US media is reporting that the Italian government has signed an agreement with the Union of Islamic Communities and Organizations in Italy (UCOII) to provide “moderate” imams to combat radicalization in the country’s prisons. According to an AP report:
July 12, 2017 AP So far spared the attacks that have stunned France, Belgium, Britain and Germany, Italy has relied mostly on arresting and deporting suspected extremists to try to keep the country safe. But the Italian government has come to embrace prevention, too, especially in the prisons it doesn’t want to become training grounds for potential extremists.
Inviting in imams who have been vetted to make sure they espouse “moderate views” is a tactic now being employed in Italian prisons to counter radicalization among inmates. In February, the government signed a recruiting agreement with the Union of Islamic Communities and Organizations in Italy, which professes to foster Islamic “pluralism.”
When preaching to inmates, “we stress that we are Italians of Muslim faith, Europeans of Muslim faith … We are 100 percent citizens with rights and duties,” UCOII president Izzeddin Elzir said.
Italy’s second generation of Muslim immigrants is just coming of age now. For the most part, the nation lacks neighborhoods with heavy concentrations of Muslim residents. But Muslims make up a disproportionate share of the population in Italy’s prisons.
More than a third of all inmates in Italian penitentiaries are foreigners, and 42 percent of those come from the majority Muslim countries of Morocco, Albania and Tunisia, according to a 2017 report by inmate advocacy group Antigone.
The advocacy group counted 411 chaplains, but only 47 imams working in Italy’s 200 prisons. Prison system officials worry that if imams don’t make regular visits, inmates might be more vulnerable to the influence of those who are already radicalized.
“It’s not so much those (inmates) who preach, but those who submit to this proselytizing” who are considered at risk, Terni Penitentiary Superintendent Natascia Bastianelli said.
Justice Ministry Undersecretary Gennaro Migliore stressed in an interview that of about 11,000 Italian prison inmates from predominantly Muslim countries, “those who could be potentially radicalized, or already radicalized don’t exceed 400” inmates.
So far, 13 UCOII imams have started preaching in eight prisons after being screened by interior ministry officials. Government officials and the organization plan to evaluate the strategy’s effectiveness as a de-radicalization tool this fall.
Read the rest here.
The employment by the Italian state of UCOII imams in prison appears to ignore the long history of the UCOII with respect to extremism and terrorism. In 2011, an Italian born analyst wrote the following about the UCOII in an article centered on the Muslim Brotherhood in the West:
After leaders of the Union of the Islamic Communities and Organisations of Italy (UCOII) made a series of statements that drew strong criticism from all sides of the Italian political spectrum and most of the media, mayors in various large cities that had previously entered into negotiations with UCOII to authorise the construction of new mosques suddenly withdrew their support. They of cially attributed the change of heart to contractual technicalities and zoning regulations, but the move is widely believed to have been dictated by the realisation that large segments of the media and the public viewed UCOII in extremely negative terms.
In September 2008, we reported a warning by an Italian star official about the nature of the UCOII:
In response to inquiries by the Italian parliament, The Home Office undersecretary, Alfredo Mantovano has expressed caution on building a mosque in the Bologna suburbs with links to the “controversial” Ucoii (Unione delle Comunità ed organizzazioni Islamiche in Italia). The Islamic Cultural Center, the contact of the Muslim community in the area said Mantovano, “joins all Ucoii, associations in aiming to provide the community of Muslims with a range of services as well as aiming to become the only, or at least the principal representation to the Italian state. “The Ucoii has long been been recognized as a radically oriented organization and the subject of controversy for positions on Israel, the United States and the West in general and for links with the neo-traditionalist support for separate communities within Western nations Western rather than a true integration.
In September 2005, Italian media reported that the UCOII had invited Wagdy Ghoneim, an Egyptian affiliated with the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood>known for his anti-Semitic speeches and currently banned from the UK on the basis of ” unacceptable behaviour by seeking to foment, justify or glorify terrorist violence in furtherance of particular beliefs and to provoke others to commit terrorist acts.
The GMBDW has also reported on extremist positions held by a key UCOII leader. In August 2016 the we reported that UCOII founder Hamza Piccardo had drawn criticism over his Facebook comments in support of legalizing polygamy. In September 2007, we reported that an Italian website operated by Piccardo had posted a fatwa that appears to support execution of those who renounce the Islamic faith when they publicly announce their decision:
For background on what one academic calls the Muslim Brotherhood “heritage” of the UCOII, go here.