We need to talk about radicalisation in prisons

radical-prison-1What have these people in common – current al-Qaeda leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri? British “shoe bomber” Richard Reid? Westminster terrorist, Khalid Masood?

These people were imprisoned, and radicalised whilst serving time in jail. Later, they ran amok.

The threat of radicalisation in jail, because inmates are exposed to extremist ideologies, is a growing phenomenon. It’s a worldwide issue and Malaysia has not been spared.

When someone is imprisoned, most of us tend to think, “Good riddance to bad rubbish” and then forget about the people jailed.

But would you be as blasé if you were told that what happens behind prison walls is something that should concern you? We rarely talk about the threat, much less address it.

On October 9, the Sunday edition of a local daily, carried a report headlined, “Malaysia’s prisons under threat of radicalisation”, which was an exposé of the militant radicalisation by detainees.

Even more worrying was the radicalisation of prison wardens, the report said, which proved that the growing threat is more insidious than we imagined.

The Home Ministry has isolated detainees held for terror-related offences to curb the spread of extremist ideology in prisons. However, the IGP, Mohamad Fuzi Harun, said a 53-year-old suspect had been recruiting convicts and seven prison wardens.

Those radicalised were urged to incite religious and racial conflicts by launching attacks on the places of worship of Christians, Hindus and Muslims.

He said, “We’ve known for quite some time that he had been recruiting inmates, but we couldn’t disclose when it started. Those who have been radicalised have also been identified.”

Security consultant, HM Khen, a firm advocate of “prevention is better than cure” has urged the government to source ways to stop people from being radicalised.

Speaking to FMT, he said, “Countering extremism is a form of psychological warfare.

“Most radical and violent extremist groups lack the resources, expertise and manpower to defeat state actors. Instead, they promote their agenda through violence that shapes the perception of political and social issues.”

He has spoken-out against extremism a number of times, published op-eds and conducted public seminars and training programmes to raise awareness.

Urging the private sector to become more involved, he said, “We can start developing community outreach programmes. The private sector can help deliver messages of peace, tolerance and moderation.

“They can enlist advertising firms, tech companies, public figures, celebrities, the legal fraternity and even popular sports personalities, basically anyone and everyone who may be at the centre of attention, to make this anti-extremism agenda a success.”

Khen stressed that we should address the root cause of extremism instead of wasting time and resources over de-radicalisation programmes.

He firmly believes that local celebrities have an important role to play in conveying the message of peace, and said, “Celebrities have a huge following and many people think they are more reliable than politicians, and have the capability to break the barrier of political distrust.”

He cited the importance of celebrities who have a huge media presence, in condemning terrorist acts and violent extremism, such as October’s mass-shooting in Las Vegas, the June terror attack in London, last year’s mass shooting in an Orlando gay club, and the November 2015 terror attack in Paris.

He said, “When we see a terror attack taking place overseas, for example, celebrities are often the symbol of solidarity and unity. Instead of waiting for the next terror attack to happen, celebrities should speak-up to create public awareness.”

He also praised our sultans and members of the royal household for speaking out against the encroaching Talibanisation of Malaysia.

Mariam Mokhtar is an FMT columnist.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.