Thursday, August 11, 2011

Stray thoughts on the London riots

The British government has spent over half a billion pounds on street cameras, and London has perhaps more CCTV cams than any other city on earth. A couple of years ago, there were complaints that the crime-solving assistance provided by these cameras did not justify the expense involved in installing and maintaining them and the invasion of privacy that resulted from citizens being watched all the time.

Now, CCTV cam footage is going to lead to hundreds of convictions. I don't understand why people would loot shops in London. Surely they knew they'd be caught on a CCTV feed?

Many of the rioters certainly knew, which is why they wore masks and hoodies. So will there be calls for hoodie bans, like there have been calls for burqa bans?

If the Arab Spring was a Facebook and Twitter revolution, were these Facebook and Twitter riots? How does the Social Media shoe feel on the other foot?

The rioters (I'm differentiating these from opportunistic looters) appear mostly Afro-Caribbean, with a substantial infusion of White working-class / underclass youth. The vigilantes seem to be Asian (Turkish, Indian, Pakistani), East European and English. Strange coalitions, very distant from the world of My Beautiful Laundrette and Sammy and Rosie Get Laid.

I've always felt the partnership between activist Blacks and Asians formed in 1960s and 1970s Britain was flimsy. Maybe it was appropriate to that era, but it's broken down substantially since then, and is surely dead now. I don't see much common cause between the two ethnic groups anymore.

South Asians have serious problems to overcome: a conservative culture that does not respect free speech; a fealty to arranged marriage that can lead to forced marriages; extremism among Muslims that becomes terrorism at its most extreme. Afro-Caribbean Brits have a completely different set of issues to deal with: the breakdown of the family; drug use linked to violent crime; and low educational and economic attainment.

I can't understand why Britain has both a debt problem as well as an investment deficit after twelve years of Labour-led economic growth accompanied by high tax rates. Where did all that money go? I know we've been through a meltdown, but Gordon Brown's economy should've been better prepared for it. After all, there was no Blair tax cut to compare with the Bush tax cut.

One of the golden rules of party politics is that riots help the Right. They helped Nixon, Thatcher, Thackeray, Modi and Sarkozy, and will now help David Cameron, who appears really angry that his Tuscan holiday was interrupted.

It's good to see London cleaning up the mess. When citizens there come together to clean up, they do it in their thousands. It's different in India. Here, a few dozen meet, spend most of their time posing for cameras and leave the tough stuff to those meant for that kind of thing, if you get my drift. All acts in India are symbolic, even our recent 'Slut Walk', which consisted of about a hundred women dressed in standard Delhi college-girl clothes; a bunch of LGBT activists, mostly men; and about three hundred mediapersons fruitlessly seeking somebody slutty-looking to film.

India must be wishing the Edgbaston Test had been cancelled. I don't believe any World No.1 Test team has been at the receiving end of such a hammering in the past.

A few people have commented on the irony of an Indian tour of England been threatened by mob violence. It's supposed to be the other way round. The great example of playing cricket in troubled times must be England's 1984-85 tour of India.

This is a picture taken at Heathrow airport, on October 30, 1984, of David Gower and Allan Lamb boarding a flight to India at the start of that tour. They landed in New Delhi the next morning, just hours before Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated by Sikh bodyguards. The killing was followed by the worst sectarian bloodbath since Partition. The English cricketers stayed in their hotel before moving out to Sri Lanka, which had barely recovered from an even worse killing campaign. They flew to Colombo on Sri Lankan President Junius Jaywardene's private plane; he was returning from Indira Gandhi's funeral.
After playing warm-up games in Sri Lanka, the cricketers headed to Bombay for the first Test on November 28. On November 26, they attended a party thrown in their honour by Percy Norris, the British Deputy High Commissioner. The next morning, Percy Norris was shot dead not far from his Nariman Point office while being driven to work. The murder has never been solved, but it appears to have been an act of international terrorism, possibly masterminded by Abu Nidal, whose faction was demanding the release of three colleagues held in Britain.
It wasn't surprising that England lost that first Test at the Wankhede stadium.

Just as the match was winding down, Bhopal was struck by the worst industrial disaster in history. 1984 was definitely not a good year for India.

The tour went on, though, and the second Test was played in Delhi, which had returned to calm. England recovered to win that test, and went on to grab the series 2-1.


DK said...

Girish - They may be random, but they are certainly thought provoking...thoughts. These two in particular test free speech in interesting ways:

"Many of the rioters certainly knew, which is why they wore masks and hoodies. So will there be calls for hoodie bans, like there have been calls for burqa bans?"

"If the Arab Spring was a Facebook and Twitter revolution, were these Facebook and Twitter riots? How does the Social Media shoe feel on the other foot?"

On the second one, If I remember right, Blackberry accented to sharing IMs. I wonder how that sits with Blackberry's sacred commandment: thou shall not share thou private messages. They seemed to tom tom it a lot when the Indian govt wanted access to Blackberry messages/emails as a preventive security measure. Granted the Brits' was not as sweeping as the Indian govt's request, but still it tested the limits of free speech / privacy. I wonder if someone will ask them.

Girish Shahane said...

DK, I'm sure that Blackberry Messenger / Facebook / Twitter restrictions will come under fire if Cameron seeks to push them through. I'm surprised he's even contemplating such a thing so publicly.

DK said...

It caught me by surprise too. Especially when so many in the media or public policy domain were quick to point out, during the Arab spring protests, that such things are emblematic of repressive regimes.

Thou shall not point fingers. Anyone? :)