Being English

In the face of the recent riots across England I’ve been feeling a bit depressed.

No, that’s not right.

In the face of the public response to the recent riots across England, I’ve been feeling a bit depressed.

The full impact of these events is still being counted, the perpetrators are still being hunted down, arrested and charged – and the cause behind the unrest is yet to be determined. But that hasn’t stopped a lot of people – from across the political and class spectra – announcing their desired response to such unrest.

They want the police to be “given more powers”, they want rioters to be “shot in the face with rubber bullets” and “beaten unconscious with police batons”. They want them, and their families, evicted from their homes and their benefits (because they are – of course – all on benefits) cancelled. They wanted the army called in to quell these disturbances, and they want social and mobile phone networking locked down and disabled in the event of future disturbances.

These people want retribution. This is understandable – riots are frightening. Destruction and theft of public and private property is inexcusably wrong.

But so is this attitude.

I’m English. The rioters were English. The people hurt by the riots are English.

The punishment, the brutal vengeance being demanded by a certain segment of our society – that’s not English.

The suggested removal of our freedoms – issuing water cannon and rubber bullets to the police, using the British Army to quell unrest in our own cities – that’s not English. Deciding that criminals are suddenly enemies of the state, and that police brutality and forced dispossession would therefore be acceptable treatment of them – that’s not English, either.

We built our country on freedom. We wrote and signed the Magna Carta. We came up with the Bill of Rights 1689, which is the basis of the European Convention on Human Rights, the US Constitution and pretty much every other human rights document in the world. And yet to many in our own country ‘human rights’ has somehow become a tainted phrase, and trying to defend them somehow marks you out as a bad person.

We send our soldiers around the world to fight for the human rights and freedoms of others. We tell other nations how to govern, how to listen to their own people. We condemn nations like Syria, Iran, China and North Korea for the oppressive way they treat their citizens. We have been trying to make the rest of the world more like us for at least four hundred years.

Why would we now want to pass legislation which makes our proud and free nation more like them?

They are doing it wrong.

There are freedoms that are worth dying for. They’re easy to recognise.

And there are freedoms that are worth living and fighting to keep. They’re not so easy to recognise. The freedom for your neighbour to annoy the piss out of you. The freedom for people to vote for the other guy.

The freedom for people to demonstrate about things you don’t agree with, or even care about. The freedom to hold morally objectionable beliefs. The freedom to hate the country you live in.

You don’t defend these English values against those who seem not to care by abandoning our values.

When people go too far, when they try and take freedom away from other citizens, we already have a robust legal system and a superb police force who step in on our behalf. These behaviours are already criminal.

We don’t need to start taking our own rights away simply because we are frightened.

We mustn’t.

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