UK riots: Weeks later, are politicians and thinkers insane?
The UK’s intellectual and political classes are not insane, but you could be forgiven for thinking so when you hear many of the solutions they have brought forward to tackle the causes of the riots that shook the country in August 2011. A famous English proverb says “A sign of insanity (madness) is to keep doing the same thing and expect a different outcome”.
As you drive around some of the areas worst affected by the riots and looting, the big stores selling electronic goods and sports clothes and shoes – which were so loved by the looters because they have the latest must have accessories – are more or less back to normal. An outsider can marvel at the efficiency of quickly restocking the shops and cleaning up the businesses. Is all now well? Far from it.
The political and intellectual classes are struggling to define the causes and solution s to the recent widespread looting as they realise that there could be resurgence if the causes are not tackled. Today’s answers are all too predictable. Those on the left say deprivation lies at the root cause while those on the right say it is the lack of discipline and this was just pure criminality. As a consequence the former want to throw more money at the problem while the latter more police, newly termed zero tolerance.
We have been here before. Britain has been pumping money into so-called troubled areas of deprivation for decades. At the same time there is a shortage of prison places which suggests the policing can’t have been that lax to start with.
It is the height of insanity to continue to offer the same “solutions” to problems which they previously failed to address.
Some on the left and right of the political spectrum have tried to call for a new assessment of the causes of the looting. Writing in the Observer [14th August 2011] , Henry Porter wrote “It doesn’t matter if you tend towards the school of thought that says this was the result of years of corrosive liberal lassitude, or the opposing view that insists we got here after years of economic neglect and privation – the fact remains that our society produced students, apprentices, school workers, middle-aged men with steady jobs, mothers, fathers and kids as young as 11 who all joined organised gangs to loot and burn down their neighbourhoods.”
“The choice we have is this: either we do the hard thinking about our society, top to bottom, or we simply limit our understanding of these events to an epidemic of criminality. The latter is easy enough because people’s behaviour was utterly inexcusable, and those on the streets looting, terrorising and burning knew perfectly well that they were doing wrong.”
An assessment of the causes would look at why there are so many gangs; why so many households with absent fathers; why so many chose to loot; why so many looters were so young; why the looters came from different, ethnic, social and racial sectors – they truly represented the ‘United Kingdom’.
Looking at the wider society, these patterns are not isolated to the riots however. Crime in absolute terms is high. People living in many city centres do not go out on Friday or Saturday nights due to binge drinkers and the ensuing violence and criminality – now termed anti-social behaviour making it sound less alarming. A visit to the Accident and Emergency hospital wards on a Friday or Saturday night is grim testimony to the consequences of such behaviour. We see the trend of criminals getting younger and youngsters committing more and more violent crimes.
The question is why is there such a high propensity for social ills which cuts across racial, income and social class structures? Social deprivation and racism from the police towards some ethnic groups may be factors but cannot be the root causes.
Indeed even the break-down in family life does not get to the root these problems as most relationships are temporary in origin, thanks to individualism. Meanwhile, materialism, which pervades the rich and the poor, ensures an individual’s identity is defined by his or her possessions.
An honest appraisal would conclude that the underlying values of individualism and materialism are the root causes. These are also some of the fundamental values upon which secular western societies are founded. While some politicians and intellectuals now talk about a need to return to “old values” or “excessive materialism” and similar things, there is a path they cannot explore fully because it leads to a fundamental questioning of the values of individualism, materialism, secularism and freedom – upon which western societies are based. Values they believe are inherently ‘good, progressive and liberating’. So no, they are not insane. They are simply unable to think outside of the box so will not address the root causes of the looting and rising anti-social behaviour. That is frightening because though the looted shops can be rebuilt and restocked, the values which lead some to loot and kill are alive and even celebrated in the popular culture, music and entertainment in the society as there is nothing to replace them.
Those advocating the adoption of western values and systems in Muslim countries fail to acknowledge that our societies will end up in the same place as the UK should we go down that road. Instead, we need to look to the return of the Islamic system and the Islamic values of taqwa, accountability and obedience to the Creator as the means to create a truly self-policing society for all its citizens.
Media Representative of Hizb ut-Tahrir in Britain