The London Riots: From The Ashes, Hope RisesAugust 17, 2011
A week after the worst riots in London and the UK for over 25 years, we’ve been able to breathe again. Just. It’s been a torrid week, where businesses and homes were torched, shops were looted and people were killed. Many people were swept along in the madness, as we found out on the rap sheet that followed. Not all the people facing a staycation at her majesty’s special hotel were feral youth. Some were graduates, some had jobs, one was an ambassador for the Olympics (not anymore, I bet) and one particularly silly little madam was reported to be the daughter of a millionaire. How nice of her to drop in on the underprivileged and play the rebel, knowing she can step away and leave those who can’t to try and salvage their already blighted area. The madness spread to Manchester, Bristol and Birmingham. It was in Birmingham that the first deaths occurred when three young men were run over while defending their area. A pensioner attacked in Ealing for trying to put out a fire died of his injuries a few days later.
Then the racists came out of the woodwork, falling over themselves to blame people with faces darker than milk, wilfully denying the fact that the multitude of different races involved showed it was a truly multicultural event. And British Historian Dr David Starkey became their poster boy after his appearance on BBC’s Newsnight on Friday. Yes, it’s been a sorry week for Blighty in general and London in particular.
But, as is often the case, out of great evil comes great good. The day after the worst night of rioting, organised through the now demonised social networks (because it was the networks and poor old Blackberry wot did it, innit), a movement was born from said networks where people went out on the streets with their brooms and cleaned up as a show of solidarity. Funds were set up for deserving causes including businesses that were razed to the ground and a Malaysian young man who had been in London for only one month, to be mugged by people who he thought were helping him to his feet as he was bleeding. Donations of food and clothing for those who had lost their homes were happening all over the place and a peace wall was set up in Peckham on the boarded up window of a Pound shop. On Monday, the people of Hackney had a tea party in the road that was worst affected and where Hackney Woman shot to fame for her plain speaking when challenging the rioters. One of the other heroes of the riots was the father of one of the young men killed in Birmingham. His name is Tariq Jahan and his calmness, strength and generosity in the face of an almighty grief took the sting out of what could’ve been a very nasty situation. One of the things he said, which punched me right in the gut was this: “Step forward if you want to lose your sons, otherwise calm down and go home.”
I was at Peckham on Sunday to witness the peace wall, full of post-it-notes with all the emotions you expect, including lots of (gentle) messages about God. The overall sense you got from it though, was pride and a determination that whatever happens, we’re in it together. And no politician in the land, with their spin-doctors, silly proclamations and empty rhetoric can manufacture that. It’s real, and it’s free.