Sunday, August 14, 2011

London Riots

I recently wrote a big group email primarily to people who don't live in the UK. It addressed the recent riots in London (and subsequently in other cities around the country) and though it was initially meant to simply assuage their fears that I might have somehow been negatively caught up in all of it, it turned into a little bit of a chance to stand on my soap box. There are two reasons why this happened and one leads into the other.

Being separated from many family and friends by an ocean, multiple time zones, and a sometimes strangely large cultural divide, I have often been struck by the way that events over here have been portrayed in the media over there. Often sensationalised, sometimes seen with tunnel vision, images and events have been presented to the North American public and I have been bemused by the light it has thrown on the UK. Sometimes, like in the case of the student riots a few months ago, things were blown way out of proportion and it seemed to my family and friends as if London was being torn apart at the seams. In the wake of the recent, and completely different, riot activity, I was quick to ask what they knew and how it was being presented and I was surprised at the general lack of concern or worry - especially as, in my book, these riots were far more scary than the student ones! So, when given the chance to set the media bias straight, I was happy to oblige.

The second reason was that I have recently had a conversation or two about the riots and think that I am starting to solidify some opinions on the subject - and writing them down for people who don't necessarily already have ideas about the subject makes me evaluate my perceptions and the ways I am telling the story.

I think it is justified to say that London (and then the UK as a whole) went a little bit mad last week. Personally, I think that it is really sad how much damage was done and how pointless all of it was. One looter was asked why she was doing this (at the beginning, they were amazingly cocky about talking to the media) and she replied that she was getting her "tax back" - yes, because the electronics store down the block is where your taxes go... just go take an HD TV... that's fine!.  None of them actually seemed to have any idea why they were doing it beyond the desire to cause trouble, damage stuff, and walk away with some free loot. Any reasoning put on it seemed totally ridiculous, or generally ignorant, and though I think that there ARE reasons why it happened and why the younger parts of society seem to have snapped like that right now... I don't think that those reasons were being actually presented nor were they conscious. It was not a political statement. It wasn't in reaction to one action.  And it wasn't attempting to damage or wound any political, religious, or societal ideal. It was greed and hooliganism gone to an extreme. People saw an opportunity and jumped at it. It was an expression of people who believed that their own personal right to do something was more important than their responsibilities towards their communities, the people around them, and even themselves.

A friend posted a facebook status likening the riots to terrorism - but also claiming the term used was dependent on the race of the person committing the crime: mostly black people = hooligans and criminals, mostly white = protesters, mostly muslim = terrorists. I was interested in the comparisons and the interpretation of these acts in such a way and an interesting debate was started in which my opinions on the subject were challenged to come together. (That's the problem with so many of my opinions, I don't know I have them until they are forced out of me.)

As far as calling the rioters terrorists or protesters, I disagree to those terms because they have no cause they are trying to fight for, therefore arent "protesters" and their aim is not the destruction of a competing religious/political/societ​al ideal, therefore not terrorists. They are opportunistic, ignorant, greedy, selfish people who are hurting their own communities for no real reason. To me that is criminality and hooliganism regardless of what race the offenders may be. (And I have seen images of many different races in the pictures of the looters...)

For me, I read a purpose and intent into the word "terrorism" that I don't feel that these people embody. I don't think these acts are based on anything other than opportunistic greed and a lack of morals or any sort of common sense... so while they do cause worry and pain for the people around them, I still can't quite bring myself to call them terrorists... in a way, that gives them credit for organisation and belief that I don't feel they deserve.
At the moment, the riots seem to have died down and the general order has been reinstated. But I know that the effects of the last week will be evident for a long time to come. People need to stop feeding themselves on the ideas of "their rights" and what is "owed" to them by society and need to remember that everyone has responsibilities - to themselves, their families, their friends, and communities - which sometimes trump the "rights"or desires of the individual. By no means am I against individual rights.... don't get me wrong, but I feel that there has been such an emphasis in our culture on the individual and too many people have cultivated a sense of entitlement that is both saddening and scary. And it is this entitlement that we are all going to have to face now... in the people around us and in our own mirrors.

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