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I am home again. In London. To be frank, I didn’t know what to expect: in the various airport lounges on my way back from Bali, I could see unsettling pictures of London on fire. Rioters were smashing shop windows and then stealing everything they could before burning the rest. It isn’t the sort of scenes you expect to see in London, especially a year before the Olympics. The police have arrested many rioters, and one of them is an 11-year old boy!

How can this happen in London? What started as a peaceful demonstration against the shooting of a man (who happened to be a father of 4) by the police in Tottenham ended up as the most violent riot in London in living memory.

As I am writing, things are not under control and 16 000 police officers will be patrolling the city tonight. London feels empty, and there are more policemen than tourists in the streets today. I can hear sirens and fire alarms every five minutes from my office.

What went wrong? How did it come to this debacle? I won’t enter into a political debate here as I am not sure that stigmatising specific communities will help. It seems to me that the only way to be seen and heard, for the rioters, is to loot, destroy and create as much chaos as possible. They don’t know, haven’t found or maybe haven’t learned to express themselves in a different way. When you destroy shops, there are news reports and suddenly the whole world is watching you. It is very difficult to have the same instant impact on society when you work honestly. So they went for the “easier” option, the one that, they perceive, give them instant gratification.

To me this is, amongst other things, a problem of social mobility. Most state schools in London are, to put it politely, not very good (I would know, my daughter didn’t know her 2 time table when she was 7, whereas in France she would have been expected to know most of them by the same age. Her school was supposed to be “outstanding” according to the Ofsted report –the Ofsted is the body that inspects state schools over here). In short, in London, if the parents don’t have the money or the time and skills to educate their children, well, basically, their kids don’t stand a chance to get a proper education, find their vocation and get a job they like.

Don’t get me wrong: I am not excusing what the rioters have done. Far from it, I think that it is unacceptable and they should understand what effort and hard work mean, and hopefully that is what they will learn when they get punished. But we also have an obligation to give the rioters some hope in their future. And the only way to do this is to give them a proper education. I don’t have a ready-made solution. It might be to bring back the selective grammar schools. It might be to learn a useful job at a younger age (why wait until all hope is lost?). But it is about giving them some skills and restoring their hopes in the future. Yes, there is another way. It is not an easy one, but it is an honest one.

Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London
  • Wow. That photo of the woman jumping from the burning building is terrifying.

  • I think anything the state gives them in terms of education will be insufficiently effective unless parental involvement and responsibility in the upbringing of their children is also improved. I agree we need to improve social mobility but somehow these children need something to aspire to more than things with material value. Welcome back by the way. How’s the jet lag?!

  • Muriel, I can only imagine your feelings upon your return “home” after lovely, peaceful Bali. I can only imagine what tourists in London are thinking. The same as most people, i wonder why this is happening.

    This is not the London I knew nor the London that many of us who have lived there know. I agree that one of the causes may be ignorance and resentment stemming from an abysmal public education system (once, one of the best in the world), but there other important factors that I would rather not refer to.

    Last night, when I saw flames leaping out of a building in Croyden (outskirts of London) and heard about the rioting in Birmingham and Liverpool, I was horrified. To think this started with a couple of hundred young people protesting an injustice and then others joined in. Why? Because they have nothing better to do? Out of resentment? An anti-government cutbacks protest? Because they have not been brought up with any basic values? Rebelling against authority and order.

    What is it that suddenly brings out that lust for destruction and mayhem? Could it be inherent in their genes, a leftover of thousands of generations of war, fighting, deprivation, struggle, looting, pillage, etc.? Or a “let’s join in and show them (the authorities) and take our share while we can” attitude?

    Nowadays England is a mess. The old-fashioned ways, frowned upon and discarded, worked. They can’t go back to the past but they sure as hell can draw on the lessons of the past to fix the future.

  • This is so troubling. Mob mentality is not something my mind can grasp. The world is going to hell, at least that’s how it seems. Between this, the US economy, and a mass murder very close to where I live and involving friends of friends this week, I feel like crawling into a hole and coming out when some semblance of reality is restored. Stay safe Muriel!

  • I still wouldn’t approve, but I’d feel better if rioters/looters (anywhere, not just London) would go after gov’t buildings than stores and shops of the working class. These blokes always seem to be the ones who suffer – no matter whose fault it is.

  • Yes this is a complicated one and I’m sure you would know best since you’re right in the middle of it being a Londoner. Whenever social stratification is concerned, it often becomes obvious that the issue is cyclical and both or all parties have responsibility. Stay safe!

  • Thanks for sharing what’s happening right from the field Muriel, although it must be quite a shock after Bali. I agree that education is the key, but it should be education for all. The old Grammar schools were initially for those who could pay privately or those who were extremely bright. I favour a higher standard for all in Comprehensives, were true options are available and life long learning strategies. Take care! Elizabeth.

  • You no doubt were witness to our shame over the riots in Vancouver, over a bloody hockey game! Without condoning them, at least the riots in London, Athens etc, etc. have a basis in one of the most important realities of all – a future. Stay safe Muriel and don’t forget the simple peace of Bali…

  • Hi Muriel,

    I can imagine it must be shocking especially just a year away from the Olympic games. I agree with your views about education as a means of giving hope but I also think what Working London Mommy said about parents playing a role is as crucial.

    P.S. I was in Bali a month ago. Which part were you in?

  • Hi Muriel,

    I pray for you to be safe and find peace and strength going through this difficult time.

    Looking forward to hear your adventures in Bali.

  • Beautifully written. I’ve found that those without an education and no hope have nothing to live for. One of the worst, and sometimes best, spots in the world is realizing that your life means nothing to no one, which in turn the things others value mean nothing to them. At that point it’s like trying to get the air we breathe to understand our point of views.

    I do hope and pray that peace will be restored soon, and some understanding and compassion be shared around.

  • It is always sad to see the working class take the hit. I hope there is some sort of resolve soon. At least it sounds from the news that it may be calming down a might. Like the rest, I am looking forward to hearing more about your time in Bali.

  • What has happened is just unreal,thank you for the following,following back would be great if you would pop back Saturday for my welcome to the weekend blog hop ?:)

  • Oh, Muriel, I have been thinking about you as these events unfolded. Quite a mess. I must confess part of me is reeling from the culture shock of seeing the “uncivilized” side of Londoners, since my only exposure has been to the stereotypes of stiff upper lipped, veddy veddy propah uppercrusters.

    As a nonconformist for most of my life, I cannot wrap my mind around mob mentality. But the boiling over was due to much more than that. In grad school I first read Arny Mindell’s “Sitting in the Fire: Large Group Transformation Using Conflict and Diversity.” I realized how undereducated I was (in grad school!) about the realities of marginalized groups when I found myself shocked by the author’s definition of terrorists as simply people who have found themselves without a voice.

    Of course, many of us don’t resort to terrorism to have a voice: we blog. : )

  • gosh, Muriel, it’s just so disconcerting to read this. worse so because we barely get any news of it here. thanks for writing about it.