2011 Riots Not Caused By Ethnic Tensions
By Jamie Rayat
In the wake of the recent inquest into the killing of Mark Duggan, whose death sparked the 2011 riots that raged across Britain, we have seemingly arrived at a point where two years on, we can look back and revisit the events of that summer to try and make sense of them.
Before 2011 we had seen riots in Britain before, most notably in some areas of the North in the summer of 2001; Oldham, Harehills and in particular Bradford in West Yorkshire saw some of the worst episodes of public disturbances since the Second World War.
The trouble in Bradford stemmed from far-right organisations including the British National Party and the National Front planning to march in the city which had large amounts of citizens from ethnic minorities – often living in communities isolated from White residents. Opposition to the far-right from groups like the Anti-Nazi League and mainly Asian local residents, resented the presence of the groups and of the authorities which led to clashes with riot police, missiles being thrown and property destroyed. The fallout was damage estimated at £10m and 300 injured police officers.
The Ritchie Report was produced in response to an inquiry into the events and it warned: ‘Segregation, albeit self-segregation, is an unacceptable basis for a harmonious community and it will lead to more serious problems if it is not tackled’. It cited deep-rooted racial segregation between South Asian and others as the cause of the Oldham Riots.
A decade later, between 6th and 11th August 2011, thousands of people rioted in several boroughs across London and other cities in England causing injuries and fatalities, the destruction of homes and businesses, alongside looting and criminal damage. Much the same result as ten years previously, but rather than being the result of ethnic tensions, these riots were deemed by Prime Minister David Cameron as a ‘moral collapse that has taken place in parts of our country these past few generations’ – the rioters came across the entire racial spectrum.
Somewhat perversely, it seemed we could be comforted by many examples of racial harmony that occurred; a Bangladeshi shopkeeper whose business was saved from generous contributions from the public and the clean-up operations that saw people from all backgrounds combine and help clear the damage being two such examples.
Additionally Tariq Jahan, whose 21-year-old son, Haroon, died after he was run over by a car in Birmingham, showed remarkable restraint in calling for people not to resort to vigilantism against rioters and asked communities to ‘stand united‘.
According to the 2011 Census, Asians comprise 7% of the population of the UK and interestingly, 6% of the convictions for crimes relating to the riots were given to people of Asian background, suggesting that rather than a problem endemic in the Asian community, they were merely being represented in rioting activity as they were in public life.
What is notable about the 2011 riots were the spread of them, they started in North London but went as far as Liverpool and Manchester and there were many common factors that set off conflict in communities; the rioters were generally male, poor and had criminal convictions. Many felt the need to establish a connection between that disaffection by the inner-city youth and specific outbreaks of violence of the sort we saw over those five days.
What this means for Asian communities is entirely dependent on class; Asians are no different in that there exists an underclass that have a chip on their shoulder with a government and society they perceive to be ambivalent to their ambitions or interests.
In a way this seems like progress, despite the presence of far-right groups such as the EDL they are continually counter-demonstrated against with larger numbers and seem to spend most of their time fighting amongst themselves.
Racial tensions very rarely manifest themselves in a similar way to what we saw in Bradford or Oldham, and there was no distinct racial undertone to the trouble we saw in 2011. So it is clear that these riots of two years ago were somewhat different in nature to what we saw in Oldham and Bradford at the turn of the millennium where racial motivations were the cause.
There is however, a clear similarity with the two cases – and one that different governments, community leaders and even years of economic prosperity have failed to halt. Whether its lack of jobs, adequate social housing or opportunities to spend time with others on playing fields or youth clubs we seem to be raising an angry, disillusioned and apathetic segment of society which seem completely cut off from so many of us.
The most important step, and one which will take plenty of both time and effort is the reengagement and reintegration of people who feel alienated. If we as a society cannot achieve this, more instances of trouble by people who do not fear authority or have regard for any of the consequences, may sadly be in the offing once again.