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Dear Friend of KLICE,

We are pleased to present KLICE Comment.

This month KLICE Advisory Council member Dr R David Muir reflects on A year after the August 2011 riots.


In contrast to the very successful and engaging 2012 Olympics Games we witnessed in the UK this month, we also had the memory of the riots of August 2011 to contend with. One showed individuals and communities at their best; the other showed that selfish, destructive and antinomian tendency characteristic of Kant's 'crooked timber of humanity'. It could be argued that the 2012 Olympics Games provided a national focus (even a distraction) as the nation was arrested by the dazzling array of talented and dedicated sportswomen and men competing for their countries. And one cannot help but be inspired by the phenomenal success of Team GB and our 65 medals! Of course, Usain Bolt now defines the mens' 100 and 200 metres. But it brought tears to my eyes seeing Mo Farah win both the 5,000 and the 10,000 metres, having failed to qualify in the Beijing Olympics of 2008. There is a backstory, according to Mo, in 'hard work and graft'.

Unlike last August's scenes of rioting, looting and arson, this August we saw men, women and many young people competing and winning the medals they had worked so hard for. There were so many lessons in courage, determination and teamwork, not to mention sheer talent and athletic prowess.

In a word, the London 2012 Olympics Games was inspiring, showing the human body (and spirit) at its best. And dare I say, in this first anniversary month of the August 2011 riots, that the 2012 Olympics Games probably prevented another riot.

A year after the devastation, desolation and death caused by the 2011 riots - a 'festival of lawlessness' according to The Guardian (11 August 2012) - there is always that seductive tendency, in light of the successful staging and celebration of the 2012 Games, to view the riots as a 'fleeting aberration' on the body politic. But this tendency must be resisted. Not just because it's false, but because it only further marginalizes and disenfranchises a significant section of urban Britain who feel shut out and are shouting for attention. Whether or not one believes Martin Luther King, Jr.'s prophetic insight that 'riots are the voice of the unheard', there are moral and political grounds for keeping alive the narrative which speaks to the correspondence between social cohesion and having a personal stake in society. I was struck by this fundamental correspondence again as I spoke to a group of young unemployed men (some were caught up in last summer's riots and have served prison sentences) our organisation works with in North London. One young man, just turned 20, put it bluntly to me: 'If I had a job do you think I'd be out looting and rioting?'

We know, of course, that there were a host of reasons for the riots; and we also know from Darah Singh's Riots Communities and Victims Panel report that there were many people living in deprived communities who did not riot. And why was this? The report sums it up well:

'The Panel spoke to many individuals from deprived backgrounds who did not riot. They told us that they had a stake in society that they did not want to jeopardise. They showed an awareness of shared values. They had the resilience to take knocks and felt able to create opportunities for themselves. The fact that these people, who had similar disadvantages in life to many of those who chose to riot, felt able to look positively to the future greatly impressed us' (Riots Communities and Victims Panel, 2012, p.24).

When I read Singh's interim and final reports on the August riots I thought about resilience and the 'broken society' narrative in view of this fundamental correspondence between social cohesion and having a personal stake in society. There are profound social policy implications in Benjamin Franklin's argument that it's 'hard for an empty sack to stand upright'. Whilst it is not impossible for poor people living in deprived communities where there is high unemployment, social breakdown and a sense of hopelessness to behave in a morally upright way, it's just more difficult for them to do so - unlike some wealthy bankers, whose destructive behaviour and moral choices are rightly compared to those of rioters and looters and even given 'moral equivalence' in terms of the global destruction and hardships they have caused.

The fact that some people living in deprived communities did not riot or join in the 'festival of lawlessness' does not undermine this fundamental correspondence thesis. It just means that we have to work harder and think more imaginatively to ensure that people, especially the young, really feel they have a stake in society - and helping them find employment is a crucial starting-point.

R David Muir

Director, Faith in Britain


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