Bersih rally, English riots: A crucial difference

Bersih was a demonstration of hope while the English riots were the converse – a demonstration of hopelessness, notes our special correspondent.

Brixton Road - Photograph: indymedia.org

Yes, the ministers and their hangers-on will point to the English (it’s not just London) riots as a hopelessly stupid reason for the crackdown on Bersih.

What they miss is the fundamental difference between Bersih and the English riots. Bersih was a demonstration of hope — and hope, as some wise person once said, is a memory of the future.

The English riots were the converse – a demonstration of hopelessness, and the absence of futures worth contemplating, made worse by the expenditure cuts to satisfy the “market”, namely, the rich. It was all right to incur huge deficits to bail out the fat cats, who – as was clear from the reaction to the Federal Open Market Committee of the Federal Reserve last night – want more bailouts for themselves. But when it comes to cuts, it is cut taxes, and cut social expenditure. As Joseph Stiglitz put it, we are in a regime of the 1 per cent, for the 1 per cent, by the 1 per cent (at the top of the income distribution).

However, let’s not beguile ourselves. Inequality in England exploded in these past three decades, starting with Thatcher’s (infamous) declaration that there is no such thing as society.

Over here, these past three decades, concentrated on righting inter-ethnic inequality, were also at the same time creating widening inequalities overall. Today, we have an unemployment rate of around 18 per cent amongst our young people aged 15-19, up from around 8 per cent in the 1990s; amongst 20-24, it’s a still high 9 per cent, not as bad as in England or in the US, but still bad.

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Meanwhile, although technically measured inequality does not appear to have worsened – whereas it clearly has in England – the absolute income gap between the top and bottom has widened.

At the same time, we are increasingly or daily reminded on television and in the media that we should define ourselves as consumers: we are what we consume, so that those without the wherewithal to consume become “losers”, “zeroes”, “nothings” or whatever names the relatively privileged arrogantly and ignorantly choose to call them.

And, as everywhere, the rulers look to blame “social media” when it affects them. Fascinating, isn’t it? When it happens in Egypt, “social media” is celebrated in the west and castigated by Egypt’s rulers, but when it happens in England “social media” is castigated by England’s rulers, while those in the ex-colonies might even join in the blind condemnation of the riots. The old colonial mindset remains with us, but even more, the old class divisions and the invisibility of the poor and lower classes remain, until they erupt.

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