UK / Europe — 09 August 2011
Panic on the streets of London

It is a worrying time for Londoners, who have seen a riot in Tottenham escalate to widespread unrest across the city and beyond within 72 hours: looting, attacks on police, the burning of cars, businesses and residential properties. We are more used to seeing burnt out cars on our TV screens on the streets of Baghdad, Mogadishu or Karachi than we are in London. So it’s a deep humiliation for the UK which is a country without the depth of problems affecting those other places mentioned. It is hardly surprising that people are speculating about the causes of this unrest and outbreak of criminality.

The rapidly infectious nature of this gross unrest suggests it is not simply related to the shooting  by police of a suspect last Thursday.

It will be days or weeks before the inquiries are set up, and months or years before they report their findings. Until then, people will speculate as to the causes. Whether or not Mark Duggan was killed by police because he was an imminent threat to anyone, may or may not emerge. Whether or not the peaceful protest was mishandled by the police will be a matter of opinion. Similarly, legitimate questions will be asked about the closure of youth clubs and youth projects in response to the government’s debt situation; and the levels of youth unemployment. Are these rioting youths, who will likely pay heavily for their crimes if they are caught on CCTV, victims of the bankers? Maybe, or maybe not. Many will doubtless speculate on these things.

But whatever the speculation, the images will make middle England think long and hard about how detached they are from the section of society that is engaged in criminal violence. The statements of politicians, that such violence is ‘unacceptable’, look at best a statement of the obvious, and at worst a proof that they had no idea that things were this bad in their own country. Just as with Anders Behrling Breivik, and Lehman Brothers and Northern Rock, they had NO IDEA it was coming.

At this juncture, I would hope to provoke people to think on a few other matters:

1. Almost all talk about social cohesion in the past 10 years has settled on the Muslim community, and how little they have assimilated in to society – to the exclusion of all other problems. I addressed this to some extent some months ago in an article titled: “One Nation? The Confusion of identity in Fault-Line Britain“. Britain, like other western countries, has fault lines based on race, religion, age, and urban liberals versus ‘middle Englanders’ [not nearly as exaggerated as the liberal – conservative split in the USA, which is characterised by vehement mutual hatred]. The current situation should seriously make us realise how much the rioting youth have in common with the suburban majority watching in horror. This is as large an example of a lack of social cohesion as one could ever expect to see.

This group have been failed by state, society and system for generations; and this neglect has been exaggerated by politicians and some commentators manufacturing the case that the Muslim community is the obstacle to social harmony in society. Those who deflected all attention on Muslims rather than dealing with the real social cohesion issues must share some of the blame for what is happening today.

2.  Whenever people address anti-social behaviour and growing lack of respect in society [and what we are seeing is the same thing, but on a colossal scale] they do not seriously address why these attitudes have worsened over decades.

The discussion usually stops at how the capitalist system encouraged inequalities. Some will realise that the credit crunch has come home to bite, and the cracks in ‘Broken Britain’ have been exposed.

But very rarely do we have an honest discussion on how liberal values have contributed to the breakdown of family life; and how the breakdown of families has contributed to a couple of generations of young people becoming disconnected from ethical and moral values that their grandparents collectively held in the post war period.

Very rarely do we see an analysis of how the capitalist system contributed to this breakdown of family life, as people had to prioritise work, and the pursuit of money, over the ties of family and community. Though they may sometimes honestly appraise how capitalism encouraged rampant individualism, such that people think of themselves and not others, they do not really consider how that has manifested from the banker to the looter, both who apparently only recognise their own sense of self-entitlement. They do not consider that a society that feels free to insult and disrespect the sacred, will eventually and inevitably disrespect itself.

Much has been said about Britain’s ‘Broken Society’. But solutions have been around reforming the benefits system, trying to encourage people back to work and off benefits –  as if this is the sole cause of the problem. Commentators will blame the individuals – the absent fathers, the single mothers – but never the system that institutionalised these problems over generations.

The issues of the capitalist system: the values of individualism, lack of respect and absence of any sense of ultimate accountability  – these are too fundamental and deeply troubling for policy makers in the west to address.

But unless someone raises these questions, and forces society  to look at its own weaknesses, there is no hope that it will come to any sense of understanding as to why hundreds of its young people will go to prison, having harmed properties and lives, for no reason except frustration, exclusion and in a few disturbing cases, because they actually enjoyed it!

In such an environment there is little wonder that Muslims will work hard to preserve values of family, community, and consciousness of their Creator in their homes, despite hostility from those who hold animosity to Islam, and would prefer to see them adopt British values.


Dr. Abdul Wahid is a regular contributor to New Civilisation. He is currently the Chairman of the UK-Executive Committee of Hizb ut-Tahrir in Britain. Other Articles by this Author can be found here


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(6) Readers Comments

  1. Brother,

    Another beautifully written aritcle. You should send these articles to the NYTimes ans WSJ opinion columns signed as the Chairman of the UK Exec Committee of the Hizb. The points are sophisticated and nuanced, and are undeinable. It could spark intelligent dialog and further aid the dawah.

  2. I will break from the group think of anti-capitalist pro-Islamists.

    You have assumed in your article that looting, robbing youth in Britain were neglected by the state. This assumption creates a causal link between the two. This is a fallacy. Young people will go out and rob shops when law and order breaks down. This happened in the heart of the Muslim world, in Basra, Baghdad and other Iraqi cities. Not to mention parts of Cairo recently. Whatever the cause, the idea that they were neglected by the state is completely unsubstantiated and in fact the kind of liberal assumption made by the movement that has entrenched Britain’s soft on crime attitude.

    As for capitalism. You insult yourself and the rest of us by decrying this as evidence of capitalism malfunctioning. Much like me pointing to Fatamid murders of Christians to say that this says something about Islam. Last time I checked, apart from 2 countries or so, capitalism extends uninterrupted from any one part of the globe to the next. So, is this looting the norm or the exception Dr Waheed?

    Where are the looters in… Norway? France? Germany? China? Russia? Australia? the United States?? Or in fact, where are they at all??

    You should be ashamed of trying to develop cheap ideological points from reckless thugs going on the rampage. Thugs that could exist, and do exist, in any society on earth.

    • Thanks to ‘Samper Jahn’ for the comment.

      I’m afraid you seem to be suffering from a different kind of ‘group think’ making assumptions that I did not make.

      But I’ll tell you where I agree with you, and disagree with you.

      I agree that “Young people will go out and rob shops when law and order breaks down” anywhere in the world.

      BUT that is NOT what happened here in the UK. There was no situation comparable to one where people looted shops for food, because society was functioning normally. The key institutions – state, police etc – all existed as they are supposed to – unlike post invasion Iraq, Afghanistan, or sadly degenerating Pakistan. Cairo, at the peak of the uprising, saw the withdrawal of the police –who were then sent out as thugs, as a calculated move by the Mubarak regime so as to make people fearful of the breakdown of law and order – and people responded by organising in communities to help each other. The same thing happened in ‘freed’ Libya.

      I DO believe the British state has neglected its disaffected underclass for years – and most states could be said to be guilty of this to some extent or other.

      BUT Capitalist states believe in a ‘small’ state, where people should be left to fend for themselves and thrive as much as possible – and then fail to help those who do not thrive.

      Britain’s underclass maybe smaller than Zimbabwe’s or South Africa’s. But Britain has a hit a historic record in terms of the gap between rich and poor. The ‘poor’ maybe richer than they were 100 years ago, or richer than the poor elsewhere in the world, but don’t pretend that they don’t feel a sense of injustice. Other places where the state fails to do this, families and communities help each other – but capitalism has destroyed family life and communities in many places.

      None of this excuses rioting – just explains why I think capitalism has to answer for creating an environment where reckless, mindless thuggery like this can occur.

      My central argument about Capitalism is that because of a) Its economic system and b) the societal values it encourages – it will more likely produce situations as we have seen this week.

      These are the same arguments made in the press in the UK this week. BUT the “liberal left” see it almost exclusively through the lens of the economic system causing social breakdown, and the “Tory right” see it almost exclusively through the lens of liberal values being the cause.

      They are both part of the cause – and I stand by that. Moreover, my article did not pretend to be an analysis of all the causes.

      That does not mean other places, where capitalism is not the system, are immune from such behaviour – they are not. But states and systems exist to reduce harm and conflict and promote a secure harmonious environment. The USA, France, Norway, Germany, Greece etc may not have mindless rioting today, but have other problems – despite historic levels of wealth production over decades.

      MANY of their citizens do not have a secure harmonious environment. They are only one pay cheque away from the street and are very fearful of their futures.

  3. Samper
    If you compare the demonstrations in the Arab countries they have been largely peaceful with rioting being the exception, despite the people being under far greater provocation.

  4. salaam aleikum,

    article in the Guardian, which makes many of the same points, and goes even further in some other areas:

    These Riots Reflect a Society Run on Greed and Looting:

    and I would further agree with the above comment, to ask that this be sent to American media, as all the conditions which led to this — huge and growing disparities in income/wealth gaps, gutting of social services for austerity, and destruction of all moral/family values in the name of consumerism — are even more exaggerated in America than they are in the UK. What the militias and KKK could do in the U.S. would make the London riots look like a joke in comparison.

  5. Jahn,

    I find your line of argument quite childish, to say the least. While Dr Waheed attacks the values that capitalism brings about, you tried to bring Islam into the picture. Nowhere was it mentioned about the values of any religion in the article by Dr Waheed. What is this capitalism? Something like a religion which is so holy that it must be defended at all cost by people like you?

    While you accuse Dr Waheed make an assumption that the British yobs were neglected by the state, you are also assuming that Dr Waheed’s assumption is flawed. In fact you were wrong. He pointed at the state, the society and the system!

    A cursory look at the commentaries after the riots in many dailies blame the government and the societies (but not the system as they can’t think out of the system). The welfare state was mentioned. The cutting of budget for some youth activites/places were mentioned. The judiciary was mentioned. A society that protects the criminal more than the victims- all were mentioned. All these were overlooked. The effects of having such values in the state and society were all neglected. All these sounds like negligence to me by everyone on certain quarters of the society.

    This is not being apologetic to the youth mobs. A crime is a crime. What Dr Waheed is trying to do, as I understand it, is that there is a link between the values we hold as a society to the behaviour of the looters. The commentaries could not see this link. neither could you Mr Jahn.

    Looters in the West? You certainly haven’t heard of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. People were so hungry that they started looting TV’s and stereos !!!. At least they had a hurricane to blame. And they were really hungry and angry. What do the mobs in the UK have to blame?

    I was robbed, punched and kicked under streetlight by teenage drunkards 5 years ago and my eye was injured and I suffered a couple of bruises. That case was never solved and was called an ISOLATED incident!

    The law and order did not break down a few days ago. It broke down when we think liberal values should be applied to all. What has been happening since a few days ago was just an opportunity that the rioters took to exhibit the ugly sides of the effects of the secular fundamentalist values.

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