Sunday, August 7, 2011

Riots, Damned Riots, and Revolutions

Tottenham, London, can now be added to the list of cities in the Western world (i.e Europe and America) that have seen riots in recent years.
In the last week, even Tel Aviv, Israel (of all places) has joined the ranks of the more famous anarchy-prone metropoli such as Athens an Madrid, to name two.
That's not to mention the riots and civil strife happening on a daily basis in Syria, sporadically in Yemen, Egypt; civil war in Libya etc. etc.

Of course, the riots of the last few years each have there own roots, and are not directly related to each other, and I don't want to go into each set of events in too much detail, for the sake of space. But some things are worth talking about.

Starting most recent first, the riots in Tottenham and around.
It was the shooting of an armed criminal with gang links a few days before that was meant to be the spark. A protest walk in the Tottenham high street became hijacked by what appear to have been gang elements (many of them immigrant origin), and the end result was nearly twelve hours of mayhem in three seperate locations in the Haringey district of North London, resulting in looted and burned out shops, supermakets and retail outlets, as well as burned out police cars and a bus.
It may be tempting to ink these riots to those happening around the same time in places like Tel Aviv, Athens and Madrid. Tempting, but not entirely fair or accurate. The riots/ demonstrations in these other places are people (either young or old, or both) venting their frustration at their respective government's response to the economic and social effects of the financial crisis - unemployment, rising prices, cost of living etc.
In the case of the Tottenham riots, there are direct criminal elements involved. In that respect in bears a closer resemblance to the riots that took place in France several years ago (long before the financial crisis, as I remember); a teenager of North African origin was killed by a policeman; riots broke out across some deprived suburbs of Paris, quickly multiplying to other cities around France (Sarkozy called the rioters "scum" at the time); it got to the extent that by the tail end of weeks of the national riots there were "only" 1,000 cars that had been burned out in one day.
Those riots were also likely instigated by gangs seeing an opprtunity to wreak their own sense of "revenge" on the police and the establishment.

The essential question is: why do gangs exist in these circumstances? The answer doesn't take a PhD in Sociology to get to. Gangs exist as social networks to occupy a wider social vacuum (i.e. through dysfuctional family networks, community networks, lack of other connection to the social ladder etc.).
Am I making excuses for criminality? Of course not. I'm simply looking at the issue through a cause-and-effect rationality, in coming to understand why it happens. The police do the same thing: that's why when there is proper engagement with a community; when there are real opportunities for community improvement; when a community works together; when families work together, the levels of gang activity usually go down. That has been proven to be the case in Glasgow (the police did a successful programme there a couple of years ago).
So, back to Tottenham. As was reported, over the last few years, the suburb has seen rising levels of unemployment and falling levels of police interaction. You go figure what happens. Create the vacuum, and see who takes up the space.

So in an indirect way, yes, there is a link to all these riots over the "post-crisis years" (I just invented that phrase). The seperate make-up and triggers are different, but the underlying causes remain somewhat similar.
It is fair to say that without the financial crisis, the Arab Spring may well not have happened (as it took everyone, even the "experts" by surprise); the demos and riots across Europe are all direct consequences of the crisis. While the Gangs Of Tottenham can never dare to claim to hold the same legitimacy for their openly criminal behaviour, the gangs exist indirectly because of the social vacuum in the community in Tottenham itself, which has been exacurbated by the effects and government policy since the financial crisis.

Of course, the same community vacuum exists in other parts of London; exists in other inner cities around the UK; and exists in other inner cities around the Western world as a whole. Let me say again: there can never be a justification for the criminal behavior that we have seen in Tottenham.
The problem is that if these "community vacuums" are allowed to fester while the government continues to cut back on sevices like law and order and investing in social cohesion, the only growth economy we can expect in these places is further gang warfare and anarchy.

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