Why should 60m Britons live in fear of one West Country weird-beard?

spiked editor Mick Hume's Notebook in The Times.

Mick Hume

Mick Hume

Topics Politics
  • After Saajid Badat from Gloucester admitted this week plotting to blow up an airliner, many asked what could prompt some young British Muslims to dally with al-Qaeda.

It might help if our leaders stopped acting as if they were scared to death of any Muslim in a beard. From the Government’s plans for house arrest to the public hysteria over crank preachers, the authorities seem determined to advertise their fear of a few Islamic fundamentalists. That is surely an invitation to any alienated or attention-seeking youth to play the part, as a way of feeling powerful and putting the wind up the rest of us.

Badat is said to have conspired with Richard Reid, the British Muslim convert jailed in the United States for attempting to blow up an airliner in December 2001. Reid went ahead with his idiotic attempt at terrorism, trying to ignite explosives in his shoe, but Badat backed out and went home to Mum and Dad. Two years later, police tracked down the shoe-bomber refusenik in Gloucester. He is due to be sentenced this month.

The doomed shoe-bomber plot of 2001 remains the only attempted terror attack involving Britain and the US that has come to trial since September 11. Yet from the start, the reaction to this farcical conspiracy has reeked of panic. Reid’s singular antics have led to millions of passengers at New York airports having their shoes removed and scanned, including such suspicious individuals as my two little daughters.

In 2003 the British authorities watched Badat for months before arresting him. Yet they still thought it necessary to surround his parents’ house with 26 armed units and evacuate 119 homes, on the ground of ‘public safety’. Whether this paranoid display made the public feel safe is uncertain. David Blunkett, who was then Home Secretary, announced that Badat had ‘connections with al-Qaeda’ and posed ‘a very real threat to the life and liberty of our country’, as if this one West Country weird-beard were a superman with 60 million Britons at his mercy. Now the authorities have seized upon Badat’s case as ‘proof’ that they need the Prevention of Terrorism Bill to deal with ‘hundreds’ of terrorists supposedly threatening our way of life.

This sort of pathetic, panicky response helps to ensure that more disaffected young people will toy with Islamic fundamentalism. Not necessarily out of religious conviction, but as an outsider attitude that is guaranteed to get them a reaction. Muslim teenagers who demand the right to wear traditional religious dress to school seem to be making much the same sort of ‘statement’ as white kids who dress like Marilyn Manson, the Goth rocker, showing off their lack of connection with mainstream society. A very few might take that nihilistic attitude all the way to terrorism – like the thoroughly Westernised 9/11 hijackers. But most of them are far more likely to be poseurs, looking for an unnerving image. Thus, after he thought better of launching a suicide attack, Badat apparently still sought to make an impression by boasting that he was involved with al-Qaeda.

Who needs a shoe-bomber, when the authorities seem scared of shadows and cigarette lighters? The draconian proposals for house arrest are one side-effect of paranoia in high places. The underlying culture of fear, however, poses the biggest threat to the life and liberty of our country. Samuel Taylor Coleridge would have found himself on the wrong end of today’s war on drugs. But when it comes to the war on terror, his words from 1830 should have a sobering effect: ‘In politics, what begins in fear usually ends in folly.’

  • Once again on the ‘Is-Roy-Keane-a-role-model?’ question.

Just suppose for a moment that the youth whom a judge branded a liar had been telling the truth. I know it is hard to imagine, but suppose that the Manchester United captain really had taken a 16-year-old who was swearing and gesticulating outside his family home by the scruff of the neck, and told the lad in no uncertain terms to desist. What on earth would have been wrong with that? It seems we either want to smother young people in cotton wool, or tie them up in ASBOs. Why not treat them instead like normal teenagers, for whom getting in a bit of trouble comes as naturally as acne, and who need to be told – and sometimes shown – how to grow up?

Mick Hume is editor of spiked
This article is republished from The Times (London)

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

Topics Politics


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