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Criminality, Cromwell, and the Double Standard of Anarchy in the UK

Posted on Sunday, 14th August 2011 @ 12:29 AM by Text Size A | A | A

To watch the BBC’s coverage of the riots in the UK was to hear a needle skipping endlessly over the phrase “sheer criminality”. It came again and again from the mouths of commentators and pundits, municipal officials and national leaders; they told (and tell) us the rioters are “mindless” and “violent”. Behind all this bluster is a pervasive sense of confusion—a derision that comes from a failure of understanding nowhere more evident than in the interviews with restaurant and shop owners whose businesses were destroyed. The helicopters hovered over their burning buildings while they spoke into their phones with the preternatural calm of the well-insured. They related what they’d been told by the managers they employ and thereby confessed that they are owners merely, living off the wealth their employees create and using it to employ others to do even the work of oversight. Then they would curse in vehement accents the legions of the unemployed and proclaim with a self-satisfied air of superiority that they do not understand such people. Of course they don’t.

Before they levy accusations of simple theft or mere vandalism they ought to reflect on the targets chosen. While there is no question that jewelry stores and electronics shops were looted, many instead smashed the windows of beauty salons and set fire to grocery stores. These are not the targets of thieves. Are these the establishments that have turned away these men and women, perhaps many times, when they asked only for a chance to work for their daily bread? Are these the shops of owners like the ones who spoke to the BBC—men from the purple of commerce who live without work? If so, then these are the natural targets of resentment of those who have no future—the descendents of peasants induced to leave their land and lured to the city by promises of a better life made by the sale of their hourly strength, now told that this last commodity, upon which all their hopes were pinned, is no longer wanted. Money, unlike labor, is always wanted, and so the shop owners know nothing of rejection and despair. Of course they don’t.

In 2002, the BBC ran a poll asking their viewers to rank the one hundred greatest Britons of all time. Oliver Cromwell was ranked number ten. There have been a relatively small number of injuries (and tragically, fatalities) attributable to the rioters, and then mostly inadverently—Cromwell killed tens of thousands with cold deliberation. There have been a few sad cases where mom and pop shops were burned, as opposed to the rioters more usual corporate targets—Cromwell destroyed whole towns. There is the heart-rending case which assaults all normal conceptions of human decency of the ninety-year-old woman who was terrorized—had the English Civil War been so well covered by the media, I guarantee that at least one ninety year old woman would have been found to have been terrorized. Cromwell is now a hero because when he killed, stole, and burned he did it in the name of God, to avenge the blasphemies of Papists and high church Anglicans, or in the name of ‘the people’, to strengthen the hand of Parliament against an autocratic king. The rioters do not pretend that they act for anyone else. They steal and burn because they have been out of work for months, tossed off like old rags by those who built their wealth on the backs of the people of their poor neighborhoods. They steal and burn because they have been unjustifiably and indiscriminately searched and harassed by police their entire lives and because the very population that invited them to immigrate and take the jobs that no longer exist has abandoned them and acknowledges them now only in glances of fear and mistrust. Because their rage is not on another’s behalf, but against their own exploitation, they are called heartless, thoughtless, and selfish. They do not receive the same consideration as a Cromwell. Of course they don’t.

By the end of the wars he helped to prosecute, Cromwell was seen as a bringer of peace, but peace is not just the absence of violence. True peace is a dynamic state—a condition in which all are contributing to the common welfare and in which every man and woman makes an effort to understand, to support, and to raise up their fellows. So considered, there has not been peace in London for a long time and it is not the rioters or the people of the poor neighborhoods from which they come who first broke good faith in keeping it. The ashes are smoldering now in London, Birmingham, Liverpool, and the other cities, but they will kindle again for the simple reason that neither Mr. Cameron, the descendent of a long line of bankers, nor Ms. May, a former employee of the bank of England, see peace that way. Of course they don’t.

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