Wednesday, 10 August 2011

3 factors that fuelled the riots

Watching the news coverage of the riots in London and other cities across the UK I’m sure like me, you are feeling emotions like shock, anger and astonishment at what has suddenly happened. It’s very difficult talking about the reasons for riots during or immediately after they have happened.  People who blame things like poverty, racism, alienation, or the classic ‘there is nothing for the kids to do around here’ sound like they are giving easy excuses for terrible behaviour. These disturbances are not ‘isolated incidents by a minority’.  Rather, they are the scary symptoms of a widespread and deep problem in our society. I believe that as a society we are reaping what we have sown – that a tinderbox of issues has been created and it simply needed something to set it off.  That something was the shooting of Mark Duggan in Tottenham but it could easily have been another incident.   

Today I read a blog by Jon Kuhrt ( who suggests that the tinderbox was created primarily by the following 3 factors, I agree with him:
1) Consumerism – we are a nation which has gorged itself on consumerist values and easy credit which have created poverty and left little room for any sense of true values such as hard work, caring for others, for family and commitment. Like spoilt children who don’t respect their parents, rioters have contempt for the peddlers of these addictions.  That is why they focus on the mobile phone shops, the sport stores and the large corporations.  We have a generation deeply malnourished by a poor diet of technology, violent computer games, bling labels and dysfunctional and disinterested family situations.  In many ways our city centres are dedicated to consumerism with endless shops with big windows designed to provoke discontent and increase spending.

2) The lack of moral authority in key institutions – the number of high profile scandals that have hit institutions like the Police, Parliament, Banking and the Church has hugely undermined the moral authority of the establishment.  It stokes a sense of injustice among many urban young people that they cannot trust the ‘suits’ and that ‘everyone is on the make’.  Internet and 24hr news coverage  now mean that far more people read the headlines about banks paying the ridiculous bonuses, MPs claiming on houses that don’t exist, Police being paid by newspapers and priests abusing children. Surely these are just middle class versions of shop looting? They see ‘the grabbing hands grab all they can’ and believe they are following suit.

3) The collapse of family – there is no way that the Police can stop the numbers of young people who are determined to cause problems.  Policing demands consent and they will always be outnumbered.  What we are seeing is the massive impact of broken and dysfunctional families.  Where are the dads stopping their kids from going out and rioting?  Too often it is left to mums struggling alone who cannot physically stop their children.  A cocktail of poverty, amoral attitudes, both parents having to work and the loss of any sense of personal responsibility means that the traditional barriers to poor behaviour simply don’t exist.  We have been too scared to talk about family breakdown for fear of being judgemental but it is the biggest cause of poverty, exclusion and violence in the UK today.

These are some of the characteristics of a society which is seriously ill.  We need to look full in the face of the problems and grasp their significance before we consider the action required.  David Cameron, has said himself, “There are pockets of our society that are not only broken, but frankly sick” We have a moral problem not just a politcal one. For me, I belive this is the time for an authentic Christian spirituality to offer a way forward.  We need to use the language of sin, of repentance, of transformation and of hope and apply it to both institutions and indivduals if we are to chart a way back from the mess we are in. 

Let me end with a quote from US activist Jim Wallis who wrote:
‘The crisis of our times calls for our conversion.  Our structures, values, habits and assumptions are in need of basic transformation.  Neither politics nor piety as we know them will effect such a change.  Rather a new spirituality is required, a spirituality rooted in old traditions but radically applied to our present circumstances’

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