UK Unrest: London’s burning – who’s to blame?

After the riots, England is engaged in soul searching as it tries to understand what caused this week’s outburst of violence.

August 12, 2011 16:54
4 minute read.

UK POLICE OFFICERS in riot gear 311. (photo credit: Stefan Wermuth/Reuters)

LONDON – England is in flames, as all the world watches. Last time you took a good look at us, you were enjoying the sophisticated elegance and unparalleled discipline in the marriage of the millennium: Miss Katherine Middleton and HRH Prince William. Now we’ve descended to barbaric chaos.

What has happened? Who are the victims? At least four deaths, scores injured, £100 million damage, and the reputation of the country for stability, torn to shreds, temporarily.

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Who is to blame? Thousands, mostly young unemployed males, black, white and Asian, but also allegedly children as young as 11, a school worker aged 31, a postman, the 19-year-old undergraduate daughter of a wealthy businessman (accused of stealing £5,000 of electrical goods), other university students and many professional criminals. Gangs, using smartphones, capitalized on the mayhem and lack of police.

After four days of violence, more than 1,000 have been arrested nationwide. Thousands escaped, scot-free. But they represent the most minute of minorities, in a population of more than 60 million. For many of those who were charged, justice was not delayed. Magistrates sat throughout the night.

One of the injured is a Malaysian accountancy student, Mohammed Haziq, shopping for food to break his fast.

He was “befriended” by some of the scallywags, enabling others to empty his rucksack and pockets, while they threatened to stab him. He has lost teeth, awaits surgery for a broken jaw, and is attached to a drip. Well-wishers set up a website to help him. It has received over 17,000 pledges of support.

Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron blamed the looters for “a lack of proper parenting... a lack of proper morals.”

While some opposition figures, including the Labor deputy leader, attributed the riots to government cuts, their leader, Ed Miliband, disagreed and has refused to make political capital out of the mayhem.

He said there was no excuse for the violence, and declared himself against simplistic explanations. Others have given all manner of simple reasons, even comparing the vandals to the savage polar bear who mauled Etonian Horatio Chapple in Norway earlier this month.

Some police, vastly outnumbered by rioters on the first two nights in London, and elsewhere the third night, garnered anger for appearing timid and restrained. Near universal criticism of them for this appears to have instilled greater backbone in them, if somewhat late.

London Mayor Boris Johnson brandished a broom to Britain to show his wish to clean up. It will be years before her reputation is swept clean, however.

“Rule Britannia!” became briefly “Unruly Britannia.” Our egotistical, consumerist and hedonist anti-society, vacuumed of all values, needs a strong injection of Leviticus’s “Love your neighbor.” London Jews, fasting on Tuesday like their Muslim neighbors, read in Lamentations, “How doth the city sit solitary… she that was great among the nations… she weepeth sore… her friends have dealt treacherously with her.” Did this refer to the destruction of Jerusalem, or of England’s ravaged capital? In our post-Darwinian secular society, many here believe “God is dead.” Others are apathetic about everything. They fear nobody. They believe in nothing.

Some see no meaning to life. They looted and set fire because they thought they could get away with it, and for the thrill. Nietzsche’s Zarathustra also preached that “Man is a rope between animal and Uebermensch (Superman).”

But animals tend to be more moral.

“Unhappy the land that has need of heroes,” says Bertolt Brecht’s Galileo Galilei.

England is indeed an unhappy land.

But it has found its hero, and plastered him over the front page of much of our press. Tariq Jahan is the father of one of three youngsters in Birmingham who were protecting local shops from looters. They barred access to a car, whose driver they suspected of mischief. Furious, the driver drove directly into them. On impact, the three youngsters hurtled, “like tennis balls,” heavenwards.

Tariq tried to revive his 21-yearold son. In vain.

With universally lauded dignity, and unsurpassed self-control, Tariq called for restraint and pleaded for no revenge: “Why do we have to kill one another? Why are we doing this?... Step forward if you want to lose your sons. Otherwise, calm down and go home please. No more violence!”

Andrew M. Rosemarine is a British barrister and international lawyer.

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