Yet another alarming story about British prisons is told in the Guardian (10/2/2008). The idea that Al Quaeda camps are all elsewhere like Pakistan has hit home, and the role of British prisons evident. Problem appears to be that staff are ill-equipped to cope and other prisoners are likely to reflect the intolerance to Muslims manifest in the population as a whole. This was illustrated by outbursts following even a mention of “Sharia”.
Reading between the lines what is happening is even greater cause for concern. I recounted what happened to an Indian friend and colleague who was Sikh (and doesn’t wear either turban or beard), when after 9/11 someone said “are you a Muslim?” Without waiting for an answer my friend was hit in the mouth losing his teeth as a result. No culprit was found. Prisoners and prison officers it seems are likely to take it out on anyone they might think looks to them like “a Muslim”. In the U.S. Balbir Singh, a turbaned and bearded Sikh was the first to be murdered in the US after 9/11, because someone thought he resembled Bin Laden.
Politicians seem to believe that prisons are the answer to everything, including many vulnerable people. People like Blears, Blunkett et al are entrenched. As Andrew Rawnsley has put it all the leaders of major parties are looking like Blair. Lots of good intentions, but at the end of the day expecting a system based on profit to care about people in services they give may occasionally work, but isn’t the general rule. Bushes peace initiative in the Middle East turned out to be an arms sale bonanza. Bombs and bullets are the language of American foreign policy and Brown hasn’t succeeded in distancing himself from that. His welcoming of Condoleeza Rice panicking over Afghanistan, which Brown has claimed as a “success” story, proved otherwise rather convincingly.