13 December 2010

SOCIETY - The London protests

The recent riots in London are troubling. Things like this don't often happen in the UK, we think of violence on the streets as something that happens far away. We pride ourselves on the fact that British police don't need to carry handguns. So what went wrong?

Riots in LondonThe Big Picture has some clear images of the trouble. Both protesters and police suffered some injuries and there will be inquiries to clarify how these happened.

The cause of the rioting is widely supposed to be student unrest concerning a recent House of Commons vote agreeing to increases in university tuition fees. But more than 99.9% of students were not present at the rallies in London and the great majority of those that were marched and protested peacefully.

It seems certain that small, organised groups joined the student marches with the express purpose of stirring up violence. It reminds me of the violent clashes at football matches, political demonstrations, industrial disputes and more.

There is no excuse for violence. It's not a valid way to express a point of view. It contradicts the teachings of all the world's major religions, the moral convictions of most agnostics and atheists, as well as the laws of most of the world's national governments and the views of international organisations. By definition, violence is intended to harm people. And the overwhelming majority of people are opposed to it.

The difficulty we face is what to do about it. We can hardly just let the law be flouted, but meeting force with force is a last resort and is likely to lead to greater violence, at least in the short term.

As someone who wishes to follow Jesus I can only listen to what he says and do what he does. He tells me to love my enemies. He rebuked Peter for trying to protect him with a sword. He is the Prince of Peace. He came to heal and mend. He offers wholeness in place of injury and life in place of death.

Perhaps we need to begin in the places where we live. Just imagine if for every theft or burglary, and for every act of violence, a hundred people came forward to offer help, to restore broken or lost property, to act as counsellors for grieving relatives and support for the injured. Suppose we offered to help the injured policeman and the injured rioter without making judgements or distinctions. Offering help doesn't imply approval or disapproval, it's just help where help is needed, help to innocent and guilty alike.

(Related post, 'SOCIETY - Riots in the Cities')

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