Crawley plot: an ‘Anti-Social Behaviour Outrage’?
With their disdain for 'slags', football fans and Bluewater chavs, the plotters come across like the armed wing of the chattering classes.
‘This grandson of a British Army Colonel loved Man Utd and fish’n’chips and dreamed of playing cricket for England. He could have picked any career…. HE CHOSE TERROR.’ So says the British tabloid the Sun about Omar Khyam, the middle-class leader of the fertiliser bomb plotters from Crawley in Sussex, England who were found guilty this week of conspiring to bomb targets in the UK. Just as in the wake of 7/7, political commentators are struck by how British the plotters seem: one dreamt of overnight celebrity and becoming a male model; another loved greyhound racing. Many are now wondering out loud how these men, who seem ‘as British as Tizer, and queues, and Y-fronts and the Changing of the Guard’, came to be warped by a killer foreign ideology (1).
The search for a foreign explanation for the plotters’ antics misses the point about ‘homegrown terrorism’. Since 7/7, when three British-born Pakistanis from Leeds and their friend from Huddersfield killed themselves and 52 others on Tube trains and a bus, British society has woken up to the fact that terrorism is very often ‘homegrown’. But there’s still too much emphasis on looking for a foreign catalyst for the twisting of Our Boys’ minds. The finger of blame is pointed at wacky Islamic sects like al-Muhajiroun or Pakistani ‘Mr Bigs’ who are said to have transformed chip-eating, cricket-playing young men from Leeds or Crawley into wannabe killers. In fact, homegrown terrorists often seem to have been shaped by trends and outlooks that are homegrown, too. Consider the Crawley plotters: they harboured prejudices that were very British indeed.
The plotters talked about attacking British civilians – and their choice of civilians is striking. They discussed blowing up nightclubs and the Bluewater shopping centre in Kent. They also floated the possibility of poisoning beer and burgers and selling them to unwitting football fans and setting up a bogus takeaway service which would sell poisoned food. One plotter, Jawad Akbar, suggested the gang should target the Ministry of Sound in London, one of Britain’s biggest nightclubs, as ‘no one can turn round and say “oh they were innocent”, those slags dancing around’. Another, Waheed Mahmood, preferred the idea of getting a job as a beer vendor at a football ground. ‘You just put poison in a syringe, injecting it in a can…[or] you could stand on street corners selling poison burgers and then just leave the area.’ (2)
The plotters would not have had to listen to a sermon by some bearded crank or travel to Pakistan to arrive at the conclusion that ‘slags’ and football fans and big mall shoppers in Britain are somehow lesser people. It has become de rigueur recently, particularly among the chattering classes, to slate sections of the British working classes for their binge-drinking and generally bad behaviour. Officials fret over the sight of young girls in mini-skirts falling down drunk (that’s ‘slags’ to some people) while TV documentaries and newspaper articles expose the apparently seedy and violent life of ‘football hooligans’. For some, Bluewater has in recent years come to symbolise all that is vacant and violent about suburban Britain. When it opened a Bishop described it disparagingly as a ‘Temple of Consumerism’. In 2005, Bluewater became a testing ground for zero tolerance policies against anti-social behaviour when its managers, encouraged by MPs, banned the wearing of hooded tops and baseball caps and even swearing as part of a ‘crackdown on unacceptable behaviour’ (3).
For those who consider consumerism to be the great evil of our age – from those headline-hogging anti-Tesco campaigners to the green-leaning Buy Nothing brigade – Bluewater is pretty much the seventh circle of hell. An online publication that keeps track of ‘Chav Towns’ describes Bluewater as being full of ‘Burberry-clad hordes’, ‘the most chav-infested place on the face of the Earth’: ‘It is not unlike the mall in the original Dawn of the Dead with chavs instead of zombies shuffling aimlessly around, making inhuman noises, looking for trainers and hoop earrings rather than human flesh.’ (4) The image of shoppers as zombies is a common one these days. The Crawley plotters – one of whom was so keen to bomb Bluewater that on one occasion he said ‘let’s do it tomorrow’ – would not have had to look far for the idea that Bluewater and its inhabitants are deserving of punishment.
If you listen to radical Islamists – from those who deliver half-baked sermons in the backrooms of mosques to those who actually become, or try to become, terrorists – you’ll notice that they often seem most outraged by hedonism and consumerism, those twin pillars of our apparently ‘decadent society’ (5). In this, at least, they have much in common with mainstream thinkers and commentators. From radical Islamists to moderate Muslim groups to Tory commentators to New Labour ministers: there seems a curious consensus that sections of British society are greedy and badly behaved and in need of some sort of corrective education, or possibly even punishment.
The Muslim Council of Britain says many Muslims are concerned by a culture ‘which often seems to justify instant gratification, such as binge-drinking and promiscuity’ (6). The New Labour government shares this concern. It has made tackling binge-drinking and promiscuity the main plank of its youth policy, bringing in tougher policing of town centres on Saturday nights and launching various propaganda poster campaigners warning teens of the dangers of sleeping around. In 2005, a group of six Tory MPs wrote a letter to the Spectator in which they said that Muslim clerics who describe Britain as decadent are ‘right’: ‘Whether it is lawlessness, family breakdown, the menace of drugs, binge-drinking, teenage pregnancies or merely the coarse brutishness which has infested British culture…the results of years of woolly-minded liberal thinking are plain to see.’ (7) It seems there is a fine line these days between a ranting Muslim cleric and a Daily Mail-reading concerned Conservative.
The Crawley plotters may have learned bomb-making skills in Pakistan; but it was here in Britain that they would have been surrounded by messages about how uncaring and out-of-control British people have become. Should these plotters, and other homegrown terrorists who have expressed disdain for Britain’s drug culture and its inhabitants’ unhealthy lifestyles (8), be considered the extreme wing of today’s obsession with anti-social behaviour? Where the government pursues the ‘politics of behaviour’, seeking to change the way we live and think and even eat, perhaps the Crawley group’s foiled plot could be considered the ‘terrorism of behaviour’ – a planned scream of bloody rage against decadent, binge-drinking, slaggish British society, a kind of ‘Anti-Social Behaviour Outrage’ designed to punish a feckless and stuff-obsessed population.
Many now ask how these men could have hated people so much that they planned to blow up nightclubs and shopping centres. It’s a very good question. But let’s not forget that many others hate those sorts of people, too.
Brendan O’Neill is editor of spiked. Visit his personal website here.
(1) He chose terror, Sun, 1 May 2007
(2) Terror plots revealed, Sun, 30 April 2007
(3) Mall bans shoppers’ hooded tops, BBC News, 11 May 2005
(4) Bluewater, ChavTowns, September 2005
(5) How liberal Britain let hate flourish, The Sunday Times, 12 February 2006
(6) Tory terrorists?, Brendan O’Neill, Comment Is Free, 16 August 2006
(7) Tory terrorists?, Brendan O’Neill, Comment Is Free, 16 August 2006
(8) See 7/7: a very British bombing, by Brendan O’Neill