I will preface this blog with the disclaimer that it veers away from my primary themes and looks at wider issues. And the views are entirely my own.
I am a resident of the town of Wellington in Shropshire. Last week, we had a long-anticipated visit from members of an organisation calling itself the English Defence League. There was to have been a march but after the previous week’s national tension a decision was taken to ban the march and allow only an assembly. Needless to say, there was a counter-assembly by a group espousing unity and the two parties were kept apart by a large police presence. The town had batoned down the hatches and boarded up its shops. For a Saturday in the teeth of a recession, a costly precaution. Thankfully, there was little trouble and only a few arrests. What prompted this visit by a group from the other end of the country I am not at liberty to say as the case is presently a matter for the courts.
Whatever the outcome of that particular court case, it is a reminder that criminality is not confined to racial barriers. Like reason, it exists in all of us. It is simply a matter of whether or not we choose to deploy it.
We humans have many weapons in our emotional arsenal and tension will often bring out the worst of them. Invariably it begins with a rumour that spreads virally through a community. It finds a host in all who are receptive to its premise. It calls to our baser instincts. Yet, the initial spark that set off the first riot was most likely not in the minds of those involved in the copy cat riots as the days unfolded.
This was not Tahir or Tiananmen Square. We have the vote. As a ‘joy rider’ is a car thief and a terrorist is murderer, these were criminal acts. But not undertaken by people with ‘form’ in every case. Indeed in some instances, not even undertaken by long-term, unemployed youths disaffected by the lack of opportunity. Two young ladies, both in employment, were interviewed by the BBC in the early hours of one morning as they strolled down their high street sharing a bottle of looted wine. They were unapologetic as if it was somehow their right to take what they wanted like everyone else appeared to be doing.
But for every instance of a lack of social responsibility during that week, there were many of social cohesion. And the social media channels that facilitated the chaos, also co-ordinated the response. The flashmobs that followed the fury, were armed not with bricks but with brooms. And they were not called from County Hall or Westminster. It was spontaneous and self-regulating. The police and emergency services that dealt with the flames of social unrest were the same officers who go about their business every day. And the laws deployed to process the offenders presently exist on the statute books. For three days, though the flames spread, the system worked. And on the fourth day, MP’s flew back from their holidays. And all of a sudden the talk was of tougher sentences, reform of policing etc, etc,.
Am I alone in wondering why, when the system is challenged it instinctively seeks to change. I am reminded of the great Groucho Marks who once said “those are my principles, and if you don’t like them..I have others.”
Surely if we believe in the principles of fairness and justice we shouldn’t throw them out the window the moment we feel threatened. Is that not handing the enemies of reason a Christmas present?
We don’t need political posturing and we mustn’t lose sight of our core values
We should never forget the proud and dignified response of the government of Norway in the face of a horror more profound than any of us could imagine.
After the senseless murder of over 70 of the nations’s youth, Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg said:
“I think what we have seen is that there is going to be one Norway before and one Norway after July 22,” he said. “But I hope and also believe that the Norway we will see after will be more open, a more tolerant society than what we had before.”
Replace ‘Norway’ with ‘United States of America’ and ‘July 22’ with ‘9/11’ then ‘Jens Stoltenberg’ with ‘George W Bush’ and I can’t help imagining a better world.
I’m not excusing my own country’s part in the response to 9/11 but I think you get the idea I’m driving at.
Reason is a weapon of mass destruction. Try it yourself, it drives your enemy nuts.
For an alternative take on conflict resolution take a look at my story blog