Rebels Without a Cause?

Torched cars and buildings. Violence and chaos in the city streets. Citizens opposing the country’s authority. Thousands of police deployed to control violent unrest of citizens. Innocent people injured or killed by their fellow citizens in a protest against some or other cause.

Ah, it must be somewhere in the Middle East again, right?

We’re so tired already of hearing about the civil unrest in Syria, Libya, Egypt or one of those Middle Eastern/Arab countries. Is there really a need for yet another blogger’s comments about the situation in these countries? Give it a rest already.

But, wait… what’s that? These events did not take place anywhere in the Middle East?

Nope, not the Middle East. This time, the story is not about Mubarak, or Gaddafi, or even Assad. This time, it’s closer to home than many in the ‘civilised’ Western world is comfortable with. The discription and images above are the result of recent riots that occurred in the British capital, London — situated in Western Europe.

The riots began on the night of the 6th August in one of the poorer areas of England — Tottenham, London. The riots had originally started out as a “peaceful protest”, in reaction to the then recent killing of 29-year-old Mark Duggan by a policeman. It is alleged that  Duggan had a firearm on him, or was about to draw one; consequently, the policemen reacted to this, thus fatally shooting Duggan. The residents of Tottenham then resorted to expressing their anger in the way of rioting and looting, which in later days spread further across London, and then across the wider Britain, in the cities of Manchester, Birmingham and Liverpool.

When I first read the news about these riots in London, I was confused. I didn’t know why it was happening, it seemed so unexpected and unjustified. Yes, I knew it was somehow the result of the killing of Mark Duggan by a policeman — but I still didn’t understand why it was happening. The killing of one man — however wrong the circumstances of his death might have been — did not seem to be a likely cause for the subsequent mayhem and disorder in the streets of London. I went on to read different news articles about this particular story, trying to get a broader picture, trying to find the cause, the root of the problem, because I was sure that I must’ve missed something, and that the rioting citizens of London did, in fact, actually have something substantial to riot about. But I was wrong.

According to Mark Adomanis, in an article he wrote for

“Judging from all available press reports, it seems that the rioters have no clear political grievances whatsoever besides, perhaps, a generalized hatred of the better off and ‘the system.’ Most of the violence, theft, and property destruction have been committed by people that seem to be taking advantage of the atmosphere of chaos to pocket clothing, electronics, and food that might otherwise be unaffordable.”

After a short period of denial (because the situation seemed so crazy to me that it was hard for me to believe that, with all the protesting happening in other places around the world for basic human rights, there were people in London rioting and causing the injury and death of people and their property for apparently no reason at all), I eventually accepted that the situation was just that — young people throwing a tantrum, unhappy with the state of things, unhappy with the state of their community, unhappy with their lives — but it was a tantrum with fatal conseuquences.

But still, questions remained: Why did it result in such violence? Why are these people unhappy? What went wrong that they felt this was the only way to let the world know? It had originally been suggested that the riots stemmed from a “long-simmering resentment among the black community at heavy-handed policing” (Spiegel Online International), and yet, it was found that the rioters consisted of youth from varying ethnic backgrounds; among them were black youth, white youth, as well as Asian youth. Clearly, then, there is not a strong racial factor here. Another, more plausible, explanation claims that the riots are a long-time-coming result of the inequality of the stratification system present within British society. Lower-middle class British youth suffer social exclusion, forever condemned to being in the social class into which they are born, with little or no hope of ever clawing their way out. The Berliner Zeitung, a German newspaper, writes:

“The country has lost faith in every authority: the banks, politicians, the media, the police. The corruption has reached even the smallest unit — the family. There is a generation growing up without values of any kind.”

This is a neglected generation of people. These are youth who feel that they have been given up on, and so they, too, have given up on society and its various social institutions. While there are indeed some who took part in the riots simply ‘for the fun of it’, reveling in opposing authority, or just simply ceasing the opportunity for violence, the opportunity to ‘legitimately’ steal items from stores that they may otherwise not be able to afford to shop at, there are still those whose cause was real and sincere to them — though not regarded as such by many. Though their motives may not be political, they are certainly personal, and to ignore them and their reasons would only be to silently sit, letting it simmer and fester, and wait for the next ‘unexpected’, ‘unjustified’ burst of violence and mayhem.


Pictures taken from News24 Galleries


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