Sunday, 20 December 2009

Whose terrorism? What terror?

My research focuses on mid-nineteenth-century punishment. In political, philosophical and public discourses of the period the word "terror" is used routinely to describe the purpose of state punishment. Punishment it was claimed needed to terrorise the lower classes as the only way to stop them committing crime.

Today terror is a word linked with the activities of terrorists. We, it is claimed, live in daily threat from evil terrorists who, if given the chance, will seek to destroy us and our loved ones. We must be vigilant and seek out potential terrorists, particularly in non-white communities. Underpinning these violent criminals is Islamic radicalisation. To fight this good fight 'we' invest £3.5billion on 'our' intelligence and security services.

This month it was revealed that Terror Police are to monitor nurseries for Islamic radicalisation. A West Midlands counter terrorism unit has e-mailed community groups claiming: "Evidence suggests that radicalisation can take place from the age of 4.” What evidence is yet to be specified but the highly trained unit has advised their sophisticated techniques include looking out for children who draw pictures of bombs. But will they be equally concerned with pictures of bombs dropped on civilians by British planes? Or will that be regarded as patriotic?

One of the main reasons why young Muslim women and men are vulnerable to radicalism is the racism they experience in our society. One place people of Asian decent have had to face racism at its most brutal is in the prison system. All to often it is exactly the type of racist treatment that makes radicalisation much more likley.

The so called war on terror has resulted in an intensification of the racist treatment of asian and other prisoners. I recieved a copy of this appeal from Sunny Nasir Ahmed which illustrates how whilst millions are wasted on counter terrorist police investigating nursary children the prison service is working hard to radicalise prisoners.
I want to highlight an incident that has seriously affected my situation in prison. Firstly, allow me to put what happened into context. I am serving a ten year sentence. Since my conviction I have been exemplary in my behaviour and incurred no disciplinary reports or adverse intelligence reports prior to the incident I am about to describe. I am of Pakistan origin, although until relatively recently had not experienced any discriminatory treatment in prison or ill-treatment at the hands of other prisoners.

Then in February 2008 I began to feel targeted by a small group of prisoners who began to behave in a racist way towards me. Rather than confront them and risk an escalation of the problem I requested a cell change to another area of the prison. This was eventually granted. Very soon after this my cell was subjected to a special search by security staff, which confused me because such searches are only ever carried out because of definite information or intelligence received. No explanation was given to me for the search and I simply hoped that it would not adversely affect my progress in prison.

In about June of 2009 a prisoner called Mohammed Sadique was released from the jail's segregation unit and allocated a cell close to mine. Mr Sadique, a young second-generation Pakistani from a small town in Stirlingshire, had been convicted of down-loading what had been described as "terrorist material" from the internet. There was some controversy surrounding Mr Sadique's conviction and a view that far from being an authentic terrorist, he was in fact a naive and impressionable young man who had been guilty of little more than stupidly viewing and downloading material from websites that in the current political climate are considered extremely risqué. Within Glenochil prison Mr Sadique was considered quite a vulnerable prisoner because of the general mood against Muslim extremists; although in reality Sadique could hardly be described as such.

I formed a friendship with Mr Sadique because of our shared ethnic background and because we attended the Muslim class together and also worked together in the same work shed. Prisoners in this work shed often took without permission various items from the shed and used them for their own personal use, such as sticky tape and magnets, etc. This was common practice and prisoners found in possession of such items were usually given warnings or sometimes placed on disciplinary reports for being in possession of unauthorised articles.

In August 2009 Mr Sadique took a roll of sticky tape and two small magnets from the work shed and then casually left them in my cell. Considering them of no great importance I left them on open display in my cell and thought no more about it. During a routine superficial cell search they were discovered by staff and I was placed on report for being in possession of unauthorised items. At the subsequent disciplinary hearing I pleaded guilty and was given 3 days in segregation and 10 loss of privileges, a fairly standard punishment for the offence.

However, the following day I was seen by a governor who this time subjected me to intense questioning along the lines of: "Who are you intending to harm?", "Are you planning to escape?", "Did you intend to construct a bomb?" I was totally confused and extremely unnerved by this and protested that I was innocent of such accusations. Nevertheless, I was made subject to "special security measures", such as placed on the "escape risk" category, placed on closed visits with immediate family only, and placed on "high supervision level". I was also held in isolation for an unspecified period of time, during which I was photographed. Stories were also leaked to the tabloids about a "terrorist conspiracy" inside the prison that involved Mohammed Sadique, who at the time was awaiting an appeal against his conviction. The picture presented was of Muslim prisoners engaged in the manufacture of bombs inside the prison. The reality was something completely different and the truth is that had the items concerned been discovered in the cell of white prisoners a completely different interpretation would have been put on it. Because I am a Muslim of Asian background it was automatically assumed that I must be involved in terrorist activity, especially as I shared a prison friendship with a young Asian man who has been reviled and denigrated by the media as a professional terrorist. Unarguably, racism has influenced my treatment.

In September 2009 I was finally released back into the prison mainstream and over time there took place a gradual acknowledgement on the part of the Glenochil administration that the "terrorist conspiracy" was in fact a load of utter nonsense. Open visits were returned to me and I was taken off the high supervision level. But my situation in prison has now changed completely and I am treated differently by both staff and prisoners. Despite the quiet acceptance that I was guilty of nothing, officially the claim is that I was segregated because of my alleged involvement in unspecified "subversive activities". Inevitably, this will impact upon my ability to progress to an open jail or my chances of parole. The attitude of most prison staff and prisoners is that there is no smoke without fire, and so I am now viewed by many as a potential terrorist, which increases the mood of racism against me. In a sense, I can be fairly philosophical about the attitude of prisoners, who on the whole are poorly educated and therefore easily influenced by crude racist ideas. But I am less accepting of the behaviour of the prison authorities who misused their power to taint me as a terrorist purely because I happened to be a prisoner of colour and of the Muslim faith. Despite my Pakistani origins I was born and raised in Glasgow and have always considered myself first and foremost a Scotsman with no interest whatsoever in politics. However, now I feel extremely alienated and victimised because of my colour and hold the prison authorities wholly responsible for this.

I have yet to be given a formal acknowledgement by the prison authorities that their allegations against me in August 2009 were completely without foundation and so officially at least I remain tainted by those allegations.

Sunny Nasir Ahmed, HMP Glenochil
Dec 2009
Sunny has requested those concerned at his treatment write and e-mail letters of complaint to Governor Dan Gunn of HMP Glenochil and the Scottish Prison Service Headquarters:

Governor Dan Gunn
HMP Glenochil
King O'Muir Road
FK10 3AD
Fax: (01259) 762003

Scottish Prison Service Headquarters
Communications Branch
Room 338
Calton House
5 Redheughs Rigg
EH12 9HW

Messages of Solidarity for Sunny should be sent to

Sunny Nasir Ahmed,
HMP Glenochil
King O'Muir Road
FK10 3AD

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