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“How is stealing a 40 inch plasma television aiding your cause?”
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“How is stealing a 40 inch plasma television aiding your cause?”

The people of Syria and Libya are fighting for their basic rights – to govern their country, for the right of self-expression, for a safer, more secure future for their children. What exactly, asks Alisha Lewis, 19, a Commonwealth Correspondent from New Zealand, were England’s rioters fighting for?

When I think ‘London’, a number of things generally spring to mind. Tea and crumpets and Notting Hill, and that episode of Friends where they all go to London. Red double-decker buses. Hugh Grant and his floppy hair.

I obviously haven’t been to London.

But still, I don’t think anyone ever thinks riot police, burning buildings, looters and smashed cars. I don’t think anyone thinks diggers breaking into post shops. I don’t think anyone thinks chaos.

But this is exactly what London became last month. We’ve all watched the otherworldly scenes of riots and anger, safe from the comfort of our sofa sets, far, far away from all the danger.

London was on fire. But why?

Although there hasn’t really been a huge amount of information divulged on the reasons behind the rioting, there are a number of possible answers being thrown around as people play the blame game. One of these is the suggestion that the roots of the unrest are based amidst racial tension.

It’s common knowledge that the initial outbreak of rioting in Tottenham was precipitated by the shooting of Mark Duggan, a black man, by local police. Mark Duggan was, you could say, martyred by the public, who staged a peaceful protest outside the police station for several hours. This led to a full blown riot which subsequently triggered further riots in many other areas of London, and beyond to other parts of England.

And of course, politicians are putting their own spin on the cause behind the riots. I’m sure they have firsthand experience. The Conservative Party is trying to pin it all on criminality, while Labour is blaming cuts in public service. Surek criminality was obviously a pretty big part of the drama, but it seems more likely to be an effect rather than the cause. And while cuts in public service might be irritating, does it justify setting buildings on fire?

They may be trying to make a statement, but they’ve taken way too much advantage of the situation and pissed all over the basic human right to protest. Over on the other side of the world in Syria, the military have the authority to shoot any civilian they see holding or capturing footage of civil unrest. And in Libya, people have been going through the same thing. Over there, their ‘rioters’ have been termed the rebels.

The rebels have been protesting for a reason. They haven’t been mass ordering baseball and cricket bats on Amazon.com so that they can go around smashing windows and stealing plasma screens without fear. It’s highly unlikely they even have the simple privilege of internet access.

In Libya, if a civilian so much as swore at a government official, those were likely to be the last words they would ever speak. The people of Syria and Libya are fighting for basic rights – they are fighting for the right to govern their own country, they are fighting for the right of self-expression, they are fighting for a safer, more secure future for their children.

What exactly were the London rioters fighting for?

It just seems so arbitrary. How is looting and stealing a 40 inch plasma television aiding your cause in any way? But that’s a stupid question to even ask; because you could bet a million bucks (or a million 40 inch plasmas) that most of these people aren’t really doing any of this to incite social change.

While I’m sure the initial causes of the riots were probably based on genuine stirrings of public unrest and unhappiness, it seems more likely that continuing the rioting and establishing an almost total sense of chaos was more a result of opportunism.

Basically, an entire underprivileged, undervalued social sub-group saw a chance to, well, steal and get away with it. With the police so overwhelmed and so distracted, the chances of getting caught amidst the chaos was deemed pretty low.

It’s hard to know who is at fault. Is the government to blame for letting people get to this point? Or are these mainly young looters just products of a generation that has grown up on a diet of consumerism and instant-gratification, rather than concepts of morality?

Madison Westwood, a young New Zealander living in the heart of London commented on the situation on her Facebook page: “Just a lot of young idiots looting, setting buildings on fire and causing havoc for no good reason… just because they can.”

Someone needs to do something. If anything, someone should get Hugh Grant out of Notting Hill. He’s a national treasure.

Save Hugh Grant and his floppy hair. Save London.

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About me:

“I’m a journalism student from Auckland, New Zealand. Originally from India, my family moved to New Zealand when I was four years old. I love writing – both creative and transactional – as well as reading, theatre, travelling and dancing.

“Aside from studying, I work as an intern for ONE News – at TVNZ, our national broadcaster – and as sub-editor for my university magazine. I hope to enter into journalism, ultimately working for established editorial publications within New Zealand or overseas.”

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Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Commonwealth Youth Programme. Articles are published in a spirit of dialogue, respect and understanding. If you disagree, why not submit a response?

To learn more about becoming a Commonwealth Correspondent please visit: http://www.yourcommonwealth.org/submit-articles/commonwealthcorrespondents/

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