Dhiren Barot’s case faded because it revealed unbearable truths
Dhiren who? Mention Dhiren Barot to anyone and the chances are that you’ll be met with a blank look. At best, some might say, ‘Oh, wasn’t he that guy who, er, that trial recently, yeah, bit worrying....’ Thus the British have somehow failed to register the significance of the conviction last month of a man who was one of al-Qa’eda’s biggest fishes, guilty of the most devastating terrorist plot ever known in this country and one which would have made 9/11 look like a minor warm-up act.
This former airline ticket clerk plotted to kill hundreds of thousands of people in a series of synchronised atrocities in Britain and the US. He planned to blow up public buildings using gas cylinders in limousines, to mount a gas attack on the Heathrow Express rail shuttle, and to blow up the Tube under the Thames to rupture the walls keeping out the river. Police found in his notebooks details of how to construct a chemical laboratory, along with recipes for poisons and plans to use radiation to spread sickness, panic, chaos and death on a vast scale.
Terrifying and astounding as all this was, the real significance of the case lay in the way it punctured the myths fuelling Britain’s state of denial over Islamist terrorism.
Myth one is that Britain is only threatened by such terror because the war in Iraq has radicalised British Muslims. Yet Barot was laying his infernal plans before 9/11, let alone the fall of Saddam. As long ago as 1999 he advocated bringing Western countries to their knees. Significantly, he observed that this could only be achieved by Muslims living in Western countries, because only they understood the culture, geography and common practices of the people among whom they lived.
He also acknowledged the crucial reality that the British still do not grasp: that the single greatest recruiter to terror is terror itself. The reason terrorism was a religious duty, he wrote, was that ‘terror works’. That is why, as the head of MI5 Dame Eliza Manningham-Buller has noted, the scale and speed of radicalisation among British Muslims increased after the 7/7 bombings.
While the government tells itself inanely that it needs to tailor its foreign policy to address Muslim ‘grievances’ around the world, Islamist terrorists themselves say that the inspiration for further acts of jihad is the way in which such terrorism produces precisely that reaction.
Myth two is that British Muslims turn to terror because they live segregated lives or are poor and alienated. But Barot, a middle-class, suburban, former-grammar-school pupil, was born and raised as a Hindu, converting to Islam only at the age of 20.
Myth three is that President Bush and the world Zionist conspiracy are to blame for fuelling Islamist terror. In 1995 Barot attended a terrorist training camp in Kashmir. George W. Bush’s presidency was not yet even a twinkle in a neocon eye; the sainted Bill Clinton was in the White House, and US interests had already been under attack by the Islamic jihad for years.
For Barot, a former Hindu, to be radicalised to Islamist extremism by the issue of Kashmir — the totemic dispute between Hindu India and Muslim Pakistan — not only suggests a highly complex personal pathology at work, but also shows the utter absurdity of blaming British Muslim radicalisation on America, Israel or Iraq.
Myth four is that British Islamist terrorists are merely disaffected local youths going in for a bit of copycat aggro. Yet Barot was an important al-Qa’eda figure who was reporting to terrorist masterminds. After he was jailed, a senior counter-terrorism official was reported as saying that he was one of al-Qa’eda’s most experienced terrorists and that his conviction was ‘one of the most significant steps in the fight against terrorism since September 11’.
Despite all this, and the fact that Barot was sent down for 40 years, the case attracted relatively little media attention. Certainly, the lurid details of the plot were fully reported, but there has been virtually no analysis of the significance of the Barot case. There’s been no discussion of what it tells us about the sheer scale of the threat to this country, or how best we should protect ourselves against it.
No one has pondered what it tells us about the true wellspring of Islamist terror and the particular fanaticism of converts. No one has asked how on earth we are to deal with such mass brainwashing of millions into a death cult in the name of a religion. There has been only near-universal silence.
Partly this is because Barot’s jailing coincided with the big story of the US mid-term elections. Partly it is because continuing reporting restrictions mean that there are aspects of this plot which still cannot be discussed. Partly it’s because the terrible atrocities being planned didn’t actually happen, unlike the murder of Alexander Litvinenko who died before our astonished eyes and left a poison trail round London.
But there is another reason for the silence. There is still widespread denial of the threat facing Britain. Hard on the heels of the Barot case came the statement by Dame Eliza that there were at least 200 terror networks, 1,600 terrorist suspects and 30 top priority terrorist plots currently active in the UK, and that future threats would involve chemical, biological, radioactive and nuclear attacks.
Reaction to this was also muted, because of the climate of cynicism and puerile conspiracy theories which treats such warnings as an attempt by politically compromised officials to shore up ‘Blair’s lies’, or to get more funding for the security service, or to grab our liberties.
People also continue to regard British Islamists as essentially amateurs because they don’t fit into a recognisable category of threat. The KGB are understood as ruthless state apparatchiks. IRA terrorism was understood as promoting a realisable cause. But restoration of the mediaeval caliphate? Give us a break!
So the pragmatic British simply don’t grasp that what they are facing is totally irrational and non-negotiable. They insist instead on viewing the jihad as caused by negotiable issues, such as the war in Iraq.
That’s why it was indeed fitting that the Barot case was knocked off the front pages by Bush’s reverses in the mid-term elections. Instead of tiresome facts about the dire threat to Britain, the country could rejoice that Bush and his war on terror had been derailed, and we could all get down to the worthy cause of surrendering in Iraq.
You see, people really do believe that the greatest threat to the world is not al-Qa’eda, not Ahmadinejad, but George W. Bush. And that is the most terrifying thing of all.
Melanie Phillips is a Daily Mail columnist.