Wednesday, 24 August 2011

London riots – UK cannot just "arrest its way" out of the social breakdown.

The Government maintains that the riots, which spread through London and other cities two weeks ago,  “were not about poverty” – just mindless thugery.  But analysis of court-case data by the Guardian shows that most of the rioters were young, poor and unemployed.

A Liverpool University urban planning lecturer analyzed the Guardian’s data and found that the majority of the 1,300 people who have appeared in court so far live in poor neighbourhoods, with 41% of suspects living in one of the top 10% of most deprived places in the country. 

The findings are backed up the Institute of Public Policy Research (IPPR), which looked at the relationship between different indicators of poverty and deprivation and the boroughs where violence and looting took place.

Researchers found that in almost all of the worst-affected areas, youth unemployment and child poverty were significantly higher than the national average while education attainment was significantly lower.

The report states: "While poverty is no excuse for criminality, it places additional pressure on families not only to make ends meet but also to spend time together … The political debate is likely to rage on for some time but there is also an urgent need to understand what is happening in communities where violence flared."

The country cannot just "arrest its way" out of the social breakdown.

But so far, all we have seen from the Government is a very punitive response.  Convicted rioters are being handed sentences that are on the average 25 per cent longer than normal ones – an average of 5 months for those charged with theft and handling stolen goods.  A mother of two was jailed for five months for receiving clothes stolen by a looter (she appealed) and kids posting messages inciting disorders of Facebook were handed a four-year sentence.  Have judges lost their minds?  

The Government instructed them to go hard on the rioters to set an example and deter further violence, and also because looting and similar offences are seen as more serious in the context of the riots.  This last argument is strange, considering that is it well known that people in groups do things they would never have done on their own.

I am not condoning the riots and I agree that rioters need to be punished, but these harsh, longer sentences will backfire. They will send hundreds of youngsters to already overcrowded prisons, where they’ll meet hardened criminals.  They will reinforce their views of a society that is unjust, biased, uncaring and punitive, and exacerbate heir feelings of alienation and resentment. 

Instead of handing them long prison sentences, wouldn’t it make more sense to ask the young people to clean up, repair and improve the neighborhoods they have trashed? 

And as a society, we need to address the causes of the riots; otherwise they will flare up again. 

 Ian Duncan Smith, the work and pensions secretary, is advocating just that.  Taking an opposite view from the “zero tolerance” of No 10, he declared that the country cannot just "arrest its way" out of the social breakdown.

Young people needed support to help them leave gangs in equal measure to the tough sanctions they should face if they refuse to give up a life of crime, he said in an article for the Guardian.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Stand against rape - Send a butterfly to Nicaragua

"The butterfly (la mariposa) for us is a symbol of the desire to realise our dreams, spread our wings... fighting with the strength of our rights." Martha MunguiĆ”, Nicaraguan Alliance of Women's Centres

Rape and sexual abuse is widespread in Nicaragua, and two-thirds of reported rapes are against girls and young women under the age of 17.

Young survivors face extra trauma if they become pregnant because of the rape. For these women and girls the idea of giving birth may be unbearable, and the younger they are, the greater the danger to their health. But in Nicaragua they have no choice.

Since 2008, the law has made all forms of abortion in all circumstances a crime, even where the health and life of the woman is in danger or where she is the victim of rape or incest.

2,000 people created butterflies for AI's campaign at the Hay festival, UK

There is little or no help from the government who have failed to prevent sexual abuse and to provide care to survivors or to guarantee they receive justice and reparation. An ineffective justice system often means cases collapse and attackers walk free.

Young rape survivors need psychological, medical and legal support and help to rebuild their lives.

On 28 September 2011, women's organisations and the Nicaraguan people will be marching to demand the repeal of the country's total abortion ban and an end to widespread violence against women and girls.

Please stand in solidarity with these young women and help make their voices heard by sending a butterfly and a message of hope in time for their demonstration in September.  

You can create a butterfly online  or make a paper one, but paper versions must be sent in to AI by 19 August.
Your butterfly will join the march in Nicaragua .

Some 31, 414 people in the UK have already created colourful butterflies. Together we can make the government listen and act to protect the rights of girls and women. Create a butterfly today.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

UK Riots - mindless thugs, but why?

Rioters in Liverpool/BBC

Like everyone else in England, I am trying to make sense of the mindless violence, arson and looting that have spread first across London, then to other cities throughout the country over the last four nights. Four people have died as a result of the mayhem.

Video footages show young men and women in hoodies torching local businesses and family houses, smashing windows, overturning cars, taunting terrified shop owners and residents, ransacking shops, drinking and laughing at the police, who were clearly out-numbered and overpowered.
The images are terrifying and unsettling – especially because the looting and violence are so brazen, and because many of the young people involved, some as young as 14 or 15, seem to have such a good time smashing up the place, like it is all a big joke.
Many didn’t even bother to cover their face. Some have even posted pictures on social networking sites, proudly showing off their haul.
Two girls who took part in Monday night's riots in Croydon, London, boasted on the BBC that they were showing police and "the rich" that "we can do what we want". 

Looters, Birmingham/AFP

 And that is what it looks like. In some areas, young people pillaged for hours before the police arrived. And when the police did arrive, they seemed powerless to do anything.  This new and unexpected feeling of having power and being in control must have been intoxicating to young people who are used to feel powerless. This acted as a catalyst for more violence. 

The devastating riots, which are still spreading across the country, first flared on Saturday after a peaceful protest in Tottenham, London, over the fatal shooting of Mark Duggan, 29, by police.

Commentators say the ensuing violence has nothing to do with the fatal shooting: the riots are not a social protest, but random opportunistic thuggery.

It is true that the riots don’t look like a social protest – the young people are not marching for a cause or rioting with a message; they seem to be looting, burning and smashing things up for the sake of it.

But this doesn’t mean there isn’t a deep underlying cause.

The riots started in deprived London’s boroughs hit harder with unemployment. And the recent cuts in social and educational services and programmes have only made things worse. 

The gap between rich and poor is ever growing here. Britain is now one of the most unequal countries in the developed world. And many young people, especially Blacks and Asians, see the police as adversarial and biased.

Many of the rioters have no stake in conformity and feel they have nothing to lose.
"They have no career to think about. They are not 'us'. They live out there on the margins, enraged, disappointed, capable of doing some awful things," says Prof John Pitts, a criminologist who advises several London local authorities on young people and gangs.

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Post-WOMAD blues and Ayarkhaan

I have been back from WOMAD (World music festival in Charlton park) for two days now and my head is still full of music from all over the world – and I want to keep it that way and don’t want to go back to work.

I love sitting in a field, drinking beer, listening to exciting music with friends or dancing in a warm sea of people –  dipping in and out of countries, musical influences and moods.

The most striking and moving music at the festival came from Ayarkhaan, an all-woman vocal group from the Sakha Republic. The republic, also called Yakutia, is at the far end of Siberia – slightly smaller than India, but home to less than one million inhabitants. 


Traditional music from this harsh arctic land is heading toward extinction, so Ayarkhaan trio have made their mission to revive the endangered sounds of their homeland.  And those sounds are strange and beautiful! 

Dressed in traditional costumes, the three women stand still, only moving their arms from time to time. Their voices are extraordinary and haunting, sometimes otherworldly. In addition to singing, the women play the khomus, a metal instrument that fits in the mouth like a Jew’s harp, but louder and can operate over three octaves.  The khomus, regarded as the national instrument of Yakutia, is said to have been made by gods and to possess a magical voice. 

Played by Ayarkhaan, the instrument is trance inducing and almost electronic sounding.  With their voices and the khomus, the women conjure up a far away world of galloping horses, icy wind, vast barren steppes, roaming wolves and snowstorms. And you really are there in this wild, ice-crested land. 

Listen to Ayarkhaan here and let me know what you think.