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Sunday, 14 August 2011

UK riots: resembles more of the Third World, bring up questions about society, moral decay! Anger still burns

London’s Blitz today


As Britain resembles more of the Third World, what awaits developing Third World countries after development?

THE young men looting from the shops were not in Haiti, at least not anymore. The others coordinating more trouble for the government with their BlackBerrys were not in Egypt’s Tahrir Square either.

They were in London, capital of the once-global empire on which the sun never set. How did a great city that once ruled much of the world gravitate to the depths of a battle-strewn Iraq or a lawless Somalia?

It was not the first time that wanton violence had erupted in a city that sees itself as a leader of the “civilised world” after it had sent countless “civilising missions” around the globe to bring the “natives” up to speed on living a fuller and more meaningful life.

There was rioting two years ago when London hosted the G20 summit, and another eruption in the poorer parts of South London in the early 1980s, among others. But this time seemed the most serious: even a middle-class suburb in northwest London like Ealing had not been spared, with fires reminiscent of the wartime Blitz.

After street violence spread through the city from Camden, Clapham and Hackney to Lewisham, Peckham and Woolwich, it fanned out to other major cities across the country. Evidently the natives in Britain have been restless, and it could be that they felt excluded from living a fuller and more meaningful life.

For many of the youths on the rampage, living a better life meant having that new pair of sports shoes, the latest cellphone or the big flatscreen TV in the shop window – without having to pay for it. And thus the looting.

The apparently untraceable BlackBerry messaging system among fellow users also came in handy when avoiding police surveillance. Thus the “struggle” for the freedom to have what they’ve always wanted, by “liberating” snazzy items from the shelves of retail outlets.

Troublemakers seemed to have been encouraged by the fact that both the prime minister and the deputy prime minister had been abroad on holiday at the same time. But the urgency of attending to the troubles has meant that nobody has asked why have a deputy at all if both were going to be away simultaneously.

Several outcomes have been painful in their predictability. Politicians rushing home to address the problem have criticised the police handling of the riots, the police have rejected the criticism while claiming to have some of “the best officers in the world”, and liberal NGOs are concerned that the offenders might be punished too harshly.

Two issues now stand out as requiring some soul-searching before making the tough decisions necessary.

One concerns how the mainly youthful offenders are to be treated. The need for quick justice in the courts to deal with the many cases has caused some quarters to be anxious about the quality of the judgments and sentencing.

Another concerns the style of policing, particularly when initial responses from the force seemed inadequate. But efforts to alter the Metropolitan Police’s standard operating procedures have met with resistance.

Two related challenges for Downing Street are its insistence on going through with its 20% or £2bil (RM9.8bil) cuts to the police budget over the next four years, and the plan to engage an American policing consultant to advise on changes.

Both issues have further alienated the force from the government of Prime Minister David Cameron, who still insists on proceeding with them. The opposition Labour Party and the general public are largely on the side of the police.

A Guardian/ICM poll across Britain during the week found that 44% disapproved of Cameron’s performance, against 30% who were satisfied with it. Some 45% found the police performed well against 27% who felt otherwise.

A 56% majority of the public also felt that the police were already under-resourced before any cuts, against 41% who felt the force had what it needed to maintain law and order.

As for the reasons for the rioting, 45% cited the criminality of rioters, 28% saw their lack of respect for society, 8% believed it was the lack of jobs for youths, 5% said it was the police shooting death of a young man in Tottenham, 4% blamed the government, 2% blamed the police, 2% blamed the economy and only 1% felt it was racial sentiment.

However, it need not mean that racism is insignificant. Among the few deaths so far, three had been of Asian Muslims in Birmingham by a hit-and-run driver, although public attention has focused on the single white victim in Tottenham.

If racism is a bigger factor now than before, the problems before Britain are set to grow exponentially. In much of the earlier rioting, race was not a factor despite appearances as disillusioned individuals joined in against the established order.

As I made my way to the centre of rioting in Brixton some three decades ago, I asked a local for the precise location. “Oh, you mean the frontline!” he said, with a sense of dread and eyebrows raised.

I found the spot and it never seemed as terrifying as what Britons generally have had to experience in 2011. Things have obviously deteriorated, and might still worsen further.

Yet no other country can be so smug or self-righteous as to say it is immune to the kind of problems Britain has lately experienced. Neither Thailand nor any Arab or other country is insulated from such social disruptions.

Britain as pioneer has been proud of being “the mother of democracies” and the father of capitalism as the original “workshop of the world”.

If its troubles are a sign of things to come, other rapidly developing countries may want to consider some contingency plans within easy reach.

London riots bring up questions about society


I AM one of the many thousands of Malaysians who studied in England in the 1970s and early 1980s. Since then, I have visited England, specifically London, three times – for an alumni weekend in 2009 and for other invitations I received twice last year, first in October, when I visited the Oxford Centre of Islamic Studies and gave a talk to Malaysian students, and again in December, after receiving an invitation to discuss Islam and programmes carried out for the Muslim community there.

I also met up with some students from Johor. So, at a Malaysian restaurant I sat, surrounded by these young, bright students studying at different colleges in London, some doing engineering, others medicine. Initially, there was some awkwardness both on my part and theirs – until I asked them about the Tube (London Underground) and taxi fares. I told them I used to take the Tube and the bus and that I could only afford to take a taxi if I had not used up the monthly allowance my father gave me. Talking about public transport fares then and now seemed to break the ice. I didn’t seem so alien after all.

When news came in about the London riots, I thought about our Malaysian students who are studying there. I wondered about the safety of this particular group of Johor students whom I had met.

We’ve all seen footage of the riots in London and in other British cities. Like in the United States, many people in Britain and other countries in Europe are facing unemployment, less spending power and falling property values. Some British journalists were of the opinion that moral decay and the yawning gap between the rich and the poor were two of the many reasons which caused the riots.

Moral decay

Peter Oborne, the Daily Telegraph’s chief political commentator, in his article “The moral decay of our society is as bad at the top as the bottom” wrote: “Indeed, I believe that the criminality in our streets cannot be dissociated from the moral disintegration in the highest ranks of modern British society. The last two decades have seen a terrifying decline in standards among the British governing elite. It has become acceptable for our politicians to lie and to cheat. An almost universal culture of selfishness and greed has grown up.”

I emailed my English boarding school friends to ask if they and their families were all right. One of them had seen the video of Mohd Asyraf Haziq Rossli bleeding on a street before getting robbed. She wrote back: “I saw the clip of the youth being robbed and it made me feel sick and very angry that people could behave in such an inhumane way. The fact it was a visitor to the UK makes it much worse and I hope he recovers well and does not think the majority of the UK is like this. I feel parenting has a great deal to do with this and there has been a loss of respect for authority, elders and community.”

Another friend, a doctor with the National Health Service, wrote: “London was quieter last night. The police advised us to shut the practice early and send the staff home which we did. The high streets look like battle zones with shops boarded up or shuttered.

Divided we stand: Riot police facing a mob in Hackney, north London, on Monday. — AFP
“It is really unbelievable with the fires and the looting making it feel a bit like civil war! We have a disenfranchised, disconnected and discontented generation who we need to re-engage.”

We Malaysians, however, shouldn’t be so smug and think that our country is far superior than Britain. We, too, have a “discontented generation”, with many young people who are unemployed or who choose to remain unemployed. And we have gangsters too.

We have a huge number of single mothers who are left by their husbands to fend for themselves and their children. We have unwed mothers. We have far too many cases of incest. We have drug users and drug suppliers. We have animal trafficking. We have heard and read about child abuse.

At the same time, it could not have escaped our attention that there is a simmering tension between the different racial communities. Religious authorities make conflicting media statements which leave most of us bewildered rather than reassured. Who should we believe? And why can’t they sit down and argue the issues at hand?

We have again and again failed at agreeing to disagree. Since it is Ramadan, and even before the London riots began, I had started to think again about our society and our social problems. Being hungry does that to you. We become introspective, we question our values and our priorities.

One of the things I realised – and one which has become more and more blatant over the years – is that we place more value on our outward appearances. Thus, designer handbags, shoes and clothes emblazoned with logos are what we strive to possess because owning them means that our husbands are successful or that we ourselves are successful in our own careers.

We have become superficial and we definitely defy the saying of not judging books by their covers. Many affluent middle-aged women have taut faces, no sagging jawlines, and flawless skin. And yes, I say this with much envy because I do not have great skin; I have more chins than I would like and my eyebags are reaching the proportions of the must-have Birkin handbags.

Similar concerns

We do, therefore, have similar concerns with the already-developed countries: we have made it a priority to have material things rather than striving to be good, decent people.

It has become unfashionable to talk about moral values, integrity, spirituality and all other things which we may or may not possess but which cannot be seen or touched physically. We struggle with all things intangible. We prefer to have possessions which we can see, touch and hold.

As Hisham Hellyer said during his lecture titled “Islamisation in the 21st Century: Islamic Renewals”: “For despite the wailing and moaning about the ‘evil West’ and its corrupting influences that one so often finds within the Muslim world, the Muslim world at large is rushing to become Western as much as humanly possible. And it is not rushing to imbibe those laudable aspects of Western civilisation that do continue to exist through the grace of God, despite the many problems that exist in the West ... The Muslim world sees the technological advancements of the West, and rushes to be like the West ... forgetting that actually, the mark of progress according to the Islamic worldview is an increase of taqwa, not material wealth.”

So, do we, in Malaysia, also have that “universal culture of selfishness and greed” which Oborne wrote about when describing society in Britain? I would like to think that we don’t but a part of me knows that we do. I don’t see much effort at giving back to society or of wanting to learn about those who live wretched lives. It is hard for me to ignore that despite our rush to be a developed country we still have many social issues which need to be addressed, if not solved. I cannot look the other way and ignore the poor who live in deplorable conditions in some parts of Johor Baru. Our cities have grown but together with this growth is the increase of the urban poor. If they are filled with anger or frustration, it is because we have not made enough efforts to listen to them, or to help them.

One of the things I saw, and which I will never forget, was of men and women queuing up to get their wang ihsan after the floods of 2006. They stood patiently in the grounds of a mosque as a government officer wrote down their names and addresses.

A couple of years ago, I was flipping through one of those glossy society magazines and I saw a designer handbag that cost RM90,000. Would I have asked my husband to buy it for me? No, because the sight of those flood victims standing in line to receive just RM500 makes such a purchase sinful. How many families would the cost of that handbag help feed? Thinking about this, I would like to understand more about taqwa, and what it truly means. I don’t need to know about wealth because I already live a privileged life.

For Malaysians, the London riots should not be seen as something that would never happen here or that we do not have young people who are frustrated by life’s unfairness. We should instead realise what we should do because it is our responsibility towards the young people of this country. They deserve a chance at a better life. And they shouldn’t have to be part of a riot for us to realise that.

The writer is Chancellor of UTM; Royal Fellow, School of Language Studies and Linguistics, UKM; Royal Adviser of the Malaysian Red Crescent Society, and holds a Bachelor of Arts in Chinese Studies from the University of Oxford.

Anger still burns in epicentre of UK riots

by Marc Bastian 

LONDON, August 14, 2011 (AFP) - Tottenham in north London is still smouldering with anger and frustration, one week on from the unprecedented wave of rioting, arson and looting that broke out here then swept across England.

Last Sunday residents of the multi-ethnic neighbourhood were assessing the scale of the damage after a night that saw running battles with riot police, homes and businesses reduced to cinders and stores smashed into.

But while the clean-up continues and businesses get back to normal one week on, the tension has not dissipated.

Tottenham High Road, the neighbourhood's main thoroughfare which was the scene of last Saturday's explosion of violence, remained a crime scene for a week, taped off by the police as they gathered evidence.

Saturday should have seen the area streaming with football supporters for Tottenham Hotspur's match against Everton as the English Premier League season kicked off, but the game was postponed for safety reasons.

"We're closed since last Saturday," a Turkish restaurant owner said as he finally reopened for business, a week on.

"People never demonstrate here to protest. Everybody's unhappy, frustrated. Economy, racism. And suddenly it all explodes," he said.

The trigger for last Saturday's riot, which then sparked a wave of arson, looting and disorder across London and then to cities beyond, was the death of Mark Duggan.

The 29-year-old was shot dead on Thursday, August 4 by armed police operating with officers from Trident, the unit of London's Metropolitan Police that deals specifically with gun-related murders in the black community.

He was stopped in a pre-planned attempted arrest.

A non-police issue handgun was recovered from the scene. The Independent Police Complaints Commission, which investigates all deaths involving officers, said there was no evidence of an exchange of shots.

Last Saturday's events began with a peaceful march to Tottenham police station on the High Road from Broadwater Farm, a 1960s public housing estate that is notorious across Britain for a deadly 1985 riot.

However, within hours, rioting broke out.

"The people wanted police to know that they're messing up," reckoned 14-year-old Dillz Shah.

His friend Jeffrey Freeman said: "The people wanted revenge for Duggan's killing.

James Cardelle added: "My dad thinks Duggan was a very good man, he knew him."

Duggan lived on Broadwater Farm, a collection of ugly-looking grey social housing blocks.

"He was a nice guy. So sad," said Mohammed Abrar, 22, from beneath a grey hood.

The October 6, 1985 Broadwater Farm riot followed riots a week before in Brixton, south London.

They were sparked by the stroke death of a black woman during a police search at her home on the Tottenham estate.

Youths rioted, attacking police with petrol bombs and bricks. Shots were fired at officers and a policeman was hacked to death by a mob in some of the worst urban rioting in Britain of the past 30 years.

Then, as now, fingers were pointed at police "lies", but also at "anger" provoked by governments past and present.

In a hairdressing salon opposite a burnt-out two-storey building, the black clientele lambast the authorities and the upper echelons of society.

"They abandon the population"; "the government has tripled the tuition fees"; "they cut the benefits"; "they evict people whose children were involved in the riots"; "these bankers have stolen our money", they say as they discuss the situation.

Perry Linton, a 50-something, is "frustrated" by a society in which "we worked hard, very hard, to get what? Things went worse".

Linton adds: "Racism is a big issue".

Christina Showunmi, a mother in her 40s, replies: "Racism? I don't want to think about it, otherwise it will affect my attitude towards other people. So I just block it out of my mind."

"True", other customers say. "We do the same".

Stella Saunders, 60, was having her nails painted blue.

"The youth are hanging around, have no jobs. If the factories were open, it would keep them busy. Everybody needs hope and an income," she said.

If not, despair is simply passed on from generation to generation.

"If you have no hope at 14, 15, how can you become a good parent?" she said.

Showunmi warned: "This will happen again and it will escalate. The government will make it happen again."

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