Rowdies or Revolutionaries?
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It is with great concern that the world looks to London in the days of the worst riots that the city has seen in the recent past. Pictures of burning cars and masked hordes facing armed police on the streets instantly bring back memories of the civil unrest in that spread out from the suburbs of Paris all over France in 2005. The trigger for the violence was similar: fleeing from the police after a banal incident, Zyed Benna and Bouna Traore were electrocuted while climbing into an electrical sub-station in the Paris suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois. In London Mark Duggan aged 29 years, got killed last Thursday after an apparent fire exchange with police officers. When hundreds of people marched one day later to Tottenham police station to ask for justice, the situation escalated and what started with thrown bottles and cars being set on fire turned into a national crisis.
Though six years and 340 kilometres of distance lie between the incidents, the causes and results seem to be identical and bring to light how dramatically politicians and the economy have failed to provide perspectives for youth even after the warnings of France 2005.
It is easy to stigmatize the rioters of London as looters and hooligans and the fact that many of them are not politicized might fuel this impression (see video).
However, to think that only well-educated middle and upper class people have the right to protest might be one of the root causes for the sudden outburst of violence itself. Like it or not, but what is happening in London right now is a public protest and there are reasons for it.
A lot of those currently on the street might actually don’t know those reasons are, but the fact that there is an urge to run around and destroy things shows that something is terribly wrong with modern western society. Once again, it would be the time to rethink the principal of survival of the fittest and lend our ears to the weakest and most vulnerable.
One would have thought that the global financial crisis had taught us valuable lessons, but instead of questioning the principal of the invisible hand and the self-regulating market, voters in countries like Sweden or the Netherlands fell for neo liberal right wing parties offering (too) easy solutions.
Paying taxes to favour the “losers” of the fast pace race of modern capitalism is traditionally unpopular amongst the wealthy, even more so in times of crisis and with everyone thinking that he is treated unfair and should be helped, solidarity is hard to find.
Children and youth need a perspective in order to be expected to live within the rules of the society they were forced to be part of. If you never had a chance to make it anyway and have nothing to lose, what difference does it make not to obey the law?
Of course, violence is absolutely unacceptable and many homes and family businesses have been burned down and destroyed, but this is the result of something that happens every day and that we like to turn a blind eye on too often and eventually at some point, injustice becomes unbearable and the rage unloads in terrible acts of violence.
As Daniel McGowen, member of the Earth Liberation Front put it: "I'm not suggesting that the path of destruction is the right path," he said. "But, when you're screaming at the top of your lungs and no one hears you, what are you supposed to do?"
Photo 1: Fires in London during recent riots (Creative Commons)
Video: Interview performed by the BBC
Photo 2: Mark Duggan's death started the outburst of violence