A violent double standard

November 15, 2011 12:20 am Published by Leave your thoughts

Double standards are something which governments of all forms have often been guilty of. Both Cameron and Blair were seen calling for peace in the Middle East whilst attempting to sell more arms to repressive regimes, or talking about increasing opportunities whilst increasing costs. They would probably argue that this is perhaps part of the practical realpolitik of being in power.

However, what is increasingly worrying is that this trend is becoming ever more violent, reactionary and hypocritical.

On the 2nd Feb 2011, David Cameron stated that “We have been watching the events in Cairo with grave concern, and completely condemn the violence that is taking place. And if it turns out that the regime, in any way, has been sponsoring or tolerating this violence, that would be completely and utterly unacceptable. These are despicable scenes that we are seeing and they should not be repeated. They underline the need for political reform and, frankly, for that political reform to be accelerated and to happen quickly. We need to see a clear roadmap for that political reform, so that people in Egypt can have confidence that their aspirations for a more democratic, a future with greater rights, is met. And that change needs to start happening now, and the violence needs to stop.” Cameron’s statement is good and very few people would disagree with him when he says that the state should not repress the democratic right of free speech and the right to organise. However, once again he is being notably hypocritical.

Norwegian sociologist Johan Galtung’s theories on violence and the causes of conflict argue that structural violence is one of the most common and misunderstood forms of violence. Structural violence can be defined in many ways but it most commonly thought of as the inherent discrimination surrounding issues such as race, class or background amounting to a violation of basic rights. This in turn becomes a form of grievance which then frequently leads to real conflict and, in many situations, war. The conflict in Israel and Palestine is often theorised in these terms.

Galtung’s ideas have achieved widespread acceptance from those who wish to develop a genuine understanding of such phenomena. Such ideas provide an interesting framework for understanding the origins of the recent UK riots, if not the overall outcome of the situation. Where such grievances are openly discussed and addressed, conflict can be avoided. Where they are ignored and repressed, they lead to rising discontent and increased levels of violence as people who have no other way of expressing their views become politically disenfranchised.

On the 8th November 2011, it was confirmed by the police that they had received permission to use rubber bullets in an anti-cuts protest in London on the 9th of the same month. Fortunately, they were not used against the protestors. Rubber bullets and plastic bullets have frequently killed people, including nine people in Northern Ireland (women and children were among this number). The Lancet medical Journal explicitly stated that with the use of such weapons it is “impossible to avoid severe injuries to vulnerable body regions such as the head, neck and upper torso, leading to substantial mortality, morbidity and disability”. The argument against the use of rubber bullets could not be clearer.

It must unfortunately now be assumed that the UK government is prepared to risk killing and disabling some of its own citizens as part of its commitment to a programme of politically motivated austerity measures and that ultimately it does not really support the right to protest in its truest democratic sense. The economy will continue to stall with no real plan other than to attempt a return to the system that existed in 2006. Access to education for poorer children and adults will continue to be removed. The cost of housing will continue to rise and become inaccessible for many. If people exercise their democratic right to protest, they will be roundly condemned and attacked.

It is worth reflecting that Cameron himself has acknowledged that such incidences do not occur in open and democratic societies. Perhaps he might now follow his own advice and outline a ‘clear roadmap for political reform’. The threat of violence needs to subside.


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This post was written by Phil Bates

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