On the fifth night of rioting, on August 10, British police were able to prevent criminal gangs from indulging in more arson and looting, but this could be a temporary lull. Those arrested for violence numbered over 1,200 in all major cities of England where the rioting has spread to defy all past records. So far, restrained and using only water-cannon against the rioters, the police have received the go-ahead from the government to use rubber bullets.
The violence spread to cities such as Birmingham, Liverpool and Birmingham — all three have significant immigrant populations — and the perpetrators were found to be mostly youth of Afro-Caribbean descent. In Birmingham, where the ugly face of racism was exposed when three Pakistani-British boys were killed by a car that overran them, looting was the main motive. In Nottingham, the mobs fire-bombed a police station, a most serious incident in terms of scale. UK Prime Minister David Cameron called the rioters “sick and broken” while the police characterised them as “criminals, pure and simple”. The London police was increased to 16,000 from 6,000 to cope with the violence.
The rioting was sparked by the death of a handgun-carrying youth, Mark Duggan, at the hands of the police and the rioters were mostly of ‘Caribbean origin’, organised through gangs of local thugs who used social communication devices on the internet to gather manpower and identify targets. The reference to Marj Duggan seemed to be an excuse to unleash the orgy of criminal behaviour that the UK has not seen in a long time. It also indicated the levels of disaffection that British society is suffering from because of the general global economic downturn and the spending cuts the conservative government of Mr Cameron has imposed on the country.
That the rioting had classical ‘underprivileged’ origins was perhaps evident in part from the fact that members of the Asian communities that are deemed less deprived than mainstream white Britain were absent from the rioters. The British Muslim community — whose credentials came under suspicion in 2005 when bombings were carried out by youth of Pakistani origin — has stayed out of the fray, proving that a majority of them are peaceful citizens. There was a remarkable solidarity to be seen in Birmingham when the vigil for the three killed Pakistani boys was held by Harpreet Singh, 28, who told the crowd: “Let this be a message to other communities, not just Muslims and Sikhs, let’s stand together, let’s hold candlelight vigils.”
Prime Minister Cameron has responded to Harpreet’s call by expressing grief on the killing of the three boys. He has also announced payment of compensation to the business losses suffered in the wake of rioting. He has not been spared criticism though, especially for his curtailment of police manpower as part of his austerity drive. True to the strict observance of economic discipline, he has refused to back down from the cuts, at least so far.
The UK is a highly organised state and cannot be compared to the generality of Third World states where a level of disorder has been accepted as normal. One can predict that investigations against those involved in looting and arson will be carried out effectively and punishment will be visited on those found guilty. The final report on the subject issued by the government will try to diagnose the causes of the trauma that the UK has suffered over four days. The economic causes will also include the sociological causes, such as the marginalisation of the poor as a class, and the isolation and backwardness of the citizens of Afro-Caribbean origin who no longer consider themselves a part of the British nation.
What will come as a relief to the UK government is the solidarity expressed by the various communities living under Britain’s multicultural social order. It is on this that the new more tolerant way of life can be built; and the ‘reactive’ political elements, in existence in the UK and cropping up in Europe against ‘outsiders’, too, can be dealt with.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 12th, 2011.