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Media roundup: Diagnosing Britain's riot sickness

The Local · 11 Aug 2011, 15:12

Published: 11 Aug 2011 15:12 GMT+02:00

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Even as the violent unrest that has gripped several British cities since the weekend appears to be gradually easing, the riots continue to dominate the German news, leaving even the global financial turmoil a distant second.

Have there been occasional glimpses of self-satisfaction? Perhaps. Several commentators placed the riots into the wider context of a “sickness” in British society that could also be seen in politicians ripping off taxpayers, a feral tabloid newspaper culture and police corruption.

But attention quickly turned to whether Germany was at risk of similar outbreaks of anarchy and looting. Aside from the police union, the general consensus was, “No.” Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich felt confident that Germany doesn’t have the kind of social friction seen in Britain. But can Germany nevertheless learn from the riots, which have left at least four people dead and led to hundreds of arrests?

Certainly they have provided food for thought and some vigorous debate.

The centrist Berlin daily Der Tagesspiegel scorned any suggestion that the riots had much political underpinning.

“The path of the youths led not to the seat of government but to the gratification of their consumer demands. The supposedly underprivileged plunderers took smartphones but left milk and bread.”

Yet the paper didn’t let the rest of British society off the hook either. In a broad swipe at the apparent corruption afflicting the society, Der Tagesspiegel wrote that the revelations last year that British MPs of all parties had been abusing allowances to pocket taxpayers’ money, as well as the tabloid phone hacking scandal coupled with the revelations that papers were bribing police officers – showed that teenagers making off with looted TVs were not the only “sickness.”

“And now police who helped plunder mobile phone mailboxes are supposed to stop mobile phone shops from being plundered. And politicians who have enriched themselves at the expense of the country are supposed to deal with teens who have shoplifted.

“That they cannot do that with real credibility shows how far Britain’s crisis extends beyond the violent riots in the major cities.”

The right-wing Die Welt published a blistering commentary that focussed heavily on immigration, and in particular on black communities. It agreed with Cameron’s description of a “sick society.”

The paper unapologetically singled out “coloured” – apparently meaning black African or Caribbean – communities, which it said were often hostile to other, more successfully integrated, immigrant communities. It noted that one tweet instructed rioters to target Turkish jewellers.

“The often vaunted British quality of sensitive handling of the ethnically mixed society has this week faced the crucial question: ‘What do you think of anarchy?’” the paper wrote.

Such a consensus for a soft approach worked only as long as everyone subscribed to the rules. The paper ridiculed the “political correctness” of the police approach to black offenders.

“The respect given to coloured offenders is today downright excessive,” the paper wrote, pointing to oversensitivity in the wake of the 1999 Macpherson Report into the murder of black teenager Stephen Lawrence, which found that the police were “institutionally racist.”

“This has inhibited the reflexes and also reflects the helpless reaction of law enforcement in the recent nights of burning – a too-tough approach to coloureds would only provoked the accusation of racism. Political correctness has seen to that.”

The centre-left Süddeutsche Zeitung took a step back from the riots themselves and zoomed instead on the reaction of German commentators. And its assessment wasn’t positive.

Commentators here were too quick to turn negative world events into ammunition for their own agendas. And such facile debate was in danger of producing knee-jerk reactions.

“There is something akin to a German catastrophe vampirism. It takes misfortune, assassination and crime that happens elsewhere in the world and quickly exploits them for the political debate in Germany.''

For instance, the Norway massacre sparked debates about banning the far-right National Democratic Party or reviving mandatory electronic data retention laws — debates which came at the expense of genuine and measured compassion.

And now the riots in Britain had prompted a debate about whether something similar could happen in Berlin and Hamburg.

“The world view in Germany is self-centred. It is oriented towards a quick political commercialisation and it leads to a kind of expert astrology.''

Story continues below…

The instant reaction, which the paper likened to packet soup, were a mixture of “genuine concern, an I-told-you-so’ attitude and a pleasurable thrill.”

The left-leaning Berliner Zeitung had trouble buying Minister Friedrich’s assurances that nothing like this could happen in Germany. While it was true that Germany’s welfare system and less conspicuous wealth divide absorbed the worst of the social antagonism that had gripped Britain, there was a lesson that Germany must heed, the paper wrote.

“Sadly what the optimistic minister does not mention is that we have long been ignominiously catching up. Income and wealth disparities have grown and not shrunk, even in Germany,” it wrote.

Rather than taking the violent path of Britain’s rioters, however, Germans should look to the Spanish and Israelis who’ve taken to the streets peacefully to protest against the theft of their futures.

“They still have their pride, their hope and their belief in the effectiveness of peaceful argument,” it wrote of the Spanish and Israeli protesters. “The hoodies on England’s streets, it seems, are past that.

“Who can say for sure that Spanish, Israeli, even German youths are not on the same path, even if perhaps a generation later. There is still time to fight the growing divisions in Germany, rather than denying them like Minister Friedrich.”

The Local/djw

The Local (news@thelocal.de)

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Your comments about this article

16:14 August 11, 2011 by freechoice
Words of wisdom from Berliner Zeitung!!! Awesome!
16:32 August 11, 2011 by yourholiness
Could germany see criminal riots like Britain's? Blink your eyes twice. Just a little play on Adoph's promise a couple of generations ago when he talked about invading Britain "don't worry! We're coming, we're coming!
08:51 August 12, 2011 by harcourt
As I've said before, just maybe this is the legacy of 13 yrs of Labour mis-rule
09:03 August 12, 2011 by Sastry.M
The present day precarious German mind set might have been inculcated due to many years of suffering by earlier generations and seeded through biological circulating system. The wise always follow a golden mean of righteous and sacrificing human conduct in all wholesome and odd situations. It is only the far left or right peers that fall for belligerent provocation and act accordingly as their provocateurs accuse them of in a foolish manner. This may be seen due to an attitude of conviction for some theory or cause as 20'th cent. history proved.

Now humanity has advanced scientifically and technically but this progress has been due to strict compliance to nature's laws.The human management,however, still follows the lure for vanity and comfort supported by speculative riches. Thus the mind management of all progressive as poor people remains the priority of those wedded to ephemeral wealth.

It is, hence, safer for Germans to be more vigilant against provocative attitudes and think of wholesome measures according to need of situations rather than attract unwarranted psychic atmosphere with fearful comprehensions.
13:47 August 12, 2011 by Al uk
You reap what you sow and we are sowing the seeds from a left wing liberal agenda.
02:31 August 13, 2011 by toemag
Well why don't we just wait a generation or two, the children of Harz4 families will either have good jobs or be on Harz4, and they won't have known any other way of life, and won't particularly care about what reasonably brought up and educated peers think.
16:32 August 13, 2011 by Bruno53
Both Britain and USA are "sick societies". They no longer an example and guidance to the world as they once did decades ago. Similar to what happened in your country and Western Europe just a century ago. And you know what happened. And the same will happen to them in the near future.
01:05 August 14, 2011 by yourholiness
Sadly you're right Brune53. Folks over here shouldn't gloat too much however, there will be no dodging the increasing chaos as it inescapably descends on Deutschland, western europe and the rest of the world. Its just happening overseas first is all. I hope everyone has their survival plans formulated.
07:05 August 15, 2011 by slawek
It took Britain 15 years since the New Deal. The New Deal in Germany began 2003 I think. And there is lots less jobless in Britain. The german police force has been also reduced drastically.

That means we can await a big unexpected bang in 5 years. But due to the jobless count it could be far more dramatic. With Germany seeking help from police forces from neighboring countries.
01:47 August 17, 2011 by jg.
The riots were not about race - video and photographs show the rioters to be "multicultural". The riots were not about unemployment - arrested rioters were a mix of unemployed, employed, students, etc. The riots were not about poverty - apart from organising their activities using social media on smartphones, these thieves were not stealing food to feed their families, they were stealing consumer electronics and fashion.

The riots were not about "need" but about "want". The UK has a couple of generations of people who know their rights and have a strong sense of entitlement but have no responsibility and no morals.
16:55 August 17, 2011 by ryhntyntyn
"The riots were not about "need" but about "want". The UK has a couple of generations of people who know their rights and have a strong sense of entitlement but have no responsibility and no morals."

I think that's sadly sadly accurate. They also have nothing to work for, and no hope of achievement. It really is a very nihilistic place for them.
09:52 August 18, 2011 by moistvelvet
So which is more sick, a society that will punnish someone for inciting a riot on Facebook to four years in prison, or a society that will punnish a police officer for stabbing her young child to death to LESS than four years in prison?
03:01 August 20, 2011 by johnprewett
welfare + public housing = criminal factory and magnet for parasites from all over the world.
12:56 August 22, 2011 by dbert4
Or maybe the UK is simply what happens when drunken pub-fighters aren't so "United" after all.
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