In April, leaks from the review of extremism in prisons, which was commissioned by former British Justice Secretary Michael Gove and conducted by former prison governor Ian Acheson, revealed that Islamic hate literature -- misogynistic and homophobic pamphlets and hate tracts endorsing the killing of apostates -- is freely available on the bookshelves of British prisons. The hate literature is distributed to inmates by Muslim chaplains, who themselves are appointed by the Ministry of Justice.
According to the Daily Mail, a Whitehall source said that the material was kept in prison chaplaincy rooms and was available for anyone to come in and pick it up. The leaked review also found that chaplains at some prisons encouraged inmates to raise money for Islamic charities linked to international terrorism.
The review will finally be released to the public in August, after a long delay due, according to the Daily Mail, to the findings of the review sparking an urgent internal alert, because of the risk of "severe reputational damage" to the Ministry of Justice. Chris Phillips, the former head of the National Counter Terrorism Security Office, a police unit that works closely with the government on its counter-terrorism strategy, warned last year that staff shortages in prisons were making it harder to tackle Islamic radicalization, because extremists were not properly monitored. Then Home Secretary Theresa May rejected the claim by saying that the government was looking at "and continue to look at" preventative measures.
One former prison officer told the BBC that the "problem within prisons now is getting to a critical point", with "many Muslim prisoners basically taking over the law of the prison."
In June, a Muslim cleric told the BBC that a manual used by imams to teach prison inmates about Islam risks "turning people into jihadis." Sheikh Musa Admani, who according to the BBC is a chaplain and expert in interpreting Islamic texts, and has worked extensively on anti-radicalization programs in the UK and abroad, told the BBC that the so-called Tarbiyah programme, used in English and Welsh prisons since 2011, could turn people towards violence and should be withdrawn. A section of the program is on jihad, and it says taking up arms to fight "evil" is "one of the noblest acts." According to the BBC, the Tarbiyah program was co-written by a number of imams and Ahtsham Ali, a prisons adviser to the Ministry of Justice. According to Sheikh Musa Admani:
"This document sets out the steps and then addresses various forms of jihad and then goes on to emphasise a particular type i.e. the killing and the fighting. It incites people to take up arms... It prepares people for violence. It could turn people when they come out of prison, supposedly rehabilitated, back into violence."
Notably, all this is happening despite the fact that the British government's anti-extremism Prevent strategy requires prisons to stop extremists radicalizing inmates. Clearly, that is not going very well.
Ian Acheson presented his findings from the review for the first time on July 13 at a meeting in the Commons Justice Committee. According to the Daily Mail, Acheson said that he found staff lacked the training to confront and deter Islamist extremist ideology, and were often fearful that they would be accused of racism if they did.
Judging by Acheson's words, the review is damning of the National Offender Management Service (the institution in charge of prisons): "The service had made no provision at all to forecast the return of jihadi fighters from Afghanistan or ISIS-controlled territory or anywhere else... I found that quite astonishing."
He also said that there were countless examples of extremist literature being present, while the recruitment, training and supervision of prison imams was "seriously deficient."
Acheson spoke of an "institutional timidity" in "confronting this problem front and central" adding that the "extremism unit" at the National Offender Management Service "lacked an actual strategy to deal with extremism."
He also said, "It seemed more concerned with briefing and collating information than providing robust operational support to the front line."
British authorities are indeed in trouble, if a fear of being called "racist" interferes with their willingness to deal with Islamism.
Hate speech, moreover, is not only being preached in prisons. The young and impressionable are also getting their fair doses at British universities where, in the words of the Express, "Red-carpets [are] laid out for Islam hate preachers at universities and no one challenges them." According to the Express, 27 events at UK universities had radical speakers in just four months, a rise of 35% in just the last year. This welcome exists despite the requirement of all universities to comply with the government's anti-extremist program, Prevent.
According to the Express, the messages peddled at these academic events were contemplations such as "Jews are evil", and a man wanting to marry a Muslim woman, if he did not pray, "should be executed." Those universities in the British capital that hosted the most extreme events were London's School of Oriental and African Studies, King's College, Kingston University, the Institute of Education and University College London.
Among those given a platform at these universities were former Guantanamo inmate Moazzam Begg, director of the lobbying group CAGE, which opposes the British government's anti-terror program, and South African politician Julius Malema -- convicted of a hate crime for claiming a rape victim must have had a "nice time."
In 2014, at least 70 events with Islamic hate preachers took place at British universities.
Under the Prevent strategy, British universities have to put in place policies to stop extremists radicalizing students and ensure they have measures in place to recognize and respond to signs of radicalization among their students. That, too, does not seem to be working very well.
While the British authorities do not seem equipped to deal with Islamic hate speech, they are impressively efficient when it comes to dealing with what they perceive as "Islamophobia." British police acted promptly when Tommy Robinson was recently pictured at the Euro 2016 football championships in France wearing an anti-ISIS T-shirt and holding up an English Saint George Cross flag with "F**k ISIS" written across it.
Upon his return to London, Bedfordshire police immediately charged Robinson with inciting racial hatred and brought an application for a "football banning order" against him. Robinson, a Pegida UK organizer, previously received a three-year football ban, which expired in 2014. He has not been known to be involved in football disturbances since. The application against him claimed that he
"poses a significant risk of both violence and disorder... This is especially so in terms of his established capacity to organise disorder from an anti-Muslim perspective... Despite... recently reported 'good conduct' at Luton Town Football Club, significant concerns remain regarding his intentions and influences upon others to inflame racial hatred in a country where tensions are already high."
Offending a murderous terrorist organization such as ISIS is apparently no longer protected by the rules of free speech and is now considered "inciting racial hatred" against Muslims. Does this, then, mean that British police assume that all Muslims identify with ISIS and are thus in some way victims of "racial hatred" when someone wears a T-shirt or holds up a flag that says "F**k ISIS"?
Not only do British police know how to deal swiftly with other people's "Islamophobia", they also know how to censor their own speech, when need be, in order not to come across as "Islamophobic." At one of the UK's largest shopping centers, during a terror drill designed to be similar to the Paris and Brussels terror attacks, the Greater Manchester police had the fake suicide bomber shout "Allahu Akbar" before detonating a mock device.
For this realistic scenario -- after all, that is what Muslim terrorists shout before they detonate themselves or their bombs -- the Greater Manchester Police were subsequently criticized: The mayor of Greater Manchester and the area's police and crime commissioner, Tony Lloyd, said the operation had been "marred by the ill-judged, unnecessary and unacceptable decision by organisers" to have those playing the parts of terrorists shout the Islamic phrase. "It didn't add anything to the event, but has the potential to undermine the great community relations we have in Greater Manchester."
The new British government has its work cut out for it.
John Richardson is a researcher based in the United States.