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Thursday, August 11, 2011

Britain’s riots – a reflection of social malaise

Sulaiman Kamal | 12:47 PM | | | | Best Blogger Tips

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The children and teenagers involved in the violence represented a 'lost generation' faced with a life devoid of hope and aspiration, and 'written off by society'.
LONDON: As the pictures of burning and looting tarnish Britain’s image around the world, the mostly young rioters and social analysts agree on one thing: This was an event waiting to happen.
“I’ll keep doing this every day until I get caught. When I get home nothing is going to happen to me,” a teenager laden with looted goods told a BBC reporter in Manchester early yesterday.
“The prisons are overcrowded. So what are they going to do?” he added for good measure.
Children as young as 10 were seen carrying off looted goods in plastic bags from shops in the northern city, laughing and joking as they threw the items in the air with delight before disappearing down side streets and alleyways to escape the police.

For Prime Minister David Cameron, the “sickening scenes” playing out on the streets highlight Britain’s “big problem with gang culture,” as youths display a total lack of respect for authority and
no sense of responsibility for their actions.
The problem of anti-social behaviour, which Cameron has defined as a hallmark of Britain’s “broken society,” is not new. Under the previous Labour government of former premier Tony Blair, temporary curfews and so-called anti-social behaviour orders (Asbos) proved futile – and were eventually abandoned.
While the socio-economic background to the riots cannot be ignored, the violent riots have nonetheless come as a shock to outside observers.
“Just a few months ago, Britain was all about Harry Potter and the royal wedding, and now it’s about phone-hacking and riots in the streets. It’s quite a turnaround,” said Ravi Somaiya, a correspondent for the New York Times.

French commentator Agnes Poirer told the BBC that the riots reflected badly on British society. Britain, she argued, remained one of the most “unequal societies” in Europe. “Profit, speculation and consumption are Britain’s Holy Trinity,” she said.
“I’m not sure how this will all end,” said Pat Burn, a retired London social worker. “The problem is that in this country we live in extremes of rich and poor. We need to live in the middle, like they
do in Scandinavia,” she said.
Angry young people
In Britain’s deprived inner city areas, gangs had taken the place of parents, the Independent newspaper said yesterday.
“It is a culture that has spread through Britain like a virus over the past 20 years. As the gangs have managed to convince local youths that they somehow represent whole neighbourhoods, police have
struggled to overturn the wider perception that they are somehow the enemy,” said the paper.
While those involved are still in the minority, the problem has long troubled the authorities and the police. Back in 2008, a study by London’s Centre for Crime and Justice Studies concluded that “almost feral groups of very angry young people” were mushrooming in larger cities.

“Tribal loyalty has replaced family loyalty and gang culture based on violence and drugs is a way of life,” the study found.
Faced with an unprecedented wave of violence, looting and devastation, Britain’s politicians and police chiefs – as well as large sections of the public – portray the rioters primarily as a “greedy crowd of thugs and criminals”.
While some social analysts interpret the looting as “crimes of convenience” in an age of “entitlement and instant wealth,” others see deeper causes.
“We have to recognise that this mayhem exposes a broken section of British society – utterly detached from the values and responsibilities we expect of our fellow citizens,” said Gavin Poole,
executive director of London-based think tank The Centre for Social Justice.
While there could be no excuse for the violence, the children and teenagers involved represented a “lost generation” faced with a life devoid of hope and aspiration, and “written off by society”.
His words echo those of a young rioter in Hackney, east London, who told the BBC: “There was no opportunity for everyone – or no youth clubs where anyone can go and do something constructive. So this was bound to happen one day.”

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