London’s payback to its ‘bad boys’ by Dilek Karal*

August 14, 2011, Sunday/ 16:22:00

Scenes we have been watching on the news this week include burning shops, overturned cars and streets turned into battlefields.

Those who have a chance to review these scenes can even see 12 or 13-year-old children in frustrated crowds running in front of the police, kicking shops and cars. Thought is hard to believe, the very stage of this raging play is England. The major perpetrators of the violence in England, which has been known for its multicultural structure for years, are its ‘bad boys,' who have long been perceived as vagabonds and left to the street gangs.

Mark Duggan was killed by the police on Thursday and it was his death that triggered the start of the riots and plunder in England. Behind the riots, we see unemployed, hopeless and aimless youth. What are the reasons for such riots, which have participants even among 11- or 12-year-old children?

Before starting to discuss, it should be noted that the group most sensitive to the effects of the economic crises that hit Europe, especially during 2010, are the unemployed and “vagabond” youngsters. The cutbacks on social assistance, especially education and health, due to the global economic crises have completely closed the doors to an “ideal life” for these young people.

 

In England, where social classes are strictly stratified and aristocratic values prevail, lower-class youths have long been growing angry, especially towards the upper middle class values and lifestyle. Cities like London, Manchester, Liverpool, Nottingham, Birmingham, where the riots have started, are not only cities where ghettoization and unemployment are at issue, but these cities are the castles of British upper middle classes' wealth and values at the same time. Youngsters who see their lives breaking down easily blame the upper middle classes and their aristocratic values. They attack these values in simply revenge. Danny Kruger, an ex-advisor to David Cameron, wrote for the Financial Times, saying, “We have a generation of young people reared on cheap luxuries, especially clothing and technology, but further than ever from the sort of wealth that makes them adults.” He also asks, “Reared on a diet of Haribo, who is surprised when they ransack the sweetshop?”

On the other hand, the situation in England is more than an instant burst; it is a reflection of racism and the secondary status which has been creating restlessness among Britain's lower classes for years. Moreover, British police, whether in the street rebellions of the 1980s or in the anti-globalization protests of recent years, are known for their disproportionate intervention against protestors, especially blacks. In Britain, whose internal affairs have not found a place in world public opinion, it is a reality that police interrogate and keep under surveillance thousands of black citizens, which has created public unrest among these groups. Lately, the death of Mark Duggan, suspicious situation for these groups, transfers Britain's minorities' and the lower classes' perception of “discrimination” to the streets.

Big Brother loses us in the web of social media

Beyond what has been stated, the effect of banding together in social media and Internet forums has played a great role in the London riots as well. Electronic gangs or “e-gangs” in social media provide youth with a medium to arrange riots without any hierarchical organization, which is impossible for state authorities to control. Apart from social media sites like Twitter or Facebook, mobile phones and computers have become a double-edged knife of the era in riots. While social media triggers the emancipatory movements we encountered in the Arab Spring, on the other hand, it is also a sole base of ‘e-gangs,' whom controlling is nearly impossible.

When we look at the future results of these events, we should say that young people attending the riots have not come of age, which means they are going to reenter society after small fines or short-term penalties. As is encountered in Prime Minister David Cameron's recent comments on events, this situation would trigger the rage of the British nationalistic right against minorities, lower classes and foreigners in the long run.

 

British jurisdiction and police may be criticized for not punishing protestors they should, in the eyes of British nationalists. Moreover, as a vicious prediction of the future, we should also say that in such an atmosphere, riots can pass to different spheres of conflict, which can result in the institutionalization of racism in England. We hope that these events will not result in a rise in racist policies but instead the social atmosphere can be revised, along with transforming the social policies in Britain. Otherwise, if the costs of economic and social problems are loaded onto blacks and lower classes, England, a country which has long been accepted as multicultural, whose cities are perceived as cultural centers of Europe, may go back to middle ages.

* Dilek Karal is analyst at International Strategic Research Organization (USAK) Center for Social Studies.