While many of us in Bangladesh are rightly concerned about the law and order situation, and particularly the incidence of crime, there may be some consolation to be gained from the fact that people elsewhere, including the citizens of the UK for example, seemed to be almost equally concerned about these issues - though undoubtedly, with less reason.
Recently, there has been a major debate around whether violent crime has actually risen or fallen in the UK, and depending on the reporting systems and which side of the political divide you stand on, as well as which set of statistics you prefer to use, there appears to be some variation in the reply. The concern over crime has escalated to the extent that there was even a suggestion recently that householders should be allowed to use all-out extreme force against intruders. Since it seems self-evident that householders would normally use whatever force available to them to fend off intruders, the question seemed slightly redundant.
With all these debates going on, and having recently had my mobile phone rather painfully snatched from me in a public place, and still seething over this after some time, I was pleasantly surprised to be reminded of the fact that some robbers can be more weird than scary! For one thing, robbery is clearly not what it used to be, since thieves appear to be going mad these days. Stealing aluminium is the "in" thing in the UK today. Apparently more than 200 road signs have disappeared from one Essex village alone, including the one with the name of the village on it -- which is rather confusing for motorists...
In parts of South Asia as well, there has been a positive epidemic of stealing manhole covers, and melting down the metal for resale. So much so, that in some cities, manhole covers are being taken more quickly than municipal authorities are able to replace them…
Criminals are also becoming cheekier. A house owner in Argentina returned from a foreign trip to find a couple squatting in her home. The pair, who knocked down walls and put in new windows, have been arrested and are being sued by the house-owner, for the cost of putting things right. However, they have shown a breathtaking nerve, by counterclaiming for the cost of their "improvement work", and have presented her with a bill for £2,000!
Meanwhile, a Romanian criminal, Danut Mester, is taking his country's social services to court for failing to stop him resuming a life of crime. A week after he emerged from prison, having served 13 years for test, this man carried out a robbery and was back in jail. Apparently, outraged by this turn of events, he is bringing a civil claim for damages of £200,000 saying that the State failed to rehabilitate him, and the robbery was their fault! He said, "I committed antisocial crimes after I was released because the Romanian authorities never helped me re- integrate into society". And as for the person who was robbed, I suppose he just asked for it…?
But sometimes, burglars do get what they deserve - for example, when they get careless. As in the case of the ultimate amateur i.e. the burglar who fell asleep, playing interactive video games, while the family slept upstairs! They found him there in the morning and called the police (how old was this guy anyway?). And sometimes, it's not the victim but the burglar who is at a disadvantage. As the New Zealander burglars who broke into a martial arts expert's home rather painfully found out!
And every now and then, it's just a case of a weird coincidence, as a German policeman discovered. He was coming round after his gallbladder operation, and unexpectedly found a burglar whom he had been hunting for months, in the next bed! Having just had his appendix out, the burglar was in no position to escape from the hospital. He is now under guard pending trial…
Finally, there appears to be some progress in evening the score in the case of some rather historic robberies. I have always had very ambivalent feelings about places like the British Museum. It seems to me that most of the things in there are anything but British! The fact that it was taken during the colonial era and before is bad enough, but it seems quite unforgivable that most of the things have not either been returned, or provided some compensation for, to those whom they were looted from.
So I was encouraged to see that Italy has finally decided to do the right thing, by returning to Ethiopia the famous Axum obelisk that was taken by Mussolini to Rome, as a symbol of Italy's victory over Ethiopia (some contest!). The Greeks, of course, have yet to get back the so-called "Elgin Marbles" from Britain despite decades of campaigning. How the curators of the British Museum continue to justify their retention of treasures from around the world by claiming that they are a "world museum" (when most people from the countries where the treasures were taken from can't even get visas to get in the country to see the museum!) remains a mystery to me.
The rationale that the objects may not be sufficiently taking care of in their countries of origin remains a questionable one. Firstly, it does not apply, clearly, to countries like Greece! Secondly, surely the person (or country) that creates a work of art retains the right to take care of it as they see fit. Thirdly, if there is any doubt about their capacity to take care of it, surely the best thing would be to purchase the artwork from them in order to preserve it for future generations (or in the case of objects that had been looted, to provide adequate compensation). And finally, above all, by law you cannot simply take away something that belongs to someone else! Hence, one can only hope that Italy's actions signal a new trend...
(R) thedailystar.net 2005