London Burning

Tonight, again, London is burning. Watching the news, the flames roaring up into the night sky, I find myself tearful and distraught. There is something so violent and destructive about these fires, so pointless about the needless looting. There are repeated questions about why there are many children involved, and where their parents are.

The first night of riots raised important debate about police relationships in communities, racial tensions, unemployment levels and deprived (I must interject here – relatively deprived) inner-London areas. From there onwards things have spiralled into apparently wanton violence and anarchy. There are many questions to be asked, and the best we can hope for is that somehow something positive may yet come of it. My heart is raging against the waste, destruction and greed, while my head is asking what my mother would have made of it all. She tended to look at the world from multiple perspectives, rather than choosing the obvious or safe conclusions. She might point out that people always have motivations for their actions, however difficult they may be to understand or unpick. The youth looting on the streets are not as stupid as we would like to believe, because it is an easier story for us to accept. I make no claims to understand this myself, but I try to stretch my mind past my own experiences to boredom and dissatisfaction, the rush of adrenaline and feeling part of a mob, and anger at the world and media constantly talking of the current ‘lost” generation with high University fees, limited job prospects, soaring costs of living and growing unemployment. To reach beyond the rationale of my well-educated, middle class, comfortably employed, white identity to stand in another’s shoes, instead of allowing myself the easy road of righteous indignation.

I do not believe that trying to understand another’s viewpoint or motivations means that we have to necessarily absolve them of responsibility. Quite the contrary, I think it is important for people to be held to account for the consequences of their actions. It is not helpful, however, to judge without first seeking to understand, because without uncovering the root causes we cannot hope to forge a better future.

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7 thoughts on “London Burning

  1. Youth is the engine of the world. Like every engine, it needs fuel.
    Society usually provides a very bad quality fuel to such a precious engine, so the youth pretty much takes the world to dark places instead of ruling the future with optimism.

    People are just different, while some grow up strong and righteous, even when facing corruption and destruction, others are more prone to get carried away.
    Either way, rebellion is a necessary evil. When legal means are thoroughly exhausted with no success, people try to get the authorities’ attention bringing chaos.

    Unfortunately, sometimes, bringing chaos and destruction seem to be the only possible way through which politicians can be warned about people’s needs.

  2. It is so hard to understand this stuff … when people here in Cape Town burn the trains because they are over-crowded, or do not run on time. If only others listened to, in the case of the trains, an obvious and necessary message. But I do like your take on Tessa, Laurel: How she viewed teh world from multiple perspectives and so often surprised me with her insights, and also her forgiveness and understanding. This allowed her to get on with people whom one could never imagine her accepting. Again, she did not absolve – she came rather from a place of knowing.

  3. There was a programme on Carte Blanche on Sunday evening on bicycle hijacking. Cyclists have been held up at gun point, knife point, beaten up, stabbed and nearly raped and their bicycles stolen. Even riding in groups of up to six people is no protection. It’s shocking, and it makes me cross. But what made me crosser was that there are people who have bicycles that cost R75000 for the fun of it and they ride these bicycles in places where people live who could survive on that money for six years, wtih their families. Carte Blance does not talk about this, about the gross inequalities that feed discontent and fury. I don’t know how to see the London riots but i do know that there’s a reason and it makes logical sense in some way. We just don’t get to hear that logical sense from the media.

  4. Anarchy has been getting the worst possible press for such a long time…. and that is no accident. The powers that be took the actions of a few frustrated anarchist extremists as somehow “typical” of anarchy, and have abused the word ever since. It’s a bit like equating blood thirsty invading Crusaders with Christianity, or suicide bombers with Islam. This suits people with axes to grind, but does nothing to enable anyone to understand the true meanings and aspirations of these political or religious movements. The essence of anarchy is summed up in the highly ethical statement “from each according to her ability, to each according to her need”. The anarchists have always called for a just society governed at the most local level possible (as opposed to nation states and their propensity for wars and oppression). In a globalised world these ideas are quaintly in need of a modern interpretation, but nevertheless what is happening in the UK is not anarchy, but rather its opposite: unorganised, criminal behaviour fueled by a system that does not care for the poor and marginalised, in which the rich flaunt their material wealth, within the context of a society that is losing its moral compass. The real irony to me is that social networking has played such a role in this: it puts a new spin on the euphria in the West about the use of social networking in the Arab world uprisings.

    1. Thanks for the response Dad – it’s always exciting and refreshing to get new perspectives on things, and a little bit of debate going! It is interesting how language can be distorted with entirely new connotations – I think of Feminism, which so many people still interpret as merely man-bashing. Vilification and simplification, which attempt to take away their power.

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