Riots and ‘The Other’

Human Beings?

As the spectre of violence has loomed over England and perhaps calmed a little (it’s still too soon to know for sure), some more considered reflection on the events and our responses is called for.

The first reflection that is important is the ‘otherness’ language that is being used. The principle of Oak Hill College reflects on how both ends of the political spectrum (drawn largely from the middle class and above, of course), ‘othering’ language has been used. The point from conservative and liberal alike is that whether you call them ‘underprivileged’ or ‘scum’ or something in between, these people are not like ‘us’, they  deserve what they get, whether that is jail time, police batons, tear gas or the army. What very few are daring to say is that ‘they’ are just like us in so many ways. It’s not like consumerism is confined to one class or another. It’s not like aping US culture is confined to one section of society (defined by ethnicity, class, income…) It’s not like alcoholism, glorification of violence, broken families or any other drivers are unique to these people. As I wrote before, we must not forget that the people looting, mugging, rioting, stealing, destroying are first and foremost human beings, people, British people.

As much as I think totalising ‘answers’ to the violence are by definition wrong, this comes pretty close:

 The truth is that these riots are an expression of rage by the British underclass against a system that has instilled desires in them that they can’t materially gain. (An und für sich)

It’s so easy to come up with knee-jerk reactions: ‘send in the army’, ‘use water cannons’, ‘cut their benefits’, ‘feral scum’. I understand a woman whose business and home have been destroyed making these kind of statements, but I wonder at the responsibility of incessantly repeating them as appropriate views for all of society to have. The overwhelming response has been to demonise and further dehumanise the poor and those committing these crimes.

I think that before we judge them, we must consider the outcome we want. Firstly, an end to the violence and terror. Secondly, an end to the conditions and thought patterns that led to them.

The army on the streets might accelerate the first, but will a culture of fearing the government/police/army really reduce the likelihood of violence flaring? I rather think it will bury the problem behind fear, so when it does surface again it has another level of resentment. I do not believe increasing the violence (sorry, ‘robustness’) of the police/government response will have long-term beneficial results.

Cutting benefits of those involved sounds like a good plan, but really it dehumanises those people further. The aim must be to reintegrate them into a society they feel invested in so that destroying and injuring others and their property is the last thing they would do. Cutting the benefits of people already struggling to buy the things that they need/want is a certain way to encourage further criminality. It will not reduce desire tracksuits, TVs and mobile phones, it will only make those desires more impossible.

I don’t believe the Oak Hill article goes far enough in commending a Christian response. We need to incarnate it, make it central to the societal response that is lived out, not just propagated. We need to live lives that demonstrate that greed, materiality and violence are incompatible with the good life. That starts on a personal level, but must extend quickly to the media if it is to impact lives.The weight of consumerism, materialism, sense of entitlement, disappointment and disengagement from society are the things that really need to be addressed.

We must change to prevent this happening again. We must not make it us versus them.

So  you either stand with people crying out violence against their situation, which would require actual engagement and argument with those people however idiotic some may get at times, or you stand with the white rich girls calling them scum. (An und für sich again)

And some Bible for you, too: (Jesus, in Matthew 5, says)

21 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 22But I say to you thateveryone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. 

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?