A Vote for Arson: A Tale of Dirty Molotovs & Pristine Missiles

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.

A man sells copies of The Socialist Worker newspaper as demonstrators protest against British involment in a no-fly operation over Libya on March 18, 2011 in London, England. The UN Security Council voted for resolution 1973 which will impose a no-fly zone on Libya.

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.



“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.
” Nick Clegg defends government response to London riots | UK news | guardian.co.uk .” Latest news, comment and reviews from the Guardian | guardian.co.uk . N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Aug. 2011. http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2011/aug/08/london-riots-met-promises-more-police-streets.
” Nato bombs Libyan TV transmitters | World news | guardian.co.uk .” Latest news, comment and reviews from the Guardian | guardian.co.uk . N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Aug. 2011. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/jul/30/nato-bombs-libya-tv-transmitters.
 “Deaths in police custody since 1998: 333; officers convicted: none | UK news | The Guardian .” Latest news, comment and reviews from the Guardian | guardian.co.uk . N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Aug. 2011. http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2010/dec/03/deaths-police-custody-officers-convicted.
“Over 1,000 Arrested in U.K. as Anger over Inequality, Racism Boils Over into “Insurrection”.” A daily TV/radio news program, hosted by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez, airing on over 900 stations, pioneering the largest community media collaboration in the United States.. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Aug. 2011. http://www.democracynow.org/2011/8/10/over_1_000_arrested_in_uk

2 thoughts on “A Vote for Arson: A Tale of Dirty Molotovs & Pristine Missiles

  1. What I have always admired about you Xavier is that you do not serve as a apologist to any crime; be it within on your own soil or foreign soil. I hear and see many others citizens who will not agree with anything you have written. To them what you have written is propaganda and that their nations are “virginal” as in they can’t do any wrong or think of any wrong. They play as virgins because it is the role that is easiest to play.

    All countries have flaws and many are responsible for both national and international tragedies. When I speak to the “patriots” of those countries they usually say such stupid excuses that make me cringe (many exist in my own country as well). To them their country and their favoured parties cannot do wrong or have the best of resources and that is the “truth”. Their pride and arrogance is extremely hurtful as it reeks of ignorance. When Michael Moore released “Capitalism: A Love Story” he was showcasing how any country can horribly dupe its own citizens and though pretending to be a democracy turn out much more as a autocracy or plutocracy and we see the aftermaths and progress of such systems in many countries.

    Now England is facing a crisis. It should look into why the crisis has started: you were right to question the motives — I had heard a different story for the cause of the arsonists’ rampage. I heard that a drug king had been defeated and that these were the repercussions of that take down. Is that really the reason? Or, as you intelligently chronicled that there are many other reasons and that one big action just allowed all the pent up emotions to burst?

    I think that this can also have traces to the student riots some months ago when education fees were overwhelmingly increased making a degree as expensive as a five star hotel treatment — which as we can understand is unreasonable and unjust as without schooling the development of such luxury hotels would be the dreams of a marooned man living on a isolated island.

    Well, thanks again for a brilliant article journalist person ^_^ your remarks and research are well documented.

    1. Thank you so much for reading my article. I truly appreciate it. I also have encountered this tendency in many of my peers to strongly condemn the crimes of others while whitewashing or refusing to recognize the crimes of their own state. For quite some time now I have been examining the behaviors of hegemonic nation states and the resistance of people oppressed and marginalized by these power structures.

      One of the more valuable insights I have gained from this study is that the golden mean–the idea that we should treat others in a manner that we would like to be treated–operates not only as a normative thesis of human relations but also as a positive thesis. That is to say in addition providing prescriptions on how we ‘ought’ to treat our fellow humans it provides a cogent description of how we often, particularly in violent situations, ‘do’ treat each other.

      This positive variation of the golden mean is articulated as “others will treat us how we treat them.” So when a ‘militant’ terrorizes us its because we, the empire, first terrorized them. And the principle holds in every other arena from theft, to cultural attitudes. If this positive variation of the golden mean could be grasped we’d immediately realize that the question at the fore of our minds would not be ‘how do we stop crime and terror’ rather it should be ‘where does terror come from?’ Once this question is asked it would be revealed that the answer to ‘how to stop terror’ is implicit in the question ‘where does terror come from’; namely, we stop terror by refusing to participate in it.

      But this would require that we, and all other nation states, disavow the moral absenteeism that is central to all forms of arbitrary power. Moral absenteeism is embodied in this idea that we can speak in moral categories while refusing to inhabit a moral space, a space where the golden mean is not only alive in the normative sense but alive in such a way that makes us more sensitive to its positive content. This sensitivity to its positive content would not only shape how we treat others but how we react to what we see as mistreatment from others.

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