Of Riots and Revolutions

10/08/2011 § Leave a comment


So England riots.

I’m not sure why and no one else seems to know yet either. Some claim to be punishing the rich, while others say they’re out for a good time (‘I say darling, after we finish our bangers and mash, how about I take you out for a spot car burning? It’s been ever so long since we’ve had a good loot!). Of course ideologues on both sides strain at their leashes, barking at each other to assign the blame (It’s a class war sparked by Tory spending cuts! No you idiot, it’s the welfare state!). However, I don’t really care why they rioted. Sort of.

Just like I don’t really care that hockey fans in Vancouver rioted because their team lost a hockey match. Just like I don’t care that bogans rioted in Cronulla because they don’t like immigrants, or refugees, or lavash, or whatever. In a sense, the reason is meaningless. Because there is none. They have no good reason.

Each of these riots occurred in a wealthy democracy. Even the possible explanation to which I’m most sympathetic – that England is rioting due to spending cuts on services to the poor imposed by the party of the rich – still does not absolve the violence. The torching of cars and the ransacking of shops is plainly a disproportionate response to a smaller dole cheque. Especially when the cuts are imposed by a recently elected government. And especially when you consider that England, even when ensconced in the worst Tory hell, is still a far better place to be born than most of the other countries in the world.

Which brings me somewhat circuitously to the point of this post. Late last year, people in other countries – countries ruled by fear, violence – got rowdy on the streets for a good reason. Those people were poor and most had never known political freedom. They marched against dictators, weathered the reprisals and repression, all in the name of ending dictatorship.

That these countries were Arab countries brings some awkward ironies. Compare their reasons for revolution with the reasons for riot in the wealthy white democracies mentioned above.

England is a country that enriched itself through empire. Not now of course, but back in the day. Like a fat tick it slurped the resources out of other nations to feed its own wealth. Many of these nations were Arab. Indeed, a portion of the blame for the brutal dictatorships against which the Arabs are now revolting falls at the feet of the British, who left the place in disarray. And now the Brits throw a tantrum when the wealth runs out.

In Australia the rioters targeted people of Middle Eastern appearance. ‘They don’t accept our values’ the rioters screamed. Err … values like democracy? Values like peace? Achieving political change through persuasion and argumentation, instead of violence? The rioters in Cronulla could have expressed their views through any number of peaceful democratic means available to them. Yet they chose to throw bottles at Arabs. Because they don’t share our values.

The people of Egypt had no institutions of democracy. So they took to the streets and firmly demanded them. And did not leave till the dictator had left. Meanwhile those privileged enough to live in three old stable wealthy democracies riot. Because they don’t like Arabs. Because their team wasn’t quite good enough. Because their dole cheque is less. Because they can.

Anyway I’m not sure what conclusion to draw here, other than the obvious embarrassment. Should I be depressed because even large numbers of people in even the most privileged democracies in the world can’t seem to get it right? Should I be gladdened because people in Egypt can? Or should I just be amused by the absurdity of the contrast?

Honestly, I just don’t know.


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