RETURNED, ironically enough, from a week on the holy island of Iona in the Inner Hebrides - one of the fountainheads of European civilization : only slowly to awaken to the nightmare erupting all around us here in North London.
Had deliberately fasted from news for two whole weeks and did not get back into the routine until last Monday lunchtime – by which time we were into the third day of riots.
I had seen out of the corner of my eye the Times’ front page picture of burning buildings, and assumed it was Syria. It wasn’t. It was right here in Haringey.
A friend’s son-in-law spent the night locked into my local Primark’s strongroom, with all the other staff, listening to looters outside and wondering if they would be rescued. They weren’t until 7am next morning.
Massive destruction all around Bounds Green: Enfield to the north, Tottenham to the east and Wood Green to the south. Only one person rang to find out whether I was OK. Seems we’re inured to horrifying images on the TV as if they’re always from ‘elsewhere’.
On Monday night, witnessed the first armoured police vehicles ever to be deployed on the British mainland, lumbering up City Road towards Islington – seven of them; ugly, squat and very very menacing.
On Tuesday got evacuated from my new office because it was too dangerous to wait longer to get home.
On Thursday went to Wood Green to survey the damage: every sports shop, mobile phone shop and pawnshop ransacked and boarded up. Even Muswell Hill was attacked.
And yesterday, Saturday, a friend and I walked the length of Tottenham High Road – and it looked like the Blitz. The stink of burning and the fear everywhere reminded me of Jos in Northern Nigeria.
In Croydon, Lapido’s Treasurer, ironically just back from running a youth camp reports: ‘I had seen it on the news, but cannot believe just how much damage has been done: it really is like the blitz. Croydon suffered badly in the war being just south of London. Many of the doodle bugs fell short and so much was destroyed, but this recent rioting has managed to burn and destroy much of what was left.’
In Tottenham High Road, we prayed with shopkeepers: Kurds, Turks, West Indians. All looking sick with fear; all trying to be brave; all uninsured; all lighting up at our offer of prayer.
The Post Office, the Alda supermarket, Fitness First, the Council buildings – not just the building you saw on your tellies – all razed to the ground. The ‘Pride of Tottenham’ pub, once the Blue Coat School (I went to a Blue Coat School) where we prayed with Nish, the gentle, elderly West Indian owner, who’d had to escape a mob with knives through an upstairs window onto the roof.
This was not just a spasmodic rage and back to business as usual – though the middle class everywhere in the country where nice people live will assume so.
This was far more nihilistic and far-reaching than that. You can’t lock em all up, or put it all right with a regeneration scheme which is just about buildings.
Tottenham has had millions poured into it – there is today very little of the squalor one saw even ten years ago. Lots of well-tended open spaces; public monuments restored; even a few trendy blocks of flats.
Next time, it will be worse unless we undergo a revolution. That’s because it will be the kids of these ‘kids’ and because this time it was so much worse than last time.
In 1981 my career as a race and religion reporter began after the Toxteth and Brixton riots. But they were specific. These were more like Clockwork Orange: twisted, ethnically eclectic, almost joyful – and now reinforced by the culture itself.
The oppression on the streets for weeks beforehand was palpable, yet I failed to interpret it. Whatever it was, it made me want to leave.
The lack of respect; the foul language; the streets used as a trash can; the insolence of some shopkeepers; and something worse in the ether that are signs of something which I still cannot put a finger on, perhaps because it is too new and unfamiliar a feeling. Perhaps it’s that sense of a civilization that no longer actualy exists, even before the first petrol bomb was chucked.
The devastation is on a scale I’m finding too overwhelming to process adequately.
The predictability of it is perhaps what is most shocking: the fact that we Christians, marginalised and insulted, have been right all along.
The country’s inability to read the signs; to recognize evil for what it is and take precautions; our lack of the necessary resolve to instil character, wisdom and strength into our kids.
Our really gross materialism and ‘grab-it-all now’ indoctrination have done their work and now it’s plain to see.
Our whole economy and way of life now depend on inciting addiction in our kids: we pre-narcotise them with drinks marketed as stimulants; we brutalize them with horror movies; we disappoint them all the time with goods they cannot afford; we confound it all with our absence as parents, and we lie to them that they don’t need love or discipline to be human.
We have no love for God or ourselves, and we instil boorishness in place of civility. We crush the language of goodness – which is virtue – and plaster our citiscapes with images of its opposite.
Jesus warned us: ‘Things that cause people to sin are bound to come, but woe to that person through whom they come. It would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied round his neck than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin. So watch yourselves.’
Well, I'm watching.