Dr David Starkey comes across as someone who prides himself on how much he can upset others with his strident views. So when he chose to evoke the memory of Enoch Powell’s ‘rivers of blood’ speech in the aftermath of the England riots he was, I am certain, deliberately courting controversy.
He qualified his support for Powell’s speech but then added something much more base, which he called speaking frankly. “The whites have become black” he said, going on to say that white youth had adopted a certain type of black culture.
“A particular sort of violent, destructive, nihilistic, gangster culture has become the fashion. And black and white, boy and girl, operate in this language together, this language which is wholly false, which is this Jamaican patois that’s been intruded in England”.
It was not, in his view, that black people were bad – only their culture; and white people [‘chavs’ in his words] who adopted this culture were no better.
Starkey’s problem was worse than his crude generalisation, equating black culture with criminality. He ignored a whole host of other issues.
One may intensely dislike the ‘gangster’ culture of youth today – black, white and brown. It glorifies violent crime, drug culture and the debasement of women.
But its negative features are not uniquely ‘black’. The archetypal gangster – the kind of the Corleone family or the Krays – has been a cultural reference point for youth in the UK and US for many years. Moreover, European and American culture frequently debases women, and needs to learn no lessons from contemporary gangster culture.
Moreover, aspects of black youth culture today – the language or artistic styles that give Starkey “sense of literally a foreign country”- are used by some to express very good things as much as bad. He may not welcome these cultural changes to England, but it shows how confused his mind is to link this issue with the root cause of the problems last week.
Starkey would have been more honest if he had removed Enoch Powell’s analysis from this week’s event. He made a point that these riots were “shopping with violence” – a commercial culture that was expressing itself in a violent manner. His point seemed to be that these were not ‘real riots’ – like Brixton, Broadwater Farm or Los Angeles – where there was a political grievance; they were, instead, a display of moral degeneration on a mammoth scale.
Some of this will resonate with people. But Starkey chose to ignore the fact that in Tottenham where the riots started there was an element of grievance. The police had shot dead a man. The IPCC had leaked to the press that the suspect had shot first, and then retracted their statement. The families had held a peaceful protest prior to violent unrest breaking out, and there is some suggestion the police mishandled this. All of this happened against a backdrop that black people are far more likely in the UK to be treated harshly by the criminal justice system in every – from being stopped & searched, and arrested to the sentences they receive. This cannot be ignored in the analysis of the ‘triggering’ of events.
The ‘shopping with violence’ culture, that Starkey identified, does exist in the UK, but cannot be said to be black nor white. It is an extreme expression of consumerism that is driven by the dominance of the free market into every facet of life, including morality.
By ignoring this, and focusing on black culture, he ignored the moral degeneration affecting Britain more generally, especially in its political class, whose corrupt relationship with big business has been exposed in the ‘Hackgate’ scandal; and the far more damaging relationship between the financial sector, arms industry and oil companies. MPs were looting plasma TVs and lap top computers, in addition to fiddling expenses to justify second homes, long before last week’s rioters!
He also chose to ignore the many other cultural expressions of degenerate behaviour, which utterly destroys his analysis of the causes of these problems being because of the rise in black culture. It isn’t black culture that is famed for enjoying football hooliganism, or for getting drunk and causing violent unrest when they go on holiday – though people of any colour can do these things.
The Bullingdon club, with its reputation for trashing restaurants as a form of entertainment, did not emerge from black culture.
The culture of young people slapping unaware victims then relaying the images widely via mobile phone is more Basil Fawlty than Snoop Dogg.
The culture of displaying on-line of the ridicule and humiliation of teachers is not linked to one colour or culture, but a disturbing expression of the lack of civility and mutual respect in society today; it is ‘Flashman’ directing his bullying at the teacher, not students more junior.
These are all examples of a ‘freedom gone mad’ culture, of which last week’s violence and looting were a monumental expression.
Starkey’s intervention, seeing the riots through his own prejudices, is an unfortunate distraction that will reinforce the prejudices of the more ignorant in society.
Meanwhile, some sincere commentators are wondering why this happened. Some have been honest enough to say they do not have the answers; and it is this sort of honesty that is required to tackle some extremely deep problems facing the West today.
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.