Riots in Britain showed that violence knows no high culture or low culture
By Prof. Maurice N. Amutabi
The riots that have recently rocked British cities such as London and Birmingham have defied what is supposed to be reaction in a democratic society where disagreements are resolved through free and egalitarian processes. The atavistic and gruesome display of violence and almost satanic behaviour by masked and hooded youth and looters calls for a rethinking and need to re-theorize notions of high and low culture, as well as the meaning of what a democratic state entails.
Western textbooks have canonized the notion that violence in society is experienced due to high levels of poverty, where there are no democratic structures and institutions and where people exhibit high levels of primordial (read primitive) instincts. In the psychological analysis of the noble savages from Africa, Asia, Middle East and Latin America, westerners have always associated violence with failed or soft and weak states. The characteristics that breed violence are by and large explained as ‘Third World’ phenomena, which make the need to reassess such conclusions necessary and urgent.
We can now reject the notion that societies in Developing Countries are prone to violence because their institutions do not work. What is remarkable is that other countries have not send aeroplanes to evacuate nationals of their countries from Britain. Although the immediate cause of the current riots in the United Kingdom have been attributed to the shooting of a minority young man by police, political pundits speculate that there are many triggers predicated on the hard line policies of the David Cameron’s regime, which has pursued exclusionist policies against immigrants and minorities. Labour Party under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown allowed subsidies to the poor and promoted social programs that allowed the underprivileged to live manageably.
Of course defenders of right wing governments are no suggesting that it due to uncontrolled migration that people with ‘Third World’ mentalities from Eastern Europe and the Developing Countries have arrived and contaminated democratic ethos and good manners in Britain. They are arguing that the riots run counter to the submission of the Freedom House, where in 2010 there were 125 democracies in the world, by which violence and other primitive instincts should have been in the decline.
We know that liberalism represents forms of economic and social violence, through programs that target minorities and other vulnerable groups for marginalization. we know for sure that even though the spread of liberal democracy has become more pervasive since the fall of the former Soviet Union, there are more cases of oppression presided over by democratic regimes such as that of Mbingu wa Mutharika in Malawi and Yoweri Museveni of Uganda. it is for this reason that this episodic multiplication of democratic practice in some part of Africa has not made sense, just like it has not made sense to the thousands who have engaged in orgies of rioting and looting in Britain. it is for this reason that westerners should not be too mnuch in hurry to celebrate triumphalism of high society and democracy in the West, particularly among the neo-liberal scholars like Francis Fukuyama who declared capitalism and liberal democracy as the end of history, as the ultimate good.
Western psychological, sociological and political theorists have previously pushed the idea that violence in society was only possible in societies where institutions had failed or did not work. Joseph Schumpeter, Samuel Huntington, Robert Dahl, among others have focused extensively on the liberating notion of democracy, and its panacea to violence and aggression. The riots in Britain have defied this theorising and belief.
The ease with which the practice of democracy has gained ascendancy over other forms of political arrangements in different parts of the world, especially Eastern Europe contributed to Francis Fikuyama’s proclamation in his book The End of History and the Last Man. As it were, democracy has become the unifying discourse which is supposed to tame national and international politics and to foster peaceful coexistence in a world set at odds by the ideological struggles of the cold war. Writers such as Joseph Schumpeter, Samuel Huntington and Robert Dahl have focused extensively on the liberal type of democracy. the view of African scholars such as Claude Ake, Thandika Mkandawire, Mahmoud Mamdani, Bethuel Ogot, Paul Zeleza, Anyang Nyong’o, Archie Mafeje, Adebayo Olukoshi, Julius Ihonvere, Aina Tade, Godwin Murunga, Shadrack Nasong’o, Isaac Tarus, to be vindicated.
Prof. Amutabi teaches Political Science at the Catholic University Eastern Africa (CUEA), Nairobi – Amutabi@yahoo.com