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Riots on the high street.

By Walid Kalaji

The riots that rocked the streets of London and other major cities in England over the past week have opened the door for serious thinking into the causes that wreaked havoc, destruction and looting on the otherwise calm high streets.

There were six deaths caused by the violence in addition to the hundreds of injuries sustained by both rioters and policemen.

Who would have thought that a single incident involving one individual could have erupted into a mass riot

against the authorities and against public property? The killing of a black man, Mark Duggan, at the hands of the British police provided the spark that ignited the riots as feelings of injustice and marginalization took over among the mostly unemployed and the deprived.

The protests at the killing of Duggan were soon overtaken by looters and hooligans who saw the opportunity to settle scores and grab all they can get.

The lack of police action during the riots in London and elsewhere took everyone by surprise as they were stretched beyond expectation by the extent of the riots and the limited number of policemen on the streets.

Furthermore, any use of force against the rioters could have resulted in deaths that might have brought out more rioters in retaliation against what they would consider police brutality.

The police find themselves at the losing end between the politicians on one side and the general public on the other.

The police force of the last century which commanded respect and sufficient clout to implement law and order on the UK streets has been replaced by one that is accused of corruption, tied down with red tape and political correctness, and faced with a sizable reduction in manpower due to budget reduction.

How can such a police force expect to deal with riots that threaten public safety and property?

Surely the scenes of looting and wanton destruction of property must never be associated with the protests going on all over the Middle East where the main themes are anti-corruption, political reforms and social justice.

This is why the anger of protestors in this part of the world has been directed mainly at the symbols of tyranny, whether in Tunisia or Egypt.

Whereas in the English riots, the looting element was the most evident as rioters grabbed whatever they could get their hands on not necessarily food.

To see people filling their car boots with trolley loads of goods and drive away indicates that they are satiating a rule of the jungle mentality as they strike a blow to the existing order of the land.

It also reflects the consumerist culture that has been entrenched in the British society since Thatcher's era.

People want to always live beyond their means and when the opportunity comes for grabbing for free, then they take it, through burning, looting and wanton destruction of property.

The riots may have ended for now; but the ugly face of racism and religious intolerance did come out as innocent Muslims were targeted by the mobsters as they were protecting their property.

The announcement that the ultra right British National Front was letting loose 1,000 of its thugs onto the streets to help stop the rioters who were not of any particular ethnicity could have widened the violence to such an extent that no police force would have been able to control.

This is why it is vital for the British government to turn its attention more to the underlying social upheavals and ethnic grievances that seem to create flashpoints at the slightest friction.

The multiculturalism that the society there enjoys should provide the ground for dialogue and understanding rather than conflict and alienation.

The Muslim father who lost his son in the riots made a heart-rending and humbling speech for calm and understanding, not of hate and revenge.

As for the politicians, the lessons of last week should provide them with the courage to reconsider their whole policies which are driving ordinary people to extremism as they get poorer.

Cameron's zero-tolerance does not sound too different to the official lines in the Middle East which he constantly preaches to; this has been reciprocated by Gaddafi who called on Cameron to resign as he has lost his legitimacy among the people.

Not that I feel any schadenfreude, though

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Publication:The Star (Amman, Jordan)
Date:Aug 15, 2011
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