If England were like a langar hall thered be no riots

Guest blogged byEren Londonwala

Each day I walk down Ferry Lanein Tottenham to my workplace. On Friday 5 August a police cordon blocked my usual route. I learned later that police had shot dead 29 year-old alleged gang-member Mark Duggan the night before. The precise facts remain unclear but early reports suggesting an exchange of fire between police and the dead man have been undermined Duggans gun wasnt discharged. This was a tragedy I thought and perhaps another instance of excessive force by police in a poor London borough with a large black population. Few anticipated what was to come.

On the next day members of Duggans family who by then had still not been contacted by police and other locals went to Tottenham Police Station for answers and to stage a peaceful vigil. Senior police ignored the group and around this time a young female, remonstrating, was apparently set upon by police with their batons. Unlike a previous contributor to this blog, who described this incident as relatively minor, given the understandably heightened passions live then in Tottenham, I feel the police action was heavy-handed and incendiary. I invite readers to view the evidence and make up their own minds. It was after these events that Tottenham, and in subsequent days other areas in London and England, erupted into the worst civil unrest for a generation.

Then, the causes were unmistakeable racist policing of ethnic minority communities and social deprivation. So, like some others, I viewed the outbreak of recent violence as a reaction to the continuation of unresolved problems, sparked by the suspicious killing of Duggan an understandable, and even legitimate, rebellion in other words. The fact that police cars were among the first targets of the Molotov bombs seemed to confirm this. Yet, as the days unfolded, and disorder spread throughout the capital and country, a distinction between the two eras became apparent: 2011 was marked, to a far greater degree than 1981, by opportunist looting which came to devastate as many small independent businesses as insured corporate chains and, amid the chaos, most tragically, led to further loss of life with Duggans death being all but forgotten.

Now, while we have not witnessed a simple repeat of history the rioters this time were more ethnically diverse and, some among their number to have faced the courts are hardly dispossessed, including the daughter of a millionaire, a teaching assistant and an organic chef the persistence of poverty and racist policing cannot be denied. Indeed, on the former point particularly, The Guardian, using released court documents, just over a week ago outlined an emerging profile of the rioters: young, poor and unemployed. And, in the same pages days earlier, philosopher Nina Power, anticipating such data, was especially insightful. I quote her at length:

Combine understandable suspicion of and resentment towards the police based on experience and memory with high poverty and large unemployment and the reasons why people are taking to the streets become clear. (Haringey, the borough that includes Tottenham, has the fourth highest level of child poverty inLondon and an unemployment rate of 8.8%, double the national average, with one vacancy for every 54 seeking work in the borough.)

Those condemning the events would do well to take a step back and consider the bigger picture: a country in which the richest 10% are now 100 times better off than the poorest, where consumerism predicated on personal debt has been pushed for years as the solution to a faltering economy, and where, according to the OECD, social mobility is worse than any other developed country.

As Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett point out in The Spirit Level: Why Equality is Better for Everyone, phenomena usually described as “social problems” (crime, ill-health, imprisonment rates, mental illness) are far more common in unequal societies than ones with better economic distribution and less gap between the richest and the poorest. Decades of individualism, competition and state-encouraged selfishness combined with a systematic crushing of unions and the ever-increasing criminalisation of dissent have madeBritain one of the most unequal countries in the developed world.

Lets be sure, to critically think about the low socio-economic status of many of the rioters and their often strained relationship with police isnt to excuse anti-social behaviour and wrongdoing. Its of course true that many people face adversity without resorting to riot but, we are surely fated to see further strife in our streets if we fail to confront systemic causes and instead view recent events like David Cameron, whose ideological mission it is to maintain privilege and inequality, as criminality, pure and simple.

In the recent disorder many Sikhs perceived a danger to their places of worship and sought to defend them, arriving en masse to Gurudware throughout England. These actions were, in a sense, laudable being extensively praised on this blog, the wider media and blogosphere. And, the gestures of solidarity by Sikhs, who helped fasting Muslims protect their Masjids, represented some urgently needed inter-faith unity among us South Asians. Yet I still had lingering misgivings about the defensive impulse, which was witnessed throughout Turkish, Kurdish and other communities also. With rumour running wild, I feared the onset of vigilantism and suspicion of innocent people, particularly innocent young black people. Such lamentable developments did appear, to some degree, in majority-white areas where racists and the far-right were present. And given that our community isnt immune to prejudice, I worried that the behaviour of some massed Sikhs would similarly degenerate. Thankfully we remained disciplined and non-confrontational.

A strand of Sikh tradition was then, on display. While we faced nothing like the existential threat of Guru Gobind Singh Jis era, in recent actions there is an echo of that time. Clearly, we are still willing and able to mobilise in times of imminent or perceived imminent danger. We should certainly celebrate this. However, its not our much-vaunted martiality that will contribute most to the healing of our recently convulsed, and long-term sick, society. Instead, the most ancient and fundamental of Sikh canons provide the necessary learning.

Since inception, Sikhi has recognised that, indeed, Equality is Better for Everyone. Our forebears vehemently opposed discrimination of all stripes, obtained shaheedi fighting for others rights and instituted Guru Ka Langar ensuring that anyone and everyone had a place in the communal canteen. Today, even though we may have just been burnt by the sinfulness of others, we must seek their rehabilitation above punishment; prefer and profess the fare and ways of Bhai Lalo; redouble our efforts to fashion an England and shared earth by Langar principles; and, never become reconciled to the current form of society, which by its rampant inequality and injustice, produces mass-misery and is liable to riot












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20 Responses to “If England were like a langar hall thered be no riots”

  1. Blighty Singh says:

    If England were like a Langar Hall ther'd be no riots ? Whilst I agree with much of the sentiment of the above it does seem to ignore how we Sikhs in London are no strangers to rioting. Both my grandfathers and grandmother were on the streets of Southall in April 1979 fighting the police and my dad was busy throwing petrol bombs at the police in the summer of 1981. The propensity to riot is as much in the Sikhs as it is in the English. (btw…I'm glad the piece above said 'English' rather than 'British' or 'UK' as some American news organisations had been doing. There were no….and never had been…any riots in Scotland or Wales. This is purely an English problem) Both the Sikhs and the English are naturally violent. Every now and then they need to fight….with someone….anyone. You could create complete equality in England but it won't put a stop to riots breaking out every now and then. There's a thousand years of DNA that will see to that. What surpised me most about the reaction to these riots was the way that many around the world (outside of Europe) said they were surprised something like this could happen in England. Why ? How can anyone be surprised ? London is a city with a crime rate 9 times higher than New York. The European nations have seen us for the last 30 years as violent animals…given the way that our football fans have been tearing up their cities and fighting with their police and army during away games. Its a question of perception created by media. The American media, film etc portray England and the English as upper class effeminate wusses. The average person that gets his information from those popular sources has no time to ponder how effeminate wusses could have forcefully and violently taken over 75% of the entire earth. Then we have our own perception about ourselves as Sikhs. We like to think of ourselves as rightoues and godly. We have neither the time nor inclination to examine what our reputation is among the muslims of the lands to our north. They……remembering our time as their rulers…and in 1947….see us as bloodthirsty violent animals.
    No amount of equality is gonna stop England being a very violent country and the English being a very violent race. If anything…..things are better than they used to be. A century ago you couldn't walk across Hyde Park in central London without an armed guard. These armed civilians for hire used to have a base at the Marble Arch end where you could hire them to escort you into the park. This whole country's history is built on riots and violence. Just as our history as Sikhs is shaped by violence. You can't change that. Equality or inequality makes no difference. It takes a thousand years for DNA to change.

  2. kantay says:

    My only moment of misgiving on another wise laudable post is about that unease with the defensive impulse. If Sikhs had not mobilized in defense against indiscriminate looting because everyone was unsure about their impulse to defend, we would have the same post, the only difference being the spontaneous action of Sikhs would be missing. It is ok to defend ones business or well being and that of others even if that defense is made to actions by people who members of disadvantaged or dispossessed groups.

  3. kantay says:

    I also understand your characterization of Cameron may fit the facts as you see them but that is somewhat of a double edged sword because one on the other side could say that the Left opposition has a desire to topple the current order come what may and no matter who is hurt under the idea that those with means are guilty in proportion to how much they have. And that the middle and upper class leaders of left movements seek opportunity for power through the means of supposing to offer social change. Unlike some I do not think gurubani fits the left right paradigm, or that the Gurus can be at all placed on one side of the hall.

  4. patel says:

    Everyone has place in langar doest mean we lets criminal go unpunished. Pseudo lefty attitute of arthur is on display pc gone wild, criminal gang member is victim and police upholding law is criminal. What of rights of duggan victim? Pc gone wild.

  5. Citizen Singh says:

    This post resorts to a 'one size fits all' approach to the riots and doesn't even scratch the surface of understanding different people's motivations during this whole period.

    It instead links to a number of Guardian articles… why think for yourself when you can read the Guardian and be told your opinion?

  6. Blighty Singh says:

    Jodha Siah, only because I respect you and see where your personal messages to me where going : Sikhs : We're the same as we as we are in Hoshiarpur,, Delhi, Kabul, Yuba City, Hounslow or Brampton.

  7. nkr says:

    island populations,like the english in the uk – tend to be highly inbred and therefore senselessly violent – brutish barbarian humanoids – these hellish traits also have something to do with the natural scarcity or perceived scarcity of natural resources on an island (quality land&water etc.) – a regular lack of the warmth and light of the sun will also bring out the worst possible qualities in an already inbred demographic (selfishness, false sense of superiority, starting conflicts around the world for the purpose of stealing the wealth of others and creating poverty and suffering around the globe) – the worst part of it all is on the surface such individuals appear almost human – yet, history and current events show otherwise – look how cruel the japani were with torture during wars – another island population – or the violent crimes coming out of islands (won't go into details but notorious cases from aruba and vancouver island) –

  8. Sanehval says:

    New Mohinder Singh?

  9. matwalojiya says:

    A thoughtful article .. if only! Humanity has searched for answers since time began! This writer is simply voicing his view, as is his right, on the latest in a long line of periodic social upheavels. I admit being taken aback by recent events despite much experience in demos. I too was at Southall 1979 when Blair Peach was murdered by the SPG!All of Southalls diversity was under siege!It was total shock to witness police brutality first hand! In just a few hours decades of indoctrination vanished! No more’Dixon of Dock Green’ stereotype! A wake up call to view the world warts & all! Beware media ‘spoonfeed’ ‘rioters’ arent feral rats but people with a grievance! If reasoned debate was all it took we should’ve reached the promised land by now! Sometimes its good to get physical as Southalls kids did in self defence! It didnt eliminate racist skinheads, the NF is now the BNP, but it made them think twice!

  10. Ms. MintTea says:

    Excellent article speaking on the root causes, and the much needed awareness of wider issues in England. Also glad you said England rather than throwing neighbouring countries under the umbrella. Thanks Londonwala.

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