I wasn’t going to write about the riots. It’s hard to know what to say, when so many words have already been used up, and when — like many people — I’m still struggling to understand what happened. But something has been nagging at me, and it won’t let me go until I’ve got it out of my head.
Everyone has been asking questions about why this happened, and it is important that we try to understand (not excuse — I’ve heard a lot of people confusing the two). However, I think that what is even more important is the way that we behave, the way we hold ourselves and the way we go on: we need to do that old-fashioned thing of setting an example.
It was a very small group of people who caused so much destruction, fear and some deaths. The majority of people in this country are (and always have been) wonderful, and now we have to set an example by continuing to be wonderful. Even though we want to slap the idiots who did this round their stupid, selfish faces, we have to show them what being civil is all about. I have been in awe of the way that Tariq Jahan has behaved. In the most impossible circumstances you can imagine — the death of his son — he has remained calm, softly-spoken and dignified:
I believe that people can stay calm. If you look around here, there are black, brown, white and yellow people, they are all my community. We live together and we can stay together.
It’s natural to want to lash out, to seek revenge, but he knows that revenge just escalates and doesn’t change anything. It’s much harder to stay calm, to behave “nobly”, as he has also put it. But if we don’t show the small band of idiots what it means to be a decent human, then who will?
I was really heartened by all the Twitter-organised clean-up campaigns and the “let’s just get on with it and clean this mess up ourselves” attitude they embodied. Some people have muttered that it’s just showing the rioters that they can do what they like and someone else will clean up after them, but what’s the alternative? We show them that we have no power (or will) to change anything? No, cleaning up shows how much we care about our cities and the people who are part of them. It says that we hate what they’ve done enough to want to put it right again. It says we don’t want to live like this. It is the behaviour of civilised, noble humans.