British rioting met with justice and mercy

August 14, 2011
Calgary Herald

It might be cheaper, more expedient, more convenient to send in the army and turn on the water cannons, load up the rubber bullets and crack down. Syria certainly thinks so. It hasn't bothered with bullets made of rubber. Most countries in the world wouldn't. Ours don't. And while London burns and capricious activists parade the fall of western civilization, it's worth remembering the justice and mercy we have, and why. This isn't the demise of western civilization. This is its hour.

--

While looters rage through London and naked cyclists make their pitiable protest for whatever here at home, two words put the entire exercise of protest and riot in London, Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal - wherever - in context: police cautious. Media report that police in London are cautious about using tear gas, water cannons and other strong-arm riot measures.

We're shocked, and we should be, by the pictures out of London. The rifts in English society are burning a hole through that city, and those rifts are instructive, no question. But the lessons are not about the last days of London, but about the hard work that needs to be done in Europe, Canada, America and the developed world in the midst of scarcity and recession to build a public project on the foundation of justice and mercy - virtues we need not a moment too soon.

From David Cameron we have heard that multiculturalism has failed. From Barack Obama we have heard that stocks are slipping, but we should be OK. Who will be the first world leader to practise the audacity of hope? Canada is finding itself missing Jack Layton sooner rather than later. At least Jack still thought we were up for a fight, for things to believe in.

We're a society desperate for idealism. Maybe a drop or two of success: a speech about what is working, what principles we can afford, or - failing that - which ones we will refuse to sacrifice in the face of adversity. If it hasn't been noticed, let's then be the first to say it: things are bad - really bad.

We need some principled ballast to get through this political storm.

So here are two we still seem to have: justice and mercy. When I hear that police are cautious, I think of justice and mercy.

Take a deep breath, pause and compare: police cautious; police accountable.

All this, while the Syrians surround the city of Hama, threatening to level like they did in 1982, to blast from the Earth any resistance from its Sunni Muslims. These are not protests driven by looters or graduate students with fairy tale visions of grandeur; these are people protesting a history of brutality and decades of political caprice. Even Russia and Saudi Arabia, hardly poster nations for mercy, are calling on Syria to relent.

Yet, here at home, smug academics hiding behind the dogma of cultural equivalence have the temerity to suggest the realities of western violence and injustice are simply more subtle.

They need to put down the Marx and teach a few tours in the Congo, or maybe Somalia, and see then if their appreciation for the rule of law doesn't grow a little for a system, broken as it is, that has justice and mercy at its core.

After the Vancouver Stanley Cup and Toronto G-8 riots, the most recent in Canadian memory, cases floated out in the media of protesters mishandled, subject to brutality and abuse. Lawsuits were launched. Investigations are ongoing. London will be wracked by more of the same.

Any society worth its salt is measured by how it treats its most vulnerable, its most marginalized, its forgotten and its enemies. This isn't always a measuring stick of which we in Canada, or England, or America, can be proud. Sometimes, it shows us to be bigoted; sometimes, greedy and xenophobic. Our systems are far from perfect. Our desires conflict and split us.

But justice and mercy are things worth fighting for, or - in the case of London riot police - worth being cautious over. It might be cheaper, more expedient, more convenient to send in the army and turn on the water cannons, load up the rubber bullets and crack down.

Syria certainly thinks so. It hasn't bothered with bullets made of rubber. Most countries in the world wouldn't.

Ours don't. And while London burns and capricious activists parade the fall of western civilization, it's worth remembering the justice and mercy we have, and why. This isn't the demise of western civilization. This is its hour.