a creation of the Saudis. Incredibly, ISNA is still the only officially recognized certifier of candidates for jobs as chaplains.
Other ultra-radical groups like the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA) act as ideological monitors while also infiltrating the prisons. ICNA is mainly composed of Sunni Muslims from Pakistan, and imposes a conformity to extreme ideology on that ethnic group in America, a silence and complicity with anti-Western attitudes more rigid than that seen among any other group of American Muslims.
Sunnis from Pakistan are already the most volatile jihadist element in the West. And ICNA insists that its members visit correctional institutions and lure Muslim seekers to their own version of the faith - which is a violent variant of Saudi-style fundamentalism.
The danger in this situation cannot be overstated. Radical chaplains hold a monopoly over the spiritual life of Muslims incarcerated in America. These hatemongers have free rein to preach against non-extremist Muslims, non-Muslims and American institutions - and to do so to inmates already alienated from our society.
And make no mistake: The extremists tell the prison Muslim not only that terrorists are heroes and jihad is an obligation, but also that Western law is not binding on them in any area, including common crimes no less than global conspiracies.
Many Americans who embraced Islam while behind bars want to get out of the clutches of such chaplains, finish their prison time and lead respectable lives.
Islam - moderate Islam - certainly can help guide them on a moral path. But our own government instead exposes them to the Saudi death cult.
And what have the authorities done? Nothing significant.
Federal Bureau of Prisons officials offer bland assurances that convicted terrorists are kept in secure locations and under close watch - something nobody doubts.
They also tell the public that chaplains are now adequately screened - but have yet to produce evidence of any changes in a system that provably failed for years. Even if true, this does nothing about the existing caste of Saudi-trained extremists.
Until they're removed, screening will achieve little or nothing.
The fact is, U.S. officials have no idea what to do about this problem. They dread any discussion of specifics about radical Islam, especially the Saudi brand. Some flinch at the thought of accusations that "interfering with personal religious views" flouts the Constitution. Others just don't want to spend the money to remove radical civil servants, resolve employment complaints and recruit a new roster of chaplains.
And others still fear the task of figuring out the differences among Muslims - a job at which few Westerners have distinguished themselves since 9/11.
There is a relatively simple solution to this problem. Prison chaplaincies are supposed to assure the good order of institutions, and to help prisoners achieve their own and others' rehabilitation. Radical Islamist chaplains, by contrast, contemptuously reject any such responsibility as subservience to "unbelieving" rulers: They're not, in fact, qualified for the job.
Federal authorities can and should provide funding, which would not be excessive, for development of a pluralist Islamic curriculum to be used by prison and armed forces chaplains in better educating those interested in Islam as well as those who already adhere to it.
Such a curriculum may support intellectual improvement, like religious-education courses taught by other faiths in this country. It may deepen spirituality and offer new psychological stability to individuals in crisis.
A new system of Islamic teaching and certification can heighten the competency of the chaplains while also assuring their moderation. Federal and state correctional officials should clean the radicals out of the prisons and make sure the chaplains who succeed them are loyal Americans. On the map of radical Islam in America, prisons are too dangerous to ignore.