Monday, August 15, 2011

THE LONDON RIOTS: Lessons to be learnt

by Gulamhusein A. Abba

Photo Credit:

“Who believed there would be no consequences
to the increase of obscene wealth for a few while
impoverishment simultaneously plagued the masses”.
“A Society on the Verge of a Meltdown” By Jakob Augstein
Spiegel Online: 08.18.2011

It has been reported that the recent riots in London are the worst that city has seen. Several areas were affected. Apart from London proper, the riots, which began late in London’s Tottenham district, spread to Manchester in central England, Carring Cross area of Nottinghamshire, Leicester, Wolverhampton, West Brunswick and other areas.

The damage done was tremendous. Shops were set on fire, window panes broken, stores looted, police shot at. Cases of stabbing were reported. Lives were lost.

Almost immediately the blame game started. A favorite culprit was “multiculturism” (code for ‘these damned immigrants’). Others blamed poor or non-existing parenting. Parents blamed laws that prevented them from using old and tried methods to discipline their children.

Prime Minister David Cameron, on returning to London after cutting short his summer vacation, reacted in the only way governments know to react in such situations. He hammered out a tough line against the rioters. Thousands of police flooded the capital. He talked about not letting a “culture of fear” taking hold and said “nothing is off the table”. Including water cannons, never deployed in Britain so far.

To the rioters he said, to thunderous applause, “We will find you. We will arrest you. We will punish you. You will pay.” To the people he said “We will protect you” and promised that the government would compensate them for such damage and or losses they may have suffered. And to the authorities he gave an assurance that they would be given “strong powers”, which would include allowing police to order “thugs” to remove masks or hoods, evicting “trouble makers” from subsidized housing, and temporarily disabling cell phone instant messaging services.

Whatever else may have been responsible, the charge against immigrants was unwarranted. Those indulging in violence included local whites. And many immigrants went out of their way to stop the rioting and looting.

The rioting, the violence, the arson, the looting, the lawlessness was deplorable and deserving of unreserved condemnation. Such violence serves no purpose. It only backfires. Worse, it results in avoidable damage and loss, including to public property, when the country can least afford it.

Giving the police extra powers and deploying them in large numbers to quell the riots was the right thing to do, on short term basis.

That having been said, there is need for context, a need for understanding the root cause of the unrest and taking long term measures to deal with them.

That is what was urged by some when the US was faced with the 9/11 terror attack. At that time, all those who called for introspection were branded as traitors and accused of blaming the victims!

The same thing is happening now in England. There is a knee jerk reaction against the rioters. Harsh words are being said against them. And harsh actions are being called for and taken. Deservedly. But we cannot stop there. We have to dig deeper.

Apart from charges of insensitive policing, other factors which are being cited as causes of the riots are: isolation and neglect of communities, deep frustration and anger across Britain over the government’s austerity budget which will bring huge cuts to social services and welfare payments, so vital to the poor, without exacting any “sacrifices” from the rich.

I have for years been saying that as the gap between the rich and the poor widens, unrest will spread and, unless corrective steps, grounded in social justice are taken, the poor and the exploited will sooner or later revolt.

When an agenda is pushed that makes the rich richer and punches out huge holes in the social safety net of the poor and the powerless, when those already suffering are asked to sacrifice more while nothing is asked of the rich, when those in power turn a blind eye to the struggle for survival by the masses, and a deaf ear to their cries, a point is reached when it becomes unbearable and intolerable and the building frustration, despair, desperation and rage boils over and expresses itself in the only way left --- violence.

It is argued in some quarters that the riots in England were not a protest. It was a riot. The rioters were not protesting government’s policies. They were simply out on a looting spree, having “fun” as one of the rioters described it.

True the rioters looted. True some of the acts were pure, unadulterated evil. No one denies that. And those who indulged in these acts need to be dealt with.

And yet there is need to ask as to why these acts happened. Does the government, does the British society have any responsibility in this?

“The riots began in Tottenham, which has the highest unemployment rate in London. Youth clubs have been closed, because the austerity economics regime slashed 75% of the youth services budget. And, as Seumas Milne points out, young people in the neighborhood said the club closings could lead to rioting, as bored and anxious young people take to the streets.” Wrote Richard (RJ) Eskow on August 11 in his article “England's Ashes - Our Future?” (

Education grants for children from low-income families have been
abolished. So also, in many areas, youth centers and help centers for the unemployed and pregnant have been closed. In the Lewisham area alone, five libraries were closed. In the London borough of Haringey, which includes Tottenham, 75 percent of funding for youth services will be cut over the next three years.

The gap between rich and poor is wider in Great Britain than almost anywhere else in the Western world. It is a tough place to live in if you are poor.

According to a UNICEF study, the UK is ranked as the most child-unfriendly of 21 major industrialized nations. There are 3.4 million children living below the poverty line in Britain. For those youngsters living in what are dismissed as “bad neighborhoods”, life can be very difficult. Almost daily they put up with beatings and assaults. Some 60 percent of those between the ages of 10 and 15 become a victim of crime at least once.

The violence escalates and “evolves”. Those who used fists soon find themselves having to use knives. Then, guns.

The average age of those for whom such a violent confrontation is deadly used to be 24. Now it is 19!

Whole neighborhoods were devastated by the policies of Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s. Neither Tony Blair nor Gordon Brown did anything to fix them.

These are the neighborhood in which the rioters have been living. This is the life which the “NEETS” (i.e. not in education, employment or training), who number a whopping 1.2 million, are fated to live -- a life of drugs, loitering and weapons. As one writer observed. “They rule their local areas under the law of the jungle, with a deep sense of uselessness in a world where almost every recreational activity costs money; money which they don't have”.

One woman, a truly compassionate woman who has worked hard all her life and who has given, given and given, referring to the rioters said: “They are given by the state a place to live in and money to live on, without having to work for it. They should be grateful. Instead, they burn and loot and kill. They are nothing but scum.” That such a woman could say this reveals how uninformed the people are of realities.

Here is what one of the rioters said when this was put to him; “"No one has ever given me a chance; I am just angry at how the whole system works. They give me just enough money so that I can eat and watch TV all day."

That about sums it up. Just enough money to eat and watch TV all day. Thus the elite make sure that these unfortunates remain confined to the “bad neighborhoods.” !

So, when the police shot and killed a 29-year-old black man, Mark Duggan, in the London area of Tottenham on a Saturday, they decided they had had enough of it and went on a “shopping spree”. Not having any cash, or plastic, they used what they had – sticks, knives, rocks, fire bombs. ( It has been claimed that the police shot the man only after he had shot at them. A loaded handgun was recovered from the scene, but the Independent Police Complaints Commission said there was no evidence that Duggan had fired on police before he was shot. An inquest into his death is ongoing. It is expected to take months to reach a conclusion).

The rioters are those who years back were thrown away by society, considered to be dregs and flotsam of society. The house and the money which the woman said the rioters should be grateful for is the price the elite pay to keep them confined to the “neighborhoods”, to make sure that they do not make inroads into the world of the elite, the “haves”.

The prospects of these youth in London are no better than of the youth in Cairo or Sana'a. What they need and want is not handouts, not “a place to live in and enough to eat”, but opportunities to educate themselves and jobs they are willing to work, so that they can escape the culture of violence amid which they are forced to live, and live instead a life of dignity and respect.

For too long the message to the British underclass has been: Born poor, you will remain poor and so will your children and grandchildren.

Yes, the violence was deplorable and condemnable. Yes, the rioters are the immediate and visible culprits responsible for the ashes in which parts of England lie. Yes, they must be found and dealt with according to law.

But what about those who knowingly ignored the frustration and rage their policies were causing? When governments pander to the rich and turn their backs on those who need their help most -- the poor, the elderly, the sick, the disabled, the homeless, the powerless, the forgotten ones, those dismissed as dregs and flotsam of society – then those in charge of such governments are the ones who are the hidden culprits responsible for the resultant violence.

Who is going to punish them? How are they going ot be punished?

The answer seems to be clear. Boot them out of office! But that is easier said than done. In the system as it exists today, millions are required to just contest an election. Far more to win one. And no single person has that kind of money. The funding comes from the vested interests and global corporations or even foreign governments. Those who get elected are beholden to them and will do nothing that will interrupt the flow of funds from these sources.

There are big problems that need to be grasped and addressed. There are solutions but these are beyond the scope of this article.

What must be realized is that the riots in England are a harbinger of things to come. A class war on a much larger scale looms, not only in England but all over the world. As witnessed in Tunisia and Egypt, and being witnessed in Bahrain, Yemen, Syria and Lebanon.

The exploited are done taking it lying down. Their voices are ringing out loud and clear. Their determination to rid themselves of the old order is in plain sight. They will not be stopped. They cannot be stopped.

A disclaimer:
Nothing said here is meant to condone or justify the violence that the Brits witnessed recently. Just to add context and apportion the blame where it belongs.

More importantly, it is meant to bring home the point that unless the root causes for the violence are examined and long term corrective and meaningful steps are taken, this cycle of violence will

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