An orgy of arson and plundering leaves London burning and battered, Photo: Internet.
The day was coming to a close and we sat at the table after iftar, chatting comfortably while putting off the inevitable clearing afterwards. The ringing of the phone broke into our conversation and after a moment of hesitation, I dragged myself from the table to answer it.
'Have you seen the news? Put the TV on — there are riots going on and London's burning!' my friend almost shouted at me from the other end. I put the phone down and rushed to switch the TV on to see what she was talking about and at first I thought it must be some kind of hoax as the scenes that greeted me were surreal, 'this can't be in London', I thought, it looked more like a war zone than the high streets I am used to seeing and walking down. By this time everyone else had congregated in front of the television and we watched the screen in growing horror and disgust.
What started as a protest against the fatal shooting of Tottenham resident Mark Duggan quickly snowballed into general rioting and opportunistic looting. Over the next few days the images that were broadcast across the world shocked its viewers. We saw people in hoods and masks run amok on the streets of London, Manchester, Birmingham, Liverpool, Nottingham and Bristol looting and pillaging. There were pictures of a London bus set ablaze, cars burning on the street, shop windows shattered, warehouses ransacked with the remnants of what looters had not taken strewn across the floor, cash machines dragged out of the wall and smashed, debris covering the streets after clashes between the police and hundreds of rioters. What was appalling was that the looters did not just consist of the 'disaffected youth' but young women, older men and even children as young as eleven. As the Prime Minister David Cameron so aptly put it, this kind of behaviour was “criminality pure and simple”.
As far as I am concerned there really was no ideology behind these reprehensible actions. It was a mob taking advantage of the situation, nothing more. How else could one explain the burning nearly to the ground a family-run140-year-old furniture shop in Croydon or a man being helped to his feet only to be robbed by looters. When one of the rioters was asked by a TV journalist why they were stealing, she mumbled something incoherent about taxes and ran with whatever she had managed to grab in her hands. Some of the looters had even taken the initiative of stealing shopping trolleys to enable them to pile on stolen items and make a quick escape.
Initially it appeared that there was not a significant police presence in areas where the disturbances were taking place and once in position they found it difficult to control the chaos. In some areas they were simply outnumbered. Subsequently in London, over 16,000 police officers were deployed onto the streets in an effort to try and control the situation. In all the years that I have lived in the UK it must have been the worst unrest in the city in decades. I live in a relatively quiet and safe neighbourhood and even some of the shops on our road were boarded up in anticipation of the riots spreading across the city. On another street 'Maplin', an electronic specialist shop was also boarded up with the sign 'business as usual' hanging on the door.
Londoners taking to the streets holding up brooms, showing solidarity with one another to try and take upon themselves the task of cleaning up the streets within their community. Photo: Internet
For many it is not business as usual but the difficult task of picking up the pieces and trying to rebuild livelihoods and communities, and come to terms with the shocking events that have unfolded over the last week. For a few families the riots have taken away more than just livelihoods. On the 10th of August, Haroon Jahan, 21, and brothers Shazad Ali, 30, and Abdul Musavir, 31, were hit and killed by a car driven by some of the troublemakers, as they attempted to protect their businesses from the looters. It makes me wonder at the senselessness of this tragedy — for what? Was it really worth it to the people responsible to take three lives just to get their hands on a few stolen items?
The loss has triggered outrage across the nation and the local community took it upon themselves to look out for each other. According to reports, while Muslims held Ramadan's night-time taraweeh prayers at the mosques in the city, Sikhs stood guard outside, to try and deter any potential looters and yobs. This act and respect was then reciprocated by Muslims as the Sikhs held their own night-time prayers at temples. This also extended to a number of Christian churches which also benefited as the two communities moved to protect other places of worship.
One of the images that has now become imprinted in my mind alongside those of London under siege is the picture of Londoners taking to the streets holding up brooms, showing solidarity with one another to try and take upon themselves the task of cleaning up the streets within their community. It is an unglamorous image but one that shows the common decency that most people here have. This is the side of the country that I know, where people from all walks of life dig deep onto their pockets to champion a good cause, where an ambulance can pass with ease even in the busiest of roads as motorists move out of the way to let them through, where the concept of queuing in an orderly fashion is a part of life and a source of amusement and not the thuggish behaviour we have witnessed over the last couple of weeks.
The country has to take a step back and do a bit of soul searching to find out the root cause of the riots. Is it the steady decline of morality youngsters are growing up with? Is it the dependency on state benefits that is making people less willing to actually find employment as dole money is easy money? Is it bad parenting that leads to this kind of behaviour or maybe it is the lack of proper education? Is it government spending cuts on Youth Centres and the like that drives the youths onto the streets? Is it due to the stop and search policy carried out by the Metropolitan police that aggravates the situation? Who is to blame? Or are we all in some way to bear the responsibility of the recent events? These are just some of the questions that need to be addressed and the next few months will be tough for not just the government but for all of us.