Tag Archives: Riots

Celebrating John Stuart Mill and David Starkey

If you have not already seen David Starkey’s outrageous racist slurs have a little watch. Awful no? There have been no shortages of people who have thrown their weight into articles to highlight why he was not only wrong, but also dangerous. If unchallenged, views such as Starkey’s can foster hatred which has very real and very dangerous consequences. The point however, is that they are not left unchallenged. Authors such Owen Jones have done a great job of providing an articulate alternative. Indeed, what has been lovely is the way the majority unite in shocked opposition to the repulsiveness of Starkey’s comments.

In a perverse twist of logic, we would not have had a torrent of columns and articles about tolerance, trust and community if it was not for Starkey’s awful comments. This thought process draws its ideas from the thinking of John Stuart Mill’s ‘On Liberty’ (1859) in which Mill argued that truth (that evolves and adapts over time) can only be ascertained through its comparison to ‘false’ sentiments. Although he also warns about our ability to judge what is ‘false’ and what is ‘truth’. He argues freedom of speech should be celebrated, and ‘false’ comments should be welcomed as they help us to distinguish what is ‘truth’. Mill argued that free discussion is necessary to prevent the “deep slumber of a decided opinion“. I would argue that the likes of Starkey and Douglas Murray (two high profile public figures whose views I find deplorable) keep the moral consciousness alive and burning.

Ordinary people are struggling to find meaning behind the recent riots. It is interesting that it takes someone like Starkey for us to be able to articulate what we know was not the ‘cause’. Without doubt or hesitation, 99% of Brits can happily say the riots did not happen because the “whites had started to act black”.  Thanks to Starkey and Mill, we know what we are not – racists.

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Filed under Far-right politics, History, Politics

The riots happened behind closed doors

The riots happened behind closed doors. This is not some deep metaphor about how the real conflict lies within our broken homes, but a simple observation that for most people the riots happened outside, behind their firmly shut front doors.

The papers have been filled with villains and heroes. If the tabloids were to be believed, people either took the streets in an ad-hoc
territorial army and heroically defended our communities or they were scum looting our corner shops. The coverage of the riots failed to report them in a way that most people saw them – detached.

Throughout, journalists have gone to extraordinary lengths to try and pull the proceedings apart to state what they really mean for society as a whole. For me, the most startling observation was that it was not the rioters, the police or knife wielding Kurdish militias who were the main players. It was you. You who sat behind your computer and TV screens watching events unfold. You who would rather watch it all unfold on a 24 hour news coverage loop than step outside your front door to see for yourself.

Could you imagine a more graphic illustration of our apathetic, isolated and unconcerned society than people sat flicking between Sky news and BBC News 24 unable to distinguish between the noise on their TVs and the noise coming from the street outside? Was it through fear that people kept their bums firmly planted on the sofa, or was it apathy?

Of course, when I describe you, I also describe myself. My experience of the riots after coming back from holiday to Peckham was one of outside observation. If I had been in my house on Monday night at the height of the violence would I have wondered down Rye Lane to see what was happening, I doubt it. I would have justified my lack of action to myself through reducing the risk to myself or something. Would I have regretted this lack of action? Maybe.

Yet this apathy and reliance on the media brings with it real danger. Those who I have spoken to in Peckham who did venture out have talked widely of the events being over played in the press. The significant violence in Peckham, it would appear, was concentrated to just a few hours on Monday night. Equally, walking down and around Rye Lane it looked like predominantly chain stores had been attacked, despite media reports and focus on the small independently owned businesses being attacked. The riots were painted through a lens designed to sell papers (“TODAY 8 page riots special”). The realities of recent events are far less glamorous. Disenchanted people watched their TV as disenchanted people stole things from our shops.

What sets Peckham apart though from other communities that faced riots is that you do not need to even speak to people to begin ascertaining people’s actual views. Pinned on multi-coloured post-it notes on “Peckham’s peace wall” there are messages of people’s reflections, feelings and reactions. The wall, covering part of Poundland’s broken window will be kept in Peckham Library and will be available for all to read.

I would urge you, even if you missed the events as they unfolded, to go and read some of these firsthand accounts that vary from the trivial to the deeply moving. Otherwise my predictably middle class reader, you are as bad as I am.

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