Thursday, August 11, 2011

Comparing England's Riots to the Arab Spring: Heralding 1968bis or Inherently Offensive?

Property burns near Reeves Corner in Croydon [South London] on August 9, 2011. (Lewis Whyld/PA/AP)

In the last few days, what began as the "London Riots" have spread throughout towns and cities of England. Riots seems to be the appropriate term, as what began with peaceful protests of the police killing of a black man, turned into hooliganism, looting, destruction, and arson. These riots have variously been described as a social class struggle, an eruption of underlying race tensions--more so now that 3 Pakistani-Brits were killed while attempting to stop part of the rioting, and a youth movement.

Police officers stand on Brixton High Street after looting broke out on August 8, 2011 in London. (Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

When comparisons are made with the Arab Spring, some find that these rioters were "inspired by protesters in Arab countries", and some see the combined international unrest comparable to that of 1968 when youth demonstrations occurred against their governments in North American and European countries. Protesting Vietnam was at its height in many countries where the demonstrations centred around the local US Embassy. No one that I have read, heard, or watched has pinpointed "Mai '68" the month that riots in Paris came closest to revolution, and pinned it to August 2011--yet.

A shop is set on fire as rioters gather in Croydon on August 8, 2011. (Sang Tan/AP)

As tempting as it may be to see an international youth movement affecting England (and Europe) as well as MENA countries, the comparison fails in notable ways.

First is the motivation, which in England, and more obviously in other European countries (notably Greece) is primarily economic, not democratic. European countries already are democracies, functioning even with the flaws inherent in democracies, where free speech, the freedom to demonstrate, the right to vote in well-supervised elections and have those elections respected,  and human rights protection all exist. They are also currently going through economic crises resulting in high unemployment, lost investments, and dramatic austerity measures.

A hooded youth walks past a burning vehicle in Hackney on August 8, 2011. (Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)

In all the reporting and analysis that I have read or watched on "London's Riots", and now England's, the severe austerity measures announced in Britain in November 2010, and instituted January 1, 2011 have not once been mentioned. It seems announcing the Royal Engagement a few days later in November 2010, then the Royal Wedding April 29, 2011, and all that went on royally between and since, effectively obfuscated the impact of these austerity measures on the very classes being described as in conflict.

A photographer holds his head after he was attacked by protesters in Hackney, east London on August 8, 2011. (Karel Prinsloo/AP)[Emphasis added]

Second is in the modalities of the protests and the responses to them. The Arab Spring demonstrations have for the most part been peaceful demonstrations that turned violent when government forces attacked demonstrators. Arrests, torture, beatings, killings, and sometimes mutilation and rape, or the threat of the same, have occurred systematically in the Arab Spring uprisings, as have censorship, and blocking of internet, telephone, and media access.

Youths joke as they have their pictures taken in front of a burning car in Hackney, east London on August 8, 2011. (Lefteris Pitarakis/AP)

Police arrest a man for looting in Clapham Junction in south London on August 8, 2011. (Simon Dawson/AP)

In England the media, local, national, and international have been free to report on all events, including arrests, which have been the main modality of curbing rioters. The latter have used meaningless violence against property as their main modus demonstrandi. David Cameron eventually authorized police to use their batons. He has stated that, unless the riots stop, his government will consider authorizing the use of water cannons.

Police officers in riot gear drag a man along a street in Hackney on August 8, 2011.

In light of the above motivations and modalities, I think that any serious comparison of the England riots as a European manifestation of the Arab Spring is inherently insulting.

To the extent that the Arab Spring represents a youth led aspirational movement in MENA countries the analogy to 1968 holds. However, while holding up the 2 finger V peace sign, common to the 1960's (the main years of demonstrations and protests actually 1965-72 the time of major escalation in Vietnam to withdrawal), usually in self defense,  the 2011 Arab demonstrators of all ages are hardly flower power, free love, free sex, free drugs and rock 'n roll types--despite what the opposition might say.

A youth kicks the window of a jewelry store near the Bullring shopping center in Birmingham, England, as violence spreads outside London Monday evening, Aug. 8, 2011. (David Jones/PA/AP)

Your comments, thoughts, impressions, experiences?

*Photos here and others at London riots: update

Looters rampage through a convenience store in Hackney on August 8, 2011. (Olivia Harris/Reuters)

A policeman walks past the charred remains of the Reeves furniture store in Croydon on August 9, 2011, following a third night of violence on the streets of London. (Andrew Cowie/AFP/Getty Images)


Wendy said...

This has certainly made many people think about what's happening in our world right now. I think of the stupidness of our Stanley Cup riots and then add social issues to the mix. Too many people are wanting to make this a 'race' issue but I think it goes much deeper than that. Race is an issue in the UK and the Brits are not known for their political correctness. There's a high number of fatherless 'black' families primarily from Caribbean in metro UK but if you look at the statistics of 48% that still leaves 52% 'white' families. It is thought that fatherless families are a large part of the problem. It will be interesting to see how this plays out and what kind of statistics come out of it.

Susanne said...

I'm glad you posted on this as I was asking on FB only yesterday if people could shed some light on what was happening there. I've not been able to read/watch about it as much as I could have, I guess.

The youth lost any sympathy I might have had for them when they started looting and destroying and stealing from others. There is a right way to protest your situation and a wrong way. You don't steal from others to make your point. You just show everyone you are a criminal.

Jay Kactuz said...

There is no relationship. The UK turmoil was a RIOT (destruction and looting) while the Arab spring can be characterized as a REVOLT - with little or no destruction and looting (to their credit).

Maybe one can say that one was caused by too much freedom and the other by a lack of freedom. In both cases I see a lack of values.

The UK revolts were about many things: values, social chaos, race, class, ethnic and religious divisions, lack of opportunity, greed, family disintegration, disrespect, and on and on and on.

Let me say it, Western society is falling apart. Period.

Compare this situation with the Japanese people after the Tsunami.

Wendy said...

Jay, you are so absolutely right. Children have not been disciplined for a number of years. Children have been taught that the only important thing is themselves. They have not been taught to respect others. There are far too many fatherless families and a lack of nurturing and caring on one had and too much materialism on the other. There is also waaaay too much racism in some countries and the divide between rich and poor is growing.

Anonymous said...

People do not eat democracy or freedom of speech they eat food, they are just like any other living being ,their major concern is sustenance, I think what people want to say through both the revolutions and the riots is oh you bloody rich, and the greedy ones let the poor live, mega-corporations,conglomerates are suffocating small businesses and shops added to that increasing mechanization of jobs in every field,women competing men on jobs available and overloading the job market with abundance of work force that consequently leading to reduced cost of labor, while women should be taking care of their children and instilling values and ethics in them with little love unless they genuinely need to work , as is the case of those single mothers of fatherless children, those children as many studies prove make up the majority of delinquents and criminals, I remember all the similar bad things happened during Los Angeles riots and New York blackout, so I think it is really about mothers who has not been around to take care of those children who grew up to do those things.


Salutes brother,tell me the truth are you feeling well? because up there, that was not Jay talking that was Rabindranath Tagore or someone who has been possessed by his spirit.
May be Chiara has tamed you ,someone told this same sentence one day and it pissed up then, but I later on realized that it was not a bad thing to be tamed to the better.


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