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Lessons to be learnt

August 13, 2011

Over the last few days, the world has been watching in pure horror as scenes of carnage unfold before our eyes all over London, and now even as far as Manchester and Birmingham. What started as local riots over the alleged mistreatment and killing of a person of African descent (Mark Duggen) by the police has now escalated into full scale anarchy on the roads as gangs of youth burn shops or loot them, smash windows and set cars on fire moving from one shopping center to the next.

Calls are being sent out to citizens to not emerge from their homes at night unless for emergency purposes, the police system seems all but crippled as law enforcement agencies appear to lose control of the city every night and are outnumbered, and in some cases out gunned as well.   The British media also seems to have lost all their bearings as their tilts racial, as well as political, are now in full display while reporting on these riots. Some channels show pictures of only protesters of African descent, while others try to blame immigration for what’s going on in their streets. The real issues though are still being completely ignored and shuffled under the carpet.   Prominent West Indian writer and broadcast journalist, Darcus Howe spoke of these very issues to the BBC a day ago. He spoke of the maltreatment and harassment of youth in London’s poorer districts. He spoke of the rage, which had been gathering for some time, now in full display on our TV screens and he spoke of the apathy of the government to provide the youth with any means of employment.   These are the real reasons for the riots. It’s not a hidden fact that most of the areas, which the riots are taking place in, are the highest in unemployment. Its also not a bolt out of the blue that London’s poor are having their noses rubbed into the elaborate displays of wealth, a consumerism driven society delights in. A case illustrated in many a video footage of these riots as people are seen running away with chips and soda cans, not bags of money or valuables.   Some of us here in Pakistan have been sending one-liners and jokes about these riots to one another. Weirdly, in glee at how the white man is now faced with what they have been doing to the world. However, if we should take away something from these tragedies it should be the somber recognition, that in the face of rampant inflation, unemployment and brutal poverty, further exaggerated by callous displays of upper class wealth the faintest opportunity for violence will not go unfulfilled.   If London has been engulfed in flames this past week, many of Pakistan’s cities represent just such a tinderbox of pent up frustration, abject poverty and a yawning chasm of class disparity. It would not take much for them to explode into anarchy any day. We must learn from these incidents and try to solve the issues we face before things get out of control.   We have seen trailers of just the outcome I speak of on Dec 27th some years ago, as well as, recent events in the fire that consumed markets in Saddar. London today has 16000 policemen patrolling the city and hundreds of residents cleaning up or standing guard in their areas to prevent mobs from getting in. What would we be able to muster if a city like Karachi exploded tomorrow?

Faisal Kapadia is a writer/blogger based in Karachi.

The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.