Follow by Email

Sunday, August 21, 2011

U.K. RIOTS: When London burned!

For LEED Consultancy / IGBC Certifications, Green Building Design, Green Homes, Green Factory Buildings, Green SEZs, Green Townships & Energy Audits -

Mike Marqusee & Tabish Khair, The Hindu / August 20, 2011.

A ravaged building in Tottenham, north London. Photo: AP
A ravaged building in Tottenham, north London. Photo: AP.

Were the London riots just wanton criminal acts or were there much deeper causes? Two eminent writers comment on the economic faultlines in Britain today...
A context of inequality
Three years of recession and austerity measures that impacted the poor a lot more than the rich — this is the context for the riots, not ‘feral’ youth and a culture of selfishness.
“Criminality pure and simple” was Prime Minister David Cameron’s initial verdict on the rioting. From the Right came the mantra, “Down with sociology! Up with water cannon!” Don’t think but do act — harshly, punitively, peremptorily.
Spreading unrest
In the hours and days that followed, various forms of disorder spread to other locales in London and eventually to other English cities, notably Liverpool and Birmingham. In Ealing in west London, restaurants and cafes were attacked. In Enfield, to the north of Tottenham, a Sony warehouse was ransacked and incinerated. In Clapham, south of the Thames, a Debenhams department store was looted. Most tragically, in Birmingham, three young men from the Muslim community were killed as they protected their family shops. In the London suburb of Eltham, a vigilante mob assembled to hunt for “rioters” — backed by the Muslim-hating English Defence League.
Obvious connection
When historians look back, I suspect they will be most immediately struck by the conjuncture of the rioting with the global stock market turmoil sparked off by the Eurozone crisis and the downgrading of the US’s credit rating. They’ll scratch their heads and wonder just how it was we missed this connection.
Brief moment of power
Beyond culture, and informing it, there is the phenomenon of powerlessness, which is both a subjective and objective reality, and poverty’s constant companion. Watching the rioters, it was easy to see how pumped up and liberated some were by this brief taste of power, of possession. But in the end the only antidote to powerlessness is power, economic and political. The current route to that is through resistance to austerity, in Britain and across Europe. For that resistance, the challenge now, in the wake of the riots, is to expand in scope and diversity.
Provinces of paranoia
There is a tendency to explain the London violence in terms of ‘colour' and ‘culture'. The real reasons lie elsewhere, says TABISH KHAIR.
Discourse of fear
Europe is filling with states of paranoia today. Only some of the paranoia can be attributed to the actual possibility of threats — such as those from Islamist terrorism. Most of it is the creation of a certain kind of political and media discourse. I will not waste space by highlighting the increasingly xenophobic tone of politicians from the far Right — and sometimes even from the traditional Left — in these countries. The suspicion of strangers, growing intolerance of immigrants, an easy slippage from a gimmicky version of multiculturalism to a gimmicky dismissal of it, an increasing tendency to hector minorities instead of entering into a mutually respectful dialogue with them: these tendencies have been betrayed by a number of politicians, including some mainstream ones, from England to Norway.
Converging frustrations
Combine these tendencies with the current economic downslide, which is largely the result of the increasing complicity of politicians with free-floating business interests, and the fact, obvious to any thinking person today, that corporations and banks can lose millions of other people's money and be bailed out by governments, but the same generosity is seldom extended to ordinary citizens and never to really poor ones. And you have an understanding of the London violence.
Breivik's ‘reality' shared elements of this fantasy.
This is not a totally new development. As the great Swedish historian, Sven Lindqvist has documented in Exterminate All the Brutes, ‘invasion scare' stories were particularly popular in the first half of the 20th century — the decades that saw the rise of fascism. Now, I suspect, they are back in more refined forms.

Ignored contradiction
The European middle classes want the benefits of Capitalism but they do not want to pay the price. With Capitalist logic finally pricking their consumerist booms, they do not even want to face this contradiction. They give it the face of the ‘Other': hence, the choice of colour or religion, rather than class, as ‘explanation'. Xenophobia is the new religion of such sections of the European middle classes, regardless of whether they vote Left or Right. In this, they are aided by the non-European Right, such as Islamists.

Full Story at,

No comments:

Post a Comment