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.