The riots in the UK started with the death of Mark Duggan from Tottenham, a once-troubled borough in north London, and abruptly ended with multiple fatalities of three young Asian men in Birmingham, who were trying to protect their local community. While many are still coming to terms with the fallout – livelihoods destroyed, public property vandalised and loved ones lost – where did it all go so horribly wrong?
Much of the rhetoric coming from various community leaders and young people pointed to a "lack of hope" and spending cutbacks on those from impoverished backgrounds, and frustrations with the current government. These are some of the pieces that build the jigsaw that is David Cameron's "broken society". There are parallels that can be drawn to riots that have occurred in other European countries, but I think the picture now is something quite different: a plague of materialism that has spread in pandemic proportions throughout much of the world, starting from the top and trickling down to the core of our societies.
Being born into an immigrant background in this country, I saw many members of my community slave away, working dead-end jobs just to get by. The sole goal was to be financially stable and to prosper in a rich land far from home – to break free from the shackles of poverty (the idea of integration didn't exist then). Progress was slow, however; the social problems faced by those immigrant communities were so great, such as racism, it was pretty tough to play 'catch up' with mainstream society. Unlike the rest of society, for example, there were relatives and family members in distant homelands relying on what money could be sent home to live!
The 'real' problem underlying the riots is plainer to see: greed and material wealth have taken centre stage in the lives of the many; trying to live a modest lifestyle in a time of austerity is out of the question. One has to ponder how we ended up here?
The economic crisis that started in 2007, as a result of improvident financial selling by bankers, put the world in a very unstable position. The aftermath is still being felt today: the US credit rating was downgraded recently, whilst its borrowing grows out of control. The Eurozone credit crisis has left several European states in tatters, with a bitter aftertaste for many citizens (with some taking to the streets in violent protest). Closer to home, UK banks were bailed out to the tune of billions of pounds by the tax payer to 'save the economy', yet it is the public who are being pinched the hardest right now as public cuts begin to bite. As energy prices are hiked and benefit payments are cut, the poorest find themselves in a financial predicament. Coupled with a low economic growth rate plus rising unemployment, this was a cocktail for disasters.
There is a question of morality here: there has not been any 'serious' accountability on the part of the banks, who continue to dish out the huge bonuses their executives crave. I shared the disgust of many when the expenses scandal broke; and politicians who it seems all feared corrupt News of the World 'hacks'. Corruption begins to appear rampant here in Britain, not just in far-flung places.
We begin to lose all confidence in the governance of our society; but it is not redemption – it may well be time for us to get our hands dirty with a 'jolly good' clean up!
For several decades now, we have been immersed in a slow, steady degeneration of moral understanding. The contagion has spread to the future generations, who are more willing to take to the streets with their message and cause anarchy – as we saw with the student riots. But what could possibly be the cause of this major moral decline? In my view, if you remove the longest-serving source of moral and ethical guidance for humanity – which is religion – and replace it with unbridled materialism, it is hardly surprising we are faced with the riotous events we have witnessed in recent weeks.
Yes, we have advanced greatly as a species: in the fields of science, technology, medicine, construction and finance. Yet we seem to have lost the moral and ethical compass that would have guided humanity to stand up for justice and equality. We are driven by consumerism, longing to hold the latest merchandise or technological gadgetry, to garb ourselves in the latest designer fashion, as though this were the new religion and to fill the void that once belonged to religious traditions.
So when we see many of our young people trying to emulate a culture that aspires and glamorises all that is based on material gain, can we really be surprised? The hip-hop and pop culture asserts materialism, confidently promoting attractive lifestyles which are unsustainable for the average 'Joe' from a squalid housing estate. When Joe steals, cheats and lies his way as a shortcut to a higher standard of living, he is rightly condemned; something is wrong with him, and with the society he lives in – a society that actively promotes and cashes in on materialism to feed the addicts, whilst the moral foundations are ignored.
The ethics of hard work and determination have surely been lost somewhere, as the "Get Rich or Die Tryin" way of life is sounded out to our younger generations. There is a better way for them, not the much hyped 'thug' persona they embrace to get any kind of recognition.
It is time for religion to claim back the masses. People of faith, all faiths, are needed to help invigorate and instil a sense of honesty, justice, equality and conscience. After all, our legacy is all that will remain of us, as a people, as a society and as humanity – let us not blame just some sections of society, as Dr Starkey did recently, but work together towards repairing the damage and build communities that can inspire us all, old and young.