As the mass revolt in London enters its third day, several pious condemnations have come out of the British establishment from PM Cameron deeming the insurrection responsible for creating a “culture of fear” to Mayor Johnson’s condemnation of the youth’s attempt to “wreck the livelihoods” of the English people. Meanwhile, over 1000 people have been arrested as the world watches in awe.
Indeed, the burning of buildings, the shattering of store windows and the looting of shopping centers can “wreck livelihoods”. To be precise, these riotous acts can “wreck” the livelihoods of those who find no problem with the structural violence perpetrated against the people of England through regressive economic policies, a criminal law enforcement apparatus, a profit-driven educational system, and active participation in wars of aggression from Libya to Afghanistan.
If the smoldering automobiles in Hackney fail to speak to this spirit of discontent, the reports produced by civil society and human rights organizations unearth the roots of this frustration. On December 3rd 2010 Caroline Davies of the Guardian published an article titled Deaths in police custody since 1998: 333; officers convicted none in which she detailed how the English judiciary and police cultivated a system of intimidation that led to the needless deaths of over 300 people. In this article she writes “A total of 333 people have died in . . . police custody over the past 11 years, but no officer has ever been successfully prosecuted.” Findings of this kind have been reiterated by the British human rights organization Inquest and the Independent Police Complaints Commission who, in relation to this crisis, pointed out that it “is clear that juries quite often find it difficult to convict police officers.”
So if an article published over six months ago highlighted a thriving system of State oppression, why are mainstream journalists so hard pressed to find a rationale for this sudden spread of, using the words of Mayor Johnson, “wanton criminality and destruction of people’s property”? Could the reason be that this campaign of “wanton criminality” and destruction is carried out by individuals without the support of Barack Obama, David Cameron, Silvio Berlosconi, or Nicolas Sarkozy? I have few doubts that if the “looters” in the commercial centers of London were wearing military uniforms and destroying property (and people) in southern Afghanistan or northwestern Libya (instead of Nottingham and Manchester) the British government’s hypocritical display of indignation would be transformed into euphoric expressions of praise.
Invariably, these words of praise would cast a blanket of silence over countless war crimes unfolding at the behest of the United States, Britain, France, and other members of the “international community.” Take for example NATO’s bombing of Libyan television transmitters on July 30th , carried out with the objective to limit Colonel Gaddafi’s “use of satellite television as a means to intimidate the Libyan people and incite acts of violence against them.” Here’s a useful thought experiment: what if the Libyan military bombed the printing press of Rupert Murdoch’s News International for undermining the English public’s access to information in their bribery of the UK’s law enforcement community? What if Colonel Gaddafi deployed warplanes to attack the headquarters of CNN, citing their tacit support for war crimes in their refusal to produce honest reports about US involvement throughout the Middle East?
The general acceptance within elite circles of violence against unprotected people in the Middle East and North Africa contrasted with their unanimous contempt of violence against property in central London exposes much about the depth of the intellectual poverty so pervasive among the “educated” classes. Surely we all would agree that acts of vandalism, arson, and theft are inconsistent with elementary principles of law and order. But these acts are just as contemptible when States commit these crimes, crimes carried out with a degree brutality that would make the deeds of London’s people look like child’s play.
If we accept basic moral principles of universality, we’d see that the wise leaders of Europe and the US should be applauding the “needless opportunistic theft and violence” of England’s depraved masses. After all, this “culture of fear” could not have been created without the larger and more insidious civilization of fear that these leaders support from the tribal regions of Pakistan to the torture centers of Iraq. Earlier today I read a profound statement in an article written by Laurie Penny titled Panic on the Streets of London. In this article she points out that “Violence is rarely mindless. The politics of a burning building, a smashed-in shop or a young man shot by police may be obscured even to those who lit the rags or fired the gun, but the politics are there.” Sadly, this obscurity which surrounds the politics of a burning building can persist only in a culture where the more complex political dimension of a burning wife, husband, or child is configured into national statements of pride and virtue. Alas, alongside the politics of the burning shoestore is the bloody politics of the burning Afghan, the burning Pakistani, and the burning Libyan. For this reason, the rulers of the “developed” world should not be surprised when scores of youth smash, raid, and burn blocks of property. The parliamentary politics of the industrialized West privileges the votes of its citizens far more than their active participation in crafting State policy. The English youth understood this reality and they voted for arson.
References:“ZCommunications | Panic on the Streets of London by Laurie Penny | ZNet Article.” Z Communications. Web. 10 Aug. 2011. http://zcommunications.org/panic-on-the-streets-of-london-by-laurie-penny.