Having lived in Haringey for almost half of my life I couldn't help but be glued to the television screen as the images of my former neighbourhood going up in flames were accompanied by the flashing headlines of looting spreading through the borough.
These were images that were at once disconcerting, frightening and poignant. The reality and absurdity of the situation hit me square in the face whilst looking at the vision of a burning bus at about 3 am, when all I could muster from the discomfort of my sofa was 'that's where I sat my Sociology A-level exam'.
As the images of looting took over those of burning buildings two thoughts crossed my mind. Firstly, I knew that it would only be a matter of time before our reason at large abandoned us and we formed into a pitchfork-wielding-let's-bring-in-the-army mob that positioned us against them, the 'scum' that were looting our streets. And secondly, how we human beings, with our fancy smart phones and fancy clothes, are still held hostage by our primal animal instincts and we are so ready to smash and burn, judge and condemn, flee and protect.
I knew that finding some sense amongst such scenes of carnage would be difficult, and trying to bring a context as to why this was happening in our streets would be an even more onerous task. Yet as the sight of the looters wreaking havoc continued to play live on our screen as though on loop, I couldn't help but be reminded of Frankenstein's monster.
Mary Shelley's gothic creation is perhaps a rather obscure analogy for the unrest in the UK at the moment but I believe it is quite apt.
First things first. The actions of the looters are abhorrent and cannot, and should not, be condoned. Those responsible for so much damage and hurt, for all those burnt homes and destroyed businesses should be held accountable for their actions. Like Shelley's monster, our Society's monster has expressed itself with unchecked violence and destruction and we need to denounce it for what it is.
However, like Frankenstein's 'fiend', our monster also needs to be understood in the context of its time. Just like Shelley's monster learnt that it did not belong by looking through the windows of the De Lacey family, our monster has been looking through the windows of our shops and it too feels like it does not have a stake in our world, or at least not an equal one.
This feeling of alienation and disenfranchisement is very real. No one wants to destroy their own home, their own neighbourhood, their own creator, unless a real grievance exists and we need to use this horrible explosion of anger as a springboard for a better understanding of what has led so many of our youngsters to behave in such an abhorrent manner. If we don't learn our lessons, new monsters will pop up later down the line.
We can't kid ourselves. This is more than mere "criminality, pure and simple." Just like the monster was created by Doctor Frankenstein out of the decaying part of others, our own monster has been created by the decaying parts of our own system. An endemic feeling of alienation is not born out of nothing and we need to look at the reasons why this has happened. Deprivation, feelings of victimisation because of one's race, rampant cuts to public services, the perceived failures of the education system in certain areas, a disparate void between the 'haves' and the 'have- nots' fuelled by an unashamed consumerist culture; these are the very body parts with which we have created our monster and like Doctor Frankenstein we need to accept some responsibility for the carnage that our creation unleashed and learn that it is in our own hands to prevent these things from happening again.
As much as we want to transform the looters into a caricaturised version that we can hate and never feel related to, in the end what will stare back at us will be the eyes of our young who in spite of their repugnant actions are still a part of us. It is our responsibility not only to rebuild burnt businesses and broken homes, but also to rebuild the parts of our society where our monster lies so that we, as a society, can bring about change and prevent the next riots.
"You hate me; but your abhorrence cannot equal that with which I regard myself. I look on the hands which executed the deed; I think on the heart in which the imagination of it was conceived, and long for the moment when these hands will meet my eyes, when that imagination will haunt my thoughts no more"
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