Last week, the FBI arrested four members of a would-be terrorist cell in New York. While the arrests eliminated the immediate threat from this particular group, it highlighted a much bigger threat: the spawning of terrorism in American prisons.
The four men, allegedly angered by the deaths of Muslims in Afghanistan, had planned to bomb several synagogues in the Bronx and shoot down a military plane using a Stinger missile. Happily, the plastic explosives and the Stinger missile they planned on using were fake. The FBI, acting on a tip from another member of their mosque, penetrated the cell, sold them fake equipment and foiled the plot.
Maybe they were "relatively unsophisticated," but their rage was well-developed. Their leader considered Jews "the source of all problems in America." They "wanted to make a statement" by targeting synagogues and destroying military aircraft.
But what's more frightening than their rage is the fact that there are potentially a lot more of them where they came from: our prisons.
At least two of the terror suspects converted to radical Islam while in prison, while the other two were also the product of what some imams call "jailhouse Islam."
An NYPD report, entitled "Radicalization in the West: The Homegrown Threat," concludes that in-prison conversions to Islam can "fuel anger towards the United States." Part of the reason is that the men doing the converting are often angry and resentful and looking for someone to blame for their predicament.
But a lot of it has to do with the kind of Islam being preached in American prisons. In many American prisons, prisoners learn about Islam from other prisoners. These prisoners, in turn, rely on reading material targeted at prisoners and their resentments. One example: a book called The Noble Koran.
This version of the Koran, distributed by a Wahhabi group, included "numerous interpolations" not present in the original Arabic. It includes a 22-page appendix entitled "A Call to Jihad" urging "war against non-Muslims who have not submitted to Islamic rule." Other literature from the same group told prisoners that non-Islamic government "must be sincerely hated and despised for the pleasure of God."
While some prison systems have banned this group's literature, others haven't. The effect of this literature on angry and, in many cases, unstable men isn't hard to imagine. Actually, as the events in New York remind us, we don't have to imagine it.
What's the answer? For starters, officials should crack down on the purveyors of radical Islam in our prisons. That kind of literature and the message it spreads have no business in our prisons.
But ultimately, the real answer lies in the work of groups like Prison Fellowship, who bring the life-changing Gospel of Jesus Christ into prisons across America.
The fact of the matter is that prisoners are looking for solutions to their problems. And they will find one. Whether it's in drugs, or gangs, or even in hate-filled jihadism and Stinger missiles.
It's up to us, the Church, to offer them a better solution, in fact the only solution: forgiveness of their sins, and transformation in Jesus Christ.