Saturday, 13 August 2011

6 things about the #UKRiots

1. Crime is crime
As dramatic and interesting as a riot sounds, the terms only obscured the nature of the actions. Rioting and looting is simply another way of saying vandalism and theft. Obscuring the language however meant that rioting was sometimes used interchangeably with ‘demonstrating’ and ‘protesting’. These crimes were not political protests.

2. But even crime has causes.
There has been some tension in media analysis, especially from the left, in how to describe the rioters. In one sense, the rioters were certainly criminals causing unimaginable amounts of damage to local communities, they were thugs attacking people on the street and responsible for at least four deaths on the streets of the UK. On the other hand, commentators felt the need to locate the actions of the rioters in a wider political and social context. Is this about cuts? Is this about an ostracised community?

Well crime is crime, but even crime has causes. To say why one man killed another for example, does not undermine the crime itself. In the same way, we shouldn’t be shy about discussing what caused thousands of individuals to destroy and steal so much in their own towns and cities.

Poverty, social exclusion, broken-families... all these things no doubt have a part to play.

3. Justice and Mercy, not Justice and Vengeance.
There is an old Islamic axiom, that justice should be carried out with the objective of mercy. Yet it is human to desire justice for vengeance. After rioters quite literally pillaged through the streets of London, Birmingham and elsewhere – there were calls for more harsh punishments to be given out.

These include calls for the families of rioters to be evicted from their homes and an e-petition for rioters to lose their benefits.

This is a clear example of the very worst kind of ‘justice’. Justice here is not about righting what is wrong with the objective of compassion. It is giving about punishing simply for the sake of punishing. How will it help the 15 year old child involved in the riots to become a better individual by having him and his family kicked onto the streets?

And if the family of a rioter are on benefits (and not all of the rioters were, lest we descend into stereotypes about the poor being criminals); how will it help any of them to improve their situation, educate their child, and become productive members of society by losing their benefits?

Justice with the objective of vengeance is not justice at all, and the 100,000+ who signed the petition should be ashamed of themselves.

4. Call in the army, bring out the water cannons, load up the rubber bullets, where are the smoke grenades!?
A bizarre numbers of calls were made during the riots for increasingly harsh and tyrannical methods of policing to take place.

Lets make this clear – if you want stop riots, you need more police officers to uphold the law.

Our army and its involvement in wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and increasingly worrying UN presence in Libya cost the United Kingdom nearly £1billion a week. This is many many many times what we spend on officers. The police budget is roughly £9 billion annually and due to be cut significantly. We can do with fewer soldiers and more police officers any day of the week.

Now, as if the protests in Tunisa, Egypt, Syria, Libya and elsewhere were not enough to teach us – there are times when people need to protest and stand up against government.

There is a long tradition of protesting in the UK. But protests have been increasingly subject to aggressive and heavy-handed police tactics. The kettling that took place during the student protests last year are still fresh in my memory.

If the public calls for water cannons, rubber bullets and the like to be used for policing the streets during the riots today, then in all likelihood they will be used again in the future.

Yes, the rioters were criminals. No doubt about it.

But if next week 2 million Brits took to the streets of London to protest against the government like they did for the Iraq War in 2003. And instead of returning home after the protest, decided to camp down aorund Downing Street like the Egyptians did to Tahrir Square. Well then those 2 million Brits have become criminals, and subject to the same heavy handed tactics.

Call in the water cannons, the rubber bullets, the army!? Let's hope Britain never goes down that route.

NB: A better idea suggested by a friend however was to use ink stained paintball guns (they type of ink they use for elections that doesn’t rub off skin for a few days). Surely being publically recognisable would make them think twice, as well as making it much easier to trace rioters.

5. Don’t blame social media.
Cameron has indicated tougher measures on social media after rioters used the Blackberry Messenger Service to organise the riots.

Mr Cameron I hope realises riots took place in Britain well before the blackberry was ever used for emails and when twitter was simply the noise birds made.

Our liberty to use the internet should not be impinged upon by the government on such a paltry excuse.

6. The Positive Side
The riots were terrible, and a wake up call about the situation and morality of a large segment of our society who have no concern about upright behaviour and are willing to steal, damage and as we have seen, hurt others with little hesitation.

Yet, while rioters destroyed the streets during the nights, others spent their free time tidying up the mess the next day. Movements to clean the streets took place wherever there were riots, organised through Facebook and Twitter – they were a stark reminder that there are still plenty of people with social responsibility and solid moral standing.

Let’s not forget either the amazing scenes of community solidarity. Across London and Birmingham, while some youths were out rioting, other youths were protecting their streets from the rioters.

We were introduced us to Tariq Jahan, a man who displayed exemplary strength and compassion after his son and two others were killed protecting their community during the riots. In the month of Ramadan, the three boys opened their fast at sunset and then made their way to the local mosque for the tarawih prayers. After they finished, they along with dozens of others stood sentry outside the streets of their community conscious that rioters were being pushed out of the Birmingham city centre and into the suburbs. They were killed by a speeding car that seemed to drive straight for them, mounting the pavement to collide with the three. The family no doubt have suffered an immense loss. Yet they died in a holy month, after being engaged in prayer, in defence of their neighbours and friends. Few can hope to meet God with a more noble death.

All these should serve as reminders that despite the riots showing us a worrying underbelly of the today’s youth, there are still plenty of things to give us hope.