London riots have no moral compass

More disturbing than the damage done in Britain's riots is the widespread lack of moral compass that allowed such widespread thuggery.

The severity of the riots in London have shocked many. That they are taking place, however, is no surprise. Many of the hotspots where the violence began are relatively run-down neighbourhoods, areas where social ills, poverty and crime have long been ignored by the police and the government.

Sadly, the young rioters have given up any moral high ground with their indefensible behaviour. Thursday's fatal police shooting of Mark Duggan, sparking the Tottenham riots, was a tragedy. But the sight of hundreds or thousands of young people stealing shoes, mobile phones and television sets, and anything else they could loot, has done nothing but tarnish his memory.

To be sure there is poverty in Britain, and joblessness, but there is little or no hunger as the word is used in much of the world. Britain has one of the world's most well-padded welfare states. No doubt some will use these shameful riots to argue that cradle-to-grave welfare has created a culture of entitlement and hedonism in which any behaviour can apparently be justified.

In this, Britain is not alone; many cities around the world, even serene Vancouver, Canada last spring, have seen pointless rioting in recent years. But few examples have been as shocking as this one.

After the fires are extinguished and the damage cleared, the lack of moral compass on display this week will prove more disturbing than the physical damage, costly though it will be.

When the disorder ends, the British will have to rethink their model of policing, if not their welfare state. Shop-owners and the law-abiding majority will have lost all patience with over-tolerant claptrap about "working with communities," which too often disguises a lackadaisical, anything-goes approach to vandalism, street crime, and drunkenness.

Genuine communities - such as the Turkish shopkeepers and families who banded together to protect their neighbourhoods - want proper policing, genuine security, and a culture that knows right from wrong.

It is striking that in London today, as in many places around the world, "community" most often means "ethnic" or "immigrant" community. Britons' traditional sense of place has been subordinated to modern urban mobility. Rebuilding social cohesion is the real challenge now.

Published: August 10, 2011 04:00 AM