On numerous occasions last week, I was interviewed by a number of different international news and media agencies about the riots in Britain and Birmingham in particular. Having posted the article from De Pers previously (view here), I now reproduce a further article from Le JDD (Journal du Dimanche).

Written in French, you can read the original here. For those who do not read French, I once again offer a ‘Google Translate’ version that I am again unable to vouch for:

In England, “as a society, we have failed”

A week after the riots, Britain is still trying to understand the reasons why hundreds of young people from all communities, out in the streets, breaking and looting stores. For leJDD.fr, Chris Allen, a sociologist at the University of Birmingham in 2010 and author of highly acclaimed Islamophobia, analyzes the situation. The university particularly emphasizes the social origin of the riots.

How to describe this movement?

We have a historical tradition in Britain of social movements. But this time, which is quite unique is that it is a multicultural phenomenon. Among the looters, there were blacks, Indians, Pakistanis, white. They really reflect the English youth.

What is their motivation?

As a group, these individuals are not politically mobilized. They have no political agenda. They want to challenge the authority of the police. They’re rioting in consumption. But that does not mean there is not a political analysis of this movement to do, for these riots reflect what is happening in society.

Can we speak of social conflict?

Thirty years ago, Margaret Thatcher decreed the end of the company [society]. Since then, we focused on the individual. But during that time, the gap between rich and poor has steadily increased. We now have a generation without hope, affected by unemployment and lack of education. These young people think they have no place, no role in British society. As a society, we have failed. We are very strong to say that people living in these neighborhoods are lazy irresponsible people living on the back of the system. We simply put the dust under the carpet. But it is still there. When things go well, it is very easy for us collectively to ignore what is happening. But when things go wrong, we know the recession and unemployment, which is implementing drastic cuts in social services, you realize how much we are facing a serious problem.

“In Britain, the issue of social class has become taboo.” According to David Cameron, the British multiculturalism has failed, by encouraging each community to live separate from one another and erasing the sense of national identity. What do you think?

These riots show the exact opposite! All communities have found themselves together in the street. If you walk in Birmingham, you see that all communities work and live together. We are totally multicultural. However, it is not the notion of multiculturalism must be questioned but the way the policies are managed. They focused on minority communities at the expense of the majority community. But multiculturalism means respecting the differences without making any difference. In fact, the white community has the impression of having been abandoned.

Teaches us that the riots were multicultural?

This proves that we are not separate between communities. These kids have grown up in a multicultural society. They come together and unite. This challenges the idea that multiculturalism has failed. These riots show that young people are much more integrated than one might think. They are more a matter of economic and social status a matter of skin color. For decades, we reject the idea that in Britain there is a class system. The issue of social class has become taboo. But if we continue to pretend to ignore this issue, we go to very large problems.

England seems difficult to understand the reasons for the riots …

Everything was new in the riots: the multicultural, youth, lack of political agenda, the role of social networks. But the fact that we have been surprised by this reflects how much we are unfamiliar with the reality of our society.

The Prime Minister spoke of an England “sick”. Do you agree with this assessment?

During the election campaign, he spoke of England “broken” in some places. Today, he said that some areas and some communities are “sick”. This is a very dangerous approach. It stigmatizes individuals and communities to better conceal the social issues. It’s a real mistake.

Enault Marianne – Le Journal du Dimanche
Saturday, August 13, 2011


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