Islam in prisons

New York is abuzz with the frightening news that an FBI-NYPD task force has arrested four suspects who allegedly planted what they thought were bombs near a synagogue and a Jewish community center. The suspects were initially said to have converted to Islam in prison, a widespread practice.This is leading to assertions that, as Judith Miller put it in her Fox News blog, "militant Islamic terrorist threats in the United States may increasingly be homegrown."I hope we see some nuanced reporting that gives an accurate picture of the role of Islam in prisons before a cartoon-like picture takes hold as a result of this case. Muslim chaplains often play a vital role in prisons - and are frequently stereotyped or misunderstood.I'd also like to see a little more use of the word "allegedly" in the news coverage of this case. The criminal complaint shows that every incriminating act the defendants allegedly undertook was done in the company of a federal informant. I know, the complaint says the informant is reliable. In my years as a reporter in the federal courthouse, I certainly never saw a complaint that said the informant was unreliable - but some of them turned out to be. I would like to know a bit more about that informant before drawing any conclusion on whether this case is an example of homegrown terrorism or a case of an informant egging on a group of common criminals. The press releases have barely cooled off from the heat of the photocopy machines, and there are already conflicting reports on the suspects' religious backgrounds.

Paul Moses, a contributing writer at Commonweal, is the author of The Saint and the Sultan: The Crusades, Islam and Francis of Assisi's Mission of Peace (Doubleday, 2009) and An Unlikely Union: The Love-Hate Story of New York's Irish and Italians (NYU Press, 2015). Follow him on Twitter @PaulBMoses. 

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