London’s Burning

In the words of Camus : “Every act of rebellion expresses a nostalgia for innocence and an appeal to the essence of being.” Well, not this one.

Property burns in Croydon on 9 August 2011 | Credit: Lewis Whyld/PA/AP

It’s only natural for everyone to swoop in with their own theories regarding the ongoing London riots. Attempts to contextualize conflicts, or any sort of civil disobedience (unrest, rather, in this case) are healthy; it means people are using their brains to grasp what the situation means, rather than mindlessly pandering to popular opinion.

I do feel however – and this is my own contextualization – that too many sluggish arguments have been made on both sides to either unfairly demonize the justified retaliation by the rioters against the indiscriminate police shooting of one Mark Duggan, or on the flipside to continuously shield an army of greedy criminals from reproach by categorically classifying them as victims of a “class struggle”. To put it quite frankly, I can’t find sense in any of these all-encompassing arguments; one certainly can’t frame the chain of cause-and-effects in such simplistic terms.

I say this as there is a growing trend of left-wing “loyalists” and sympathizers who have been quick to rally behind the rioters with defenses ranging from the social exclusion theory to outrage over austerity measures, the two of which have been the favourite scapegoats so far.

The former warrants significant merits – trying to comprehend a manic breakout exacerbated by a much wider social dysfunction requires a close look at the rioters’ own anti-social behavioral tendencies. Why are they so aggrieved, so disconnected from the society in which they grew up in? It probably boils down to the fact that they don’t even feel like they belong to their own communities; too deeply engulfed by the anti-establishment stance of their collective peers perhaps (most likely criminal gangs), or they have been denounced as hopeless thrash far too many times to bother proving otherwise. A darker side would be institutionalized racism where the ethnic minorities are concerned. Still, analysis branding their anarchy-fueled joyride as a “political statement” reads like a sadistic joke. At least four people have been killed, three of whom died protecting their community from looters.

What value are we placing on these innocent lives if we are to legitimize their murderers’ barbaric actions as valid dissent mechanisms?

Tariq Jahan, whose son Haroon was killed during the violent disturbances in Birmingham, is embraced by members of his community after Friday prayers at the Dudley Road mosque | Credit: Andrew Winning/REUTERS

The latter argument citing spending cuts as a factor is also very much up for debate, although I personally object to allowing such leeway to the socially-dispossessed; it’s heedless to make up reasons for those who are clearly acting like turds devoid of a reasonable man’s moral compass, regardless of the State’s flawed policy-making. If any attention is to be given following this line of argument, it is that the culture of welfare dependence in the UK has gone a wee bit too extreme. Judging by the violent fuss kicked up over what the rioters claim to be a loss of their “entitlements”, one should be hard-pressed to ask whether a reconciliation can ever be achieved between the clashing ideas of Britain’s welfare state model and the resulting contention made that it has inadvertently encouraged a disgustingly immature attitude amongst its dependents, which has led to what we have been witnessing over the past week.

Sadly, the actual protest, the actual “cause” reflecting the arguments made on the rioters’ behalf has long been swallowed whole by the mob of opportunistic crooks getting jump-started across cities, taking advantage of the anarchic chaos resulting from the early riots. These youths aren’t seeking attention to send their “message” across; they’re merely copycat rioters and looters guided by no worthy causes, with zilch sense of social responsibility. A bunch of power-hungry, angst-ridden schmucks tearing the city apart, just because they can. There exists no excuse for the senseless violence – beating people up as they please and intentionally causing harm to members of their own community are put together, illustrations of a whole different sort of rampant retaliation gone mad. No matter that they do not identify with those they have been hurting; a wretched value system beleaguered by the absence of the simplest show of humanity is not fit to be called a value system at all.

When extreme alienation proves so volatile and deadly, it ceases to become an accepted justification; such nihilistic outbursts should be recognized as stemming from the wills of criminals, and criminals only. Misguided sympathy towards these quarters who are unmistakably raging out of control under terribly noxious delusions will only serve to undermine the actual struggle : Resistance should be spirited and above all principled, not selfish and self-destructive.

“Rebellion without truth is like spring in a bleak, arid desert,” warned Khalil Gibran.

Riot police officers face off with protesters in Tottenham, 7 August 2011 | Credit: Lewis Whyld/PA/AP

I refuse to romanticize this as a “rebellion by the disenfranchised “, but I’ll acknowledge that for the Tottenham rioters at least (who sparked the initial protests), their reaction to Mr. Duggan’s death and what they claim to be a systematic exclusion of their interests by the State certainly wasn’t fueled by anything less than a feeling of real exasperation. It is a pity then that their voices have been largely erased by current circumstances.

In spite of my aversion to mindless anarchy, I’d be a hypocrite to not admit that the swift labeling of the rioters as quite the “intelligent” looters by those still insisting on conjuring up imprudent masks for these allegedly marginalized groups has some resonance with me: “intelligent” because stealing from the rich supposedly gives meaning to the continued lawlessness – a thievery corporation of sorts for the masses. Not to give undue credit to these hooligans where it isn’t due – mugging helpless civilians and the use of physical force in their acts of petty thefts are inexcusable – but I choose to tread rather recklessly on shards of glass here in expressing my own reservations to harshly condemn the destruction of the upper middle-class consumerist, capitalistic symbols. Snapshots of broken display windows of thrashed out designer stores unashamedly give me a sort of perverse pleasure, akin to when the Black Bloc went on that delicious rampage against the Ritz during the UK Cuts protest.

Therein lies my own contradictions – I despise violence yet relish such displays of bold aggression. I find that sort of anarchy inspired (inevitable once allowing The Clash & co’s colourful ideas to seep into one’s logic throughout tiresome high school years), when I should be condemning it were I to be fair to my own opinions concerning the “politically-correct.” Surely I should stand resolutely by the context I myself have decided upon.

In any case, I can only judge if I myself were among those claiming to be the downtrodden; victimized and alienated by the faulty system which has resulted in a gaping hole of gross social inequality, robbing me of my opportunities, my future. Then only can I be allowed to say fairly whether I would’ve lashed out in the same (seemingly incommensurate) manner. What I do know though, is that my conscience will never permit me to turn against my own community, when my rage squarely lies with the State.

And yes, any ignorant punk who decides to equate these horrid riots to the peaceful rallies of the Malaysian society is just that – an ignorant punk.

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Beatnik is a reluctant law student in a local university which arguably hosts the largest congregation of prudes in the country. Although she can’t use her real name here because of an oppressive piece of university law, she insists on not letting that define her; ideally, she’s just another beatnik. Self-explanatory.

Posted on 15 August 2011. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0.

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