By Fatma Yilmaz Elmas
Ever since rioting broke out in London at the beginning of August, there have been all sorts of interpretations placed on these troubles both by officialdom and in the media. All sorts people have raised their voices in different quarters, ranging from those who reduce it all to gangsterism and looting to those who blame the contradictions between classes created by capitalism. The British Prime Minister, David Cameron, belittled the problem by announcing that he had begun a war against gangs, an attitude reminiscent of President Sarkozy in 2005 when he denounced protesters in France’s troubles then as filth which needed to be rooted out.
Many concepts such as the capitalist system, marginalization, ghettoization, and neoliberalism were used in the debate during the riots, but if we leave official pronouncements to one side, the approach which seems to have general acceptance is that basic factor behind the riots is the existing system is closed to certain particular sections of society. During the discussions about them, some questioning the backgrounds of the rioters rather than the system, while others invoked different concepts and even resorted to a new categorization. Though they were not part of this discussion, the concepts involved when the riots had ended and the judicial process was under way are also rather important. Because they reveal the common approach of those who took part in the discussion and give clues about how the process will be dealt with from now on.
From the date when the riots broke out, various officials and media organisations have referred to civil disobedience, revealing just how the British government locates the riots and rioters. There are a good many people who interpret the London riots as a form of resistance to the injustices of the capitalist system but leaders who prefer to describe the rioters are consciously in effect reducing themselves to a group which consciously excludes them from the system. And the reason for this is obvious. In one sense by identifying the source of the riots as lying inside the group which generated them is to exonerate both a system that excludes certain sections of society and also the government’s policies.
Of course everyone knows that civil disobedience is a means of staging a political and social action and is a method of protesting against a law which the state has introduced on the grounds that it is irrational or unconstitutional. The problem is regarded as being not the entirety of the system but particular laws and the protest consists of not taking part in those policies within the system that are being opposed. Whereas what the British riots were in fact about was not the existence of a group withdrawing from the system but rather about a group of people which had never been part of the system and which was revolting precisely because it was excluded from the system. So the protest which some people describe as civil disobedience and which has been interpreted as the work of a group of people who do not wish to be included in the system is actually really arises from them not being able to gain a place in the system, even though they wish to do so. The natural consequence of excluding groups of people who cannot be integrated into society because of cultural and religions and economic differences, is that they are squeezed into ghettos and remain outside the system. There is the real problem. But when officials pretend not to see this situation and describe it as civil disobedience, then it may be seen clearly that they have preferred the easy way out, that is by opposing people who are outside the system instead of the system itself.
Last week as the trials were proceeding, revealing more information about the backgrounds of the rioters, Britain’s Justice Minister, Kenneth Clarke, has preferred to brand the rioters as a feral underclass. The minister revealed that about three quarters of the group aged 18 and above of persons involved in the riots and looting that went on for days had previous convictions and he issued a call for reforms to keep this feral underclass out of crime. Ever since the riots began the British government had put the blame solely on the rioters and this process was completed with the crime statistics of the British Justice Minister and the new term with which he labeled the rioters.
To conclude, the source of the problem for British officialdom has been identified and the way things should function from now on has become clear. Against this, there are a lot of matters both regarding Britain and recently also regarding Europe which should be discussed. But what one sees is that Europe these days is behaving as if the economic crisis was not being transformed into a socio-political crisis and, heedless of the philosophy which made Europe into what it is, is pretending not to see these disparities and its policies are just short term knee-jerk reactions. There seems to be no one in Britain who will heed attempts to bring down the socio-economic walls which harbour so many crimes within them and which separate the lower classes from the upper classes in British society.
Fatma Yilmaz Elmas, USAK Center for EU Studies