Would-Be Citizens Face Britishness Test

AMIT ROY Foreigners who want to apply for British nationality will have to pass a Britishness test from tomorrow, the home office announced today. Out of 24 multiple choice questions, candidates will have to get three-quarters right before being eligible to apply for British nationality. The idea, which has gained momentum after the London bombings of June 7, is to create a society in which people feel proud to belong to Britain. Tony McNulty, Tony Blair’s immigration minister, said today: Becoming a British citizen is a milestone event in an individual’s life. He explained: The measures we are introducing today will help new citizens to gain a greater appreciation of the civic and political dimension of British citizenship and, in particular to understanding the rights and responsibilities that come with the acquisition of British citizenship. While urging people to become more British, the government has pursued policies which is having the opposite effect. It is allowing the setting up of faith schools, mainly Muslim, within the state system. Their supporters have argued that if Christians and Jews can have their own schools, Muslims, too, should be allowed the same right. While this argument has intellectual force, it does encourage children to grow up without developing natural friendships with pupils from other faiths. There are a couple of Hindu schools and a Sikh one is in the pipeline. But Hindus and Sikhs seem less enthusiastic about sending their children to faith schools. On the other hand, a whole generation of Indian immigrants, mainly women, has lived in Britain for more than 30 years without bothering to learn English. The same is true of Pakistanis, notably Mirpuris, in Bradford and other cities in Yorkshire and the West Midlands. As for the Britishness test, foreigners will have to pay _34 to sit the 45-minute exam, which can be taken at any one of 90 centres through the country. Those who fail can take the computer-based exam again and again. The Life in the UK test, based on a handbook, is intended to examine a candidate’s knowledge of everyday life in the country in such areas as British regional accents, the Church of England, the courts and the telephone system. Sample Questions Revealed Today Are Of The Type: _ Where are the Geordie, Cockney, and Scouse dialects spoken? What are MPs? What is the Church of England and who is its head? _ What is the Queen’s official role and what ceremonial duties does she have? Do many children live in single parent families or step-families? _ Which of these courts uses a jury system? Magistrates’ Court? Crown Court? Youth Court? County Court. _ Is the statement below true or false? Your employer can dismiss you for joining a trade union. _ Which two telephone numbers can be used to dial the emergency services? 112? 123? 555? 999? _ Which of these statements is correct? A television licence is required for each television in a home. A single television licence covers all televisions in a home. (Answers to the last four questions are: 1. Crown Court 2. False 3. 112 and 999 4. A single television licence covers all televisions in a home) Last year more than 110,000 people were awarded British citizenship, according to the home office.

Senior British Muslim Warns On Terror Laws

By MICHAEL McDONOUGH LONDON – A prominent British Muslim warned lawmakers Monday that proposals for tough new anti-terror laws could undermine the Muslim community’s willingness to cooperate in fighting terror. Abdurahman Jafar, a senior member of the Muslim Council of Britain, expressed concern about the Terror Bill, which was drawn up in the wake of the July attacks on London’s transit system. The bill would extend the maximum 14-day detention for terror suspects without charge to three months, outlaw attending terrorist training camps and make it an offense to glorify or encourage terrorism. Addressing a meeting of Parliament’s joint committee on human rights, Jafar told lawmakers that he feared a “really horrific counter-productive effect” from the bill, partly because of the proposed glorification offense. He said the measure threatens to merge “the issue of illegitimate attacks against peaceful democracies, with legitimate acts of resistance against illegitimate regimes around the world.” Jafar, who is vice chairman of the legal affairs committee of the Muslim Council of Britain, also voiced concern about the plans to lengthen the detention period for terror suspects who haven’t been charged. He said the legislation risked weakening the wider Muslim community’s commitment to fight terrorism in the wake of the July 7 attacks, which killed 52 commuters and four suicide bombers, who were devout Muslims. The House of Commons voted last week to back the Terror Bill. But before the bill can become law, it faces further scrutiny by a committee of lawmakers, a further vote in the Commons, and votes in parliament’s upper chamber, the House of Lords.

Popular Tv Host Calls America A ‘Judeo-Christian Country’

By Khalid Hasan WASHINGTON: American Muslims have expressed outrage following the assertion by popular right-wing Fox News host Bill O’Reilly that Muslim holidays should not be observed since America is a Judeo-Christian country. On the October 27 edition of Fox News’ The O’Reilly Factor, host Bill O’Reilly called the idea of closing public schools for the observance of Muslim holidays _absurd’. He made the remark during a discussion with Hillsborough County (Florida) Commissioner Brian Blair, who opposed the Hillsborough County School board’s decision to keep public schools open on Yom Kippur and Good Friday during the 2006-07 school year, a departure from the school district’s earlier practice of closing schools on those days. In December 2004, Hillsborough County Muslims, with the backing of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), asked the school board to close schools on the Muslim holiday of Eid-ul-Fitr. Instead of giving students the day off on Eid-ul-Fitr, the school board voted to keep schools open on Yom Kippur and Good Friday during the 2006-2007 school year, arguing that the school district could close schools on days when a substantial number of students would be absent, but could not close schools specifically for the observance of religious holidays. Students however can take the day off on such occasions. In his discussion on the question with Blair, Bill O’Reilly said, So a Muslim wanted a Muslim holiday, which is absurd in a Judeo-Christian country. I mean we can’t be having Hindu and Buddha. I mean, come on. I mean this country is founded on Judeo-Christian traditions. Those traditions have been in play for more than 200 years. Christmas is a federal holiday. You know, somebody walks in and says, _Well, I just moved here and I want, you know, this Shinto shrine.’ And you’re going, _Well, look, this is a traditional American situation that we’ve done for hundreds of years.’ But now you knocked it out.

Dutch Virtue Of Tolerance Under Strain

By Roger Cohen AMSTERDAM In the Dutch interiors painted by the great artists of the Golden Age, all appears in order: the ruffs of white linen and polished surfaces speak of a luminous calm. But often a furtive glance caught in a mirror, or a keyhole view of another world, suggests a charged tension behind the elegance. The Netherlands today can still offer a picturesque tranquillity, with its swarms of straight-backed bike riders and its canals reflected in the handsome windows of gabled homes. But cut a keyhole through Dutch decorum and violence appears: a filmmaker shot and stabbed by an Islamic fanatic, politicians in hiding from jihadist threats, a newspaper columnist menaced into silence, people living in fear. Immigration, particularly of Muslims, has long been an issue in Europe, a challenge to overburdened welfare systems and to the self-image of countries where every village hoists a church spire to the sky. But what was once a subject of worthy debate is now more a matter of survival. Nowhere is this more evident than in the Netherlands, where a familiar European combination of troubled history and quiet hypocrisy, wrapped in a veneer of tolerance, has yielded unexpected bloodshed. “We see that our much-vaunted tolerance toward immigrants was often just indifference and we are left wondering: What have we become?” said Job Cohen, the mayor of Amsterdam. The murders, in 2002 and 2004 respectively, of the taboo-trampling politician Pym Fortuyn and the Islam-bashing movie director Theo van Gogh have left the Dutch bereft of certainties. They are not alone in their questioning. Islam is now of Europe, a European religion. But Europe, after terrorist killings in Madrid and Amsterdam and London, sees more threat than promise in the immigrant tide from its Muslim fringes. Geert Wilders is a rightist member of the Dutch Parliament living in a secret location under police protection because Islamic radicals say they will kill him. That, in what was until recently the placid Western democracy par excellence, is extraordinary. “All non-Western immigration must be stopped,” Wilders said. “Pure Islam is violent.” Other politicians, like Cohen, see the solution more in building bridges than barriers. They argue, like Tony Blair and George W. Bush, that a perversion of Islam, not Islam itself, threatens the West. But nobody, even in laid-back Amsterdam, is indifferent to immigration any longer. That Europe needs immigrants, and that they will seek to come from adjacent North Africa and other poor Muslim areas, is evident. It needs them to do jobs, from asparagus picking to care of the elderly, that others do not want to do. […]

American Muslims May Exceed U.S. Pledge For Pakistan

News Report, Jehangir Khattak NEW YORK – The American Muslim community is expected to raise more funds for the victims of earthquake that struck Pakistan, Kashmir and Afghanistan on Oct. 8, than the $50 million dollars in aid pledged so far by the United States government. More than a dozen national Muslim organizations and groups have already raised $20 million in relief aid for the earthquake victims in Pakistan and Pakistan-controlled Kashmir. During interviews with the Muslims Weekly, managers of these Islamic and Pakistani relief groups and community organizations sounded upbeat while claiming an overwhelming response to the huge disaster of unimaginable proportions in Pakistan and Azad Kashmir that has killed 54,197 people as of Oct. 26. As the donations of money, food, medical supplies and other needed goods continue to be made by individuals and mosques around the country, the long-term contribution from this minority group is expected to climb beyond the initial $50 million aid package offered by the U.S. government. Some Muslims are fearful of donating money to Islamic organizations which the U.S. government could investigate for terrorist connections so have contributed large sums to the International Committee of the Red Cross, Mercy international and many American and United Kingdom groups. If those sums are included in the total donations, then the Muslims community’s pledges might already exceed the government’s aid package. After 9/11 American Muslims and Muslim charity organizations in the U.S. came under extreme government scrutiny and a number of leading charity organizations were closed. Such actions spurred fear among American Muslims that the government may charge unknowing donors for “funding terrorism,” according to the Council on American Islamic Relations in a research titled, “American Muslims: One Year after 9-11.” Some non-Muslim aid organizations have complained in recent days that donations for the earthquake disaster have been lower than expected, blaming the low charity in the U.S. on “donor fatigue” following relief efforts in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the tsunami last year. But reports from Muslim organizations do not express concern. “We have received a very positive and encouraging response from the Pakistani community and the larger Muslim and non-Muslim community,” Salar Rizivi of the Islamic Relief, which has pledged $10 million dollars aid for the quake victims, told Muslims Weekly over telephone from Burbank, California. He said the Islamic Relief had so far allocated a total of $4 million for the relief effort. “We are receiving constant feedback from our field offices in Pakistan and are sending the relief items accordingly,” Rizvi said. Islamic Relief sent a plain load of tents, blankets, hygiene and first aid kits to Pakistan from Salt Lake City on Monday, Oct. 17. It intends to send more relief goods in the coming days. Last year Islamic Relief-USA raised around $14 million from predominantly Muslim donors for projects in South America, Iraq, Palestinian refugee camps, Egypt, Chechnya, Pakistan and China, etc. The Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA) Relief that had initially pledged a million dollar relief effort has now revised its pledge. “ICNA Relief is planning to raise $10 million for short and long-term Adopt the Village Rehabilitation Works,” the organization said in a statement. ICNA Relief is sending medicines worth $1.2 million (one of the most expensive consignments to leave for Relief from USA) to the region. “Besides this consignment, we have so far dispatched medicines worth $200,000 to the disaster hit regions in Pakistan and Azad Kashmir,” said Irfan Khursheed, Director ICNA Relief. The Pakistani community organizations, Islamic Centers and mosques across the country are also receiving overwhelming response from the community. The holy month of Ramadan is one reason for the surge in donations during which Muslims give Zakat (alm) to the poor and the needy. The over a dozen Muslim organizations that have announced the $20 million donation have joined hands under the umbrella of a permanent body called the American Muslim Taskforce for Disaster Relief (AMTFDR). It sent a letter to President George W. Bush, calling for forming an ad-hoc committee to offer coordinated relief to the quake victims, according to the U.S. Department of State’s information bureau. “The AMTFDR pledge effort is a cooperative attempt by the American Muslim community to provide relief in the most efficient and most abundant manner possible for the brothers and sisters of humanity that have suffered as the result of the significant earthquake in South Asia,” Ahmed Younis, director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, told a press conference while announcing the donation in Washington.

Cameron Tries Reaching Out To Muslims

David Hogg TORY leadership candidate David Cameron yesterday warned his party to engage with Britain’s Muslim community but was immediately accused of offering little more for ethnic minorities than the Government. On a whistlestop tour of West Yorkshire, Mr Cameron met community leaders at the Leeds Islamic Centre to discuss the aftermath of the July bombings in London and their response to the South Asia earthquake. Offering a number of ideas designed to prevent alienation of British Muslims, but lacking any sweeping policy initiatives, the Witney MP failed to impress after he was challenged over his stance on the war in Iraq. When asked by Arshad Hanif, 45, whether he was in favour of the war Mr Cameron said: “I did support the war. I thought it was the right decision at the time. I don’t think there’s a link between 7/7 and the Iraq war.” He added: “Clearly some people make a link between the war in Iraq and the anger they feel but there is absolutely no justification for turning that anger into violence.” Mr Hanif, who sat with other Asian leaders in a semi-circle either side of the Tory leadership contender, said: “He wasn’t giving us a clear choice between himself and Mr Blair. It is troublesome that he is saying that the war in Iraq was not related to what happened in London.” Mr Cameron also said more could be done to encourage Muslims to join the Conservatives party and stand as MPs.

Another German State To Curb Hijab; North Rhine-Westphalia Is The Latest State To Target The Hijab

Germany’s most populous state has moved to ban Muslim teachers from wearing headscarves in classrooms. Deputies from the ruling Christian Democrats and Free Democrats in the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia agreed unanimously on Tuesday to put the measure to a vote in the state legislature in November. “With the ban, we will send a message to affirm our system of values against Islamic fundamentalism,” the head of the Free Democrats’ parliamentary group, Gerhard Papke, said. The regional education ministry said there were 20 Muslim teachers known to wear headscarves (hijab) at public schools in the state. Headscarf bans for teachers have already been introduced in the German states of Hesse, Lower Saxony, Baden-Wuerttemberg, Bavaria and Saarland. In Hesse the ban applies to all civil servants. However, the rules stop short of banning school pupils from wearing Islamic headscarves. Germany is home to more than three million Muslims.

For Britain’s Muslims, Uneasy Days

By H.D.S. Greenway I met Sher Khan in a caf_ near Leicester Square. It was Ramadan, so, although I had a coffee, he made do with nothing, waiting until sundown to break the fast that is obligatory for observant Muslims the world over. Khan was born here, but his family came from Bangladesh. His day job is in investments, but he works with the Islamic Society of Britain, an umbrella group that keeps tabs on how Muslims are faring in Britain. According to Khan, the minority problem in Britain used to be perceived in racial terms more than religious. But since 9/11, and especially since the suicide bombings of July, “we have a new identity marker, Muslim.” But Khan is quick to say that, although the majority of Muslims in Britain may originally have come from the Indian subcontinent, there are Arabs, Africans, Central Asians. Since the British empire was more diverse than other empires, so are the Muslims of Britain today. Khan and other British Muslims I have talked to mostly say that Britain is as good a place as any in which to be a minority. Since the English had to first absorb the Scots and the Welsh, and some of the Irish, multiculturalism had a head start here, they say. And just as Scots and Welsh are always annoyed when foreigners lump them together with the English, so does Sher Khan remark that even here in Britain, Muslims are lumped together as one. More often than not, ethnicity trumps religion among Muslims in Britain. Bangladeshis, on the whole, are further down on the social scale – and more discriminated against – than people from Pakistan, I have been told. Other Muslims, such as the Arabs, have felt swamped by the total numbers of those who came from Pakistan and Bangladesh, and some complain that most of the Muslim organizations are run by Pakistanis who, they say, don’t really speak for them. In France, the Muslim population is more homogeneous, for, although you find Muslims from every climate, North Africans predominate following the retreat of the French empire. Some Muslims have found it easier to adjust to the majority culture than others. Professor Philip Lewis, who teaches at Bradford University’s Department of Peace Studies, for example, told me that a very large proportion of Muslims in his former mill town, as well as in Britain as a whole, originally came from a few villages in Pakistani-controlled Kashmir, according to Lewis, not far from the epicenter of the recent earthquake. They were originally rural people who might have had difficulty adjusting to life in Karachi, never mind in Britain. They have kept a very close-knit community, with even British-born second and third generations sending back to the old country for their imams and even for their spouses, making it harder for them to integrate. Lewis contrasts the Kashmiris to the Indians and Pakistanis who were expelled from East Africa. Having adjusted to being a minority once, the latter were more adept at it the second time around. Is it harder for Muslims to adjust in Britain than other minorities? Faisal Bodi, a freelance writer, says maybe it is. “Our two popular soaps, ‘East Enders’ and ‘Coronation Street,’ both take place in pubs, for example, and it is difficult for an observant Muslim to relate to the pub culture.” According to Sher Khan, the goal in Britain should be integration, not assimilation as in France. “Assimilation always requires a measure of coercion,” he says. Most British Muslims are feeling the post-suicide bombing heat, however, as the government rushes to introduce even tougher antiterrorism laws. Some of these proposals have been questioned by legal authorities, and it is hard to miss the uneasiness that British Muslims are beginning to feel. I asked Fred Halliday, a terrorism expert at the London School of Economics, what he thought about the new legislation. He said that such laws were necessary only to make people feel good. Governments had to show that they were “doing something,” but as for thwarting terrorism, such laws are useless. What it takes is “good police work and luck.” Terrorists, Halliday said, come from a tiny, transnational minority who, from perceived injustices and humiliations in their formative years, have found an answer in extremism – not unlike the way youths were drawn to and recruited by the Communist Party. “They want to change the world,” and understanding them has as much to do with the psychology of young people as it does with Islam.

Lodi Highlights Battle Over America’s Mosques

LODI, Calif.–Though FBI vehicles and small-engine aircraft no longer circle the town, Muslims in Lodi, Calif., still feel under siege. Four months after the government launched a highly public terrorism investigation that ensnared five Pakistani men here in June, the community is still reeling, not just from the pressures stemming from the federal probe, but also from a pre-existing split in the community that some say the FBI exploited. “Everyone is just kind of hiding their head under the sand, hoping the storm will pass,” says Taj Khan, an outspoken Pakistani Muslim leader in Lodi. Father and son Umer and Hamid Hayat, alleged to have ties to a terrorist training camp in Pakistan, now await trial in Sacramento County Jail. Local Muslim clerics Muhammed Adil Khan and Shabbir Ahmed and Adil Khan’s 19-year-old son selected to depart for Pakistan in August instead of fighting immigration violation charges. Equally contentious, though, is that the Farooqia Islamic Center, a Muslim school and community center Adil Khan and his prot_g_ Ahmed were planning, is now all but defunct. And those heading the existing mosque are not shedding any tears over its demise. Such conflicts within American mosques are becoming increasingly common as Muslim communities grapple with conflicting ideologies regarding “women, interfaith events, the West, education, civic service and marriage,” says Asra Nomani, activist and author of “Standing Alone in Mecca.” “Pakistan is undergoing a fierce battle for the hearts and minds of its people. It’s natural that this flows into immigrant communities,” Nomani says. Pakistanis have made Lodi their home for almost a century, and since 1978, the Lodi Muslim Mosque, an inconspicuous yellow building that was once a Jehovah’s Witness Hall, has served an estimated 500 members from a community of 2,500. Men relax on the mosque veranda between scheduled prayers, and boys in Pakistani tunics play basketball across the street. Females are not barred from entering the mosque, mosque members say, but the facility is not large enough to accommodate women, who traditionally pray in separate lines behind the men. Few Pakistani women are to be seen there or in other public places in Southeast Lodi, where many in the community live. Planners of the Farooqia Islamic Center envisioned an 18-acre establishment where women’s education programs, K-4 schooling and interfaith gatherings could be held. Adil Khan, who immigrated to Lodi from Pakistan in the spring of 2001 and was named mosque imam shortly thereafter, kick-started the project, organizing conferences with local Christian and Jewish leaders in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks and publicly signing a “declaration of peace” with a rabbi and reverend. “I think the most important thing it would have brought is more open communication between Muslims and non-Muslims,” says Pamela Parvez, 48, a white Muslim from nearby Stockton who converted 20 years ago. “But it would also be nice to have a place where women can go … to read the Quran, to study Islam together.” County supervisors halted the Farooqia project on Sept. 27, citing land-use concerns. Parvez and other supporters — Taj Khan, in particular — blame the project’s defeat primarily on the terror allegations, but also on leaders of the existing mosque. Three months before Adil Khan’s arrest, in March, Lodi Muslim Mosque president Mohammed Shoaib and others sued Adil Khan and four other Farooqia organizers for $200,000, alleging fraud and deceit in the group’s fund raising, notably its sale of the mosque-owned land, which Adil Khan used to finance the purchase of a separate 18-acre plot for the center. In their suit, Shoaib and his faction indicated that Adil Khan had overstayed his religious worker visa. Taj Khan has steered the Farooqia project in Adil Khan’s absence, and his supporters claim Shoaib deliberately provoked the imams’ arrests. Shoaib denies that accusation, blaming the imams themselves for attracting the FBI. “If you believe in the justice system here, the court has convicted them,” he says. Taj Khan, who now attends a mosque in Stockton that advertises “Friday prayers for women also,” is now one of several plaintiffs suing Shoaib and others on the mosque board claiming the president resigned in 2004 and has no authority over the governing body. “These people are being used by FBI,” Taj Khan says. “They plan and conspire and do stuff against the rest of members of the community.” Author Asra Nomani says adding federal investigators into this kind of religious dispute makes conditions ripe for the kind of back-stabbing that occurred in Lodi. “People point fingers at each other trying to stoke this fear of Muslims,” she says. “It’s like walking on egg shells.” Both cases are still pending in San Joaquin Superior Court. Regardless of their outcome, they have revealed in the community a deep divide. Taj Khan says that most of Lodi’s Muslims backed the plans for a more open mosque, but that Shoaib and his supporters, many of whom are related, disliked the project’s progressive aims. “They’re following the Wahabi sect in Saudi Arabia, and other people don’t like that,” Khan says. Shoaib says that his opponents have mislabeled him, and that Adil Khan, an educated native of metropolitan Karachi, was an interloper who did not respect community members from the poorer districts of Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier province, where most Lodi Muslims have their roots. “We’re not against women, not against another mosque,” he protests. “We’re against the way it is being run.” Whatever their differences, Khan and Shoaib agree on one thing: that the lasting feud has kept the community from regrouping. In mid-August, organizers called off an annual Pakistani Independence Day celebration in recognition of Adil Khan’s and Ahmed’s detention. Shoaib says that was a missed opportunity to show non-Muslims that the community had nothing to hide. Outside attempts to bring Lodi’s Muslim community together have faltered, as well. A proposed “Million Muslim March” — promoted by Lodi Mayor John Beckman and local conservative radio show host Mark Williams as a way to affirm the community’s stance against terrorism — was scrapped in July due to community division, Beckman said. The Council of Sacramento Valley Islamic Organizations organized talks to patch the rift, but they too fell through, says Shoaib. Reconciliation does not appear likely amid unresolved lawsuits and the imminent terrorism trial, according to six-year mosque member Sultan Afsar. “The wounds are too deep to be healed,” he says.

Italian Prison Warily Allows Muslims To Pray; European Jails Often Are Breeding Grounds For Radical Islam

Milan — The guards, heavy brass keys swinging from their belts, open and shut the metal gates to each floor of the labyrinthine Bollate prison as the Muslim call to prayer echoes in the corridors. Prisoners rush to the makeshift mosques that have sprouted in every building. At the end of the hall on the fourth floor of Building 1, a hand-lettered paper sign proclaims, in Italian, “moschea” — mosque. Furnishings inside are sparse, just three green prayer rugs, pointing eastward, and on the wall a plaque with verses from the Quran. Abdelfattah Jendoubi, serving a sentence on drug charges, throws on a dishdasha shirt, pulls off his shoes and makes his way to the room. The 42-year-old Tunisian is joined by two other men. He is apologetic, saying turnout is better on Fridays. Generally, though, younger Muslims in the prison are not very religious, he says. He hopes to change that. “I want to teach the young beautiful things,” he says, but it is unclear whether authorities, who lack Arabic speakers to monitor his preaching, would agree with his definition of beauty. “They have to change their lives. God wants them to leave the life of crime.” Jendoubi’s mission is a difficult one: reaching out to the young men confined within these sterile walls on the outskirts of a city known the world over as Italy’s vibrant fashion capital. About 30 percent of the inmates in Bollate are Muslim, officials say; that’s in a country where Muslims make up just 2 percent of the population of 58 million, although there is a higher concentration of them in northern Italy around Milan. Their burgeoning numbers in prison are a reproach to Europe’s efforts to integrate its immigrants, and a boost to radical imams and hard-core militants who use cellblocks to attract followers and spread a doctrine of violence. Many of the Muslim inmates in Bollate arrived in Italy alone, sometimes as young as 14, hoping to find an uncle or a cousin, or even a distant relative, and burdened with the overly optimistic expectations of their family back in Morocco, or Tunisia or Algeria. Once in Italy, they can find themselves trapped in a vicious circle. Unable to obtain proper work and residency documents, they live on the fringes, perhaps turning to crime to survive. Marginalized in society, they are doubly marginalized in prison, outsiders in an institution where Italian clout and influence are supreme. Their hopes of sending money to families who sacrificed to send them to Europe are vanquished. They probably will be deported, and going home as ex-cons will bring shame. That fate probably awaits Bilel Sefir, an inmate with an air of quiet desperation. Sefir left his native Tunisia for France four years ago, when he was 17. After a couple of years he moved to Italy, thinking, mistakenly, that it would be easier to obtain residency papers. Alone but for a friend who had come with him from France, he found odd jobs as a plumber and was able to support himself for about a year, until he was arrested in a crackdown on drug dealers. “I made a big mistake,” he says in a voice barely above a whisper. Tall but slight, with wavy dark hair, Sefir received a relatively short sentence of 14 months and expects to be sent back to Tunisia after his release. Like Jendoubi, he takes some comfort in his faith. Sefir says he is able to pray five times a day, as devout Muslims do, with little trouble. In fact, he finds it easier to pray inside jail than outside, where mosques are far away and tolerance more rare. “I have the time,” he says. “Once in a while, other prisoners make fun of me and ask me why I do it the way I do and why do I keep praying. But most people are respectful. “I pray mostly that God forgives me for what I’ve done.” Jendoubi, in his quest to save souls, sees far more hardened cases in Bollate. A greater number of young Muslim men in the prison are like Mohammed Derrag, 23, a heavily tattooed Moroccan. He does not pray at all, saying, “This is not the moment.” Derrag is caught between his family and heritage, which he acknowledges he has betrayed with his criminal ways, and the gritty world in which he survives. “I was born a Muslim and always will be a Muslim,” he says. “But my family prays. Not me.” Even some young immigrants who seem destined for better things can get caught up in a hard-luck underground. As baby-faced as Derrag is tough, Yunis Qabili, 19, landed in jail after being caught with friends who had drugs. Unlike most other inmates, Qabili has lived more than half his life in Italy with his parents and siblings, who arrived legally from Morocco. The teenager, who says he speaks better Italian than Arabic, worked as a mechanic. But he fell in with a bad crowd, and now he just wants to do his time (a year), get out and finish high school. “The police will say they don’t (discriminate), but I think they look more for Moroccans,” Qabili says, narrowing his eyes and taking a long drag on his cigarette. Mirroring friction on the streets, relations between Italian and immigrant prisoners are often strained. A recent — and not uncommon — brawl landed several inmates in the infirmary. In the prison’s gyms, cafeteria and library, the inmates usually divide into cliques. Muslims lift weights and exercise together, and share pork-free meals. Bulletin boards advertise Italian lessons for Arabic speakers. The library has copies of the Quran — as well as works by the Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci, known of late for her anti-Muslim screeds. For a while, the prison employed “cultural mediators” who could translate both language and cultural sensitivities, but there’s no budget for them anymore. None of the inmates at Bollate talks about waging jihad; one youth recoils physically and begins to shake when asked. But authorities in Italy, Spain, Britain and elsewhere in Europe are all too aware of the ease with which prison populations have become fodder for militant networks operating in their midst. Throughout Europe, some suspects in notorious cases, including the recent London bombings, are said to have been radicalized in prison, and a number of terrorist plots are known to have been hatched behind bars. Muktar Said Ibrahim, an Eritrean immigrant arrested in a failed bombing attempt in London in late July, obtained British citizenship in September 2004 despite having served a five-year prison sentence for armed robberies. He found Islam in the same penitentiary where radical imams converted Richard Reid, the convicted shoe-bomber of Jamaican descent imprisoned in the United States for trying to blow up a Paris-to-Miami flight. And so the delicate balance for wardens such as Lucia Castellano at Bollate is allowing inmates to practice their faith without letting the institution be used to recruit and indoctrinate extremists. “I’m a little scared of the imams,” she says. “They don’t speak Italian, we can’t understand them, and in Milan that can be quite dangerous.” As a consequence, and in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, she has banned imams from outside the prison. Milan has long been known as a center of radical Islam, and one of its principal mosques was named by U.S. and Italian authorities as a likely European headquarters for al Qaeda. Instead, Castellano allows the Muslims in each cellblock to appoint an imam from among themselves. Still, the inability to understand the language being spoken in many cells is worrisome, says Castellano, a red-haired native of Naples, one of Italy’s toughest cities. Her office is decorated with Andy Warhol prints of Marilyn Monroe on one wall, a crucifix on another. “Each of my head guards can tell me who the boss (of the Muslim inmates) is on each floor,” she says. “It does not mean that they are terrorists, but they are organized. We are paying attention. We are watching.” But the warden and her guards can only guess at what devout prisoners such as Jendoubi are preaching. On the fourth floor of Building 1, Italian inmates are giving hard looks to the trio of Muslims gathered to pray in the room designated as a mosque. They keep their distance, smoking cigarettes. Jendoubi, the Tunisian, says he avoid
s the Italian inmates. But he praises the prison for allowing the Muslim inmates to pray. A carpenter by trade who has lived many years in Italy, he was not religious when he was sent to prison, he says, but has used his time in the three years since to study the Quran. Now he prays 12 times a day, sometimes rising well before dawn to do so. “I didn’t pray before,” says Jendoubi, who has a thin, graying beard. “But as I read more, I saw it was the right way.” On this particular midday, another Tunisian calls out the summons to prayer. He, Jendoubi and a third man then move inside the one-room mosque. The three men kneel on the small rugs and pray. They bow eastward, toward a window looking out on the cold gray concrete of the prison, and the walls topped with barbed wire.