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French proposal on radical Muslim inmates criticized

The plan to fight radicalization inside French prisons dismissed as superficial solution

Rajia Aboulkheir

Published: Updated:

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls has proposed separating suspected Muslim radicals from the general prison population, putting them in special cells so they have less influence on other inmates.

Valls said prison authorities would recruit 60 Muslim chaplains to work alongside the existing 182.

Commenting on the proposal, French imam Djelloul Seddiki said the government “isn’t touching the root of the problem.”

Seddiki, who is director of al-Ghazali Institute in charge of forming Muslim chaplains and imams at the Grand Mosque of Paris, added: “Before talking about radicalization of Muslims,” the government needs to ensure “social justice among all citizens, regardless of their religion.”

He was visiting Pope Francis as part of a delegation of French imams when he received the news of the attack on Charlie Hebdo that left 12 people dead.

“Even though there’s no justification for delinquency, if Muslims in ghettos, or banlieus, had jobs and were well integrated in society, they’d have been more likely to respect the values of France and commit less crimes,” Seddiki said.

Banlieus, or suburbs, which are populated by Muslims from French-speaking North African countries, are characterized by low income and high unemployment.

“Marginalizing some Muslims in prisons would be a big mistake that’s likely to increase their hate toward society and lead them to commit more violence once released,” Seddiki said.

“We must give these people the opportunity to communicate, and try to teach them how to behave in French society.”
Muslims account for 7-10 percent of France’s population, but around 60 percent of its prison population, according to French daily Le Figaro.

No precise figures are available due to the prohibition of officially collecting data about people’s religion.

Sonia Kerouani, a Muslim chaplain in Paris who describes herself as a “psychologist for inmates,” proposed cooperation between the government and qualified chaplains to start a program that would help reintegrate Muslim prisoners in society.