"I DIDN'T think it would come to this," were the words of a diminutive Liverpool lady who stopped to chat with me in the shadow of a series of fire-gutted buildings — the former premises of local businesses.
Two nights before Mrs. Margaret Thatcher had almost echoed her thoughts on a TV interview. The Prime Minister said: "Most of us did not think these kinds of things could happen in our country."
Reaction from across the Atlantic Ocean was much the same. One knowledgeable Times reporter expressed it in these words: "Americans, however some try to conceal it, believe Britain has been, remains and will forever be the most civil society on earth. So there is shocked reaction to the recent riots by those who thought that it couldn't happen there'" (The Times, July 15, 1981).
The Financial Times termed the riots "like an epidemic of some alien disease." The widespread extent of the rioting, spreading like a brush fire first from London to Liverpool and then very rapidly on to Manchester, Leicester and other inner cities in England, was a big surprise to people. But should it have been?
We Live in Two Different Worlds To the discerning eye all the troublesome ingredients that suddenly erupted into violence have been present for some time. Take Liverpool as a microcosm of this so-called alien disease. Let us start with the environment. Two different worlds now exist side by side in Liverpool.
I disembarked from a London express train at Liverpool's Lime Street Station in the heart of the city. A colleague had come to meet me. As we drove to the scene of several nights' rioting, the Adelphi Hotel stood out as a handsome neoclassical reminder of another much more prosperous era. Not far from the hotel district a large newish shopping district graced the landscape. As we continued down Renshaw Street we noticed that the shop windows were boarded up with plywood-like timber in anticipation of a spread of the rioting to the main shopping area. Fortunately this did not happen.
Beyond the town center we entered an altogether different world. It is not the world of glittering prosperity that characterizes the main downtown section of Liverpool. It is instead a rundown assortment of abandoned buildings with broken and/or boarded-up windows dotted by the occasional small shop still open for business. In short it is urban blight at its worst in England.
Very quickly we arrived in trouble-torn Toxteth to take a few photographs and to survey the wreckage. Whatever the causes of the rioting, one conclusion is inescapable. Toxteth is a horrible place in which to have to live. And unfortunately this was true before the first rioter picked up the first petrol bomb. Now, of course, conditions are just that much worse. In the aftermath of the destruction of the lion's share of the shops, residents will now have to travel all the way to the Liverpool town center or a neighboring suburb to do their shopping.
Let's not pick on Liverpool. But an inner city, almost any inner city, is an exceedingly demoralizing place in which to dwell. Very little to see except concrete and tarmac, these urban monsters are typically very cold, lonely and dirty habitations. Often people don't even know the name of the person occupying the next flat or apartment.
The many, multistoried flats are a problem in themselves. Often defaced on the sides with obscene graffiti, people are forced to live virtually right on top of one another in these cheerless match boxes they call apartment buildings. Human beings desperately need privacy. Living so close to one's neighbors is against human dignity. It reminds one of a particular scripture in the biblical book of Isaiah: "Woe unto them that join house to house, that lay field to field, till there be no room" (Isaiah 5:8, KJV and RSV). The cultural context might be different, but the sentiment is certainly the same.
Of course, bad environmental conditions, unemployment, poverty and other societal ills are no excuse for violent crime.
The Ugly Faces of Crime The current "in" crime in Liverpool happens to be mugging helpless pensioners. Even sexual assault on elderly ladies is not that uncommon. And newsboys are even on the take. Some few have collected payments from readers, shared it out among themselves and pretended to
"Society itself — in its various ways — has taught people to be contemptuous of authority — and especially toward that most basic symbol of all governmental authority — the policeman."the newsagents that they were mugged and robbed of the money.
Crime is not racial in Liverpool; it cuts right across the racial scene. Liverpool is a virtual nursery of crime with criminals from each racial group — white, West Indian and Chinese, plus mixed groups due to an unusually high rate of racial intermarriage in the area. Violent crime in Liverpool has risen by 45 percent in four years. The riots merely represented a sudden concentration of this crime problem in a blatant, open rejection of authority. But no rampaging mob was needed to document the breakdown of law and order in Liverpool. The evidence was already present to the seeing eye.
Yet the government was caught somewhat unprepared. It seemed to merely hope that what had already happened in Bristol and Brixton (South London — see the article on London in this issue) would not worsen and spread.
Little can be done in the short term to solve this long term problem. True, the police can and most certainly will be given better equipment and more effective weaponry with which to deal with riots. But the long-run solution to the problem is much more fundamental than that.
Unemployment a Factor The editors and writers of The Plain Truth will not ever say that poverty, poor housing and unemployment are an excuse for violence! No. never! Nevertheless, unemployment in Liverpool tends to be twice the national average. Forty percent of the young people in the Toxteth area are without a job. Up to 60 percent of young black people in Toxteth have little hope of ever getting any work in Liverpool/ Merseyside.
According to some authorities some of those who are out of work would rather collect their dole money and then simply supplement it by stealing a couple of purses a week. Even so it is still a dreadful experience for many to be unemployed and dependent on the government for one's living.
Human beings need to feel that they are productive, useful and needed members of the particular society in which they dwell. One of the most basic of human needs is the right to a job. Man is equipped with an innate creative capacity. If he is consistently denied the opportunity to express this creativity in a useful manner constructive to society, life can become pretty much of a despairing existence.
Because of the serious shortcomings of the world in which we live, many people have been shunted into meaningless, nonproductive lives. They see no visible hope. Nothing on the horizon that could channel their energies into any type of positive action.
Furthermore their lives have not been undergirded by the right kind of religious teaching. They have not been taught right from wrong. Instead, society itself — in its various ways — has taught people to be contemptuous of authority — and especially toward that most basic symbol of all governmental authority - the policeman.
We could not express it better than did The Liverpool Post. "The weakening of authority is dreadful in its consequence. The brutalization of Liverpool is evidence of that" (July 7, 1981). The Spectator put it in another way: "Somewhere the concept of the rule of law seems to have got lost, perhaps battered to death by anti-police propaganda. Until we find it, there is little hope for peace in our cities" (July II, 1981).
The only authority that many young people know is that of the gang leader. Youths in the age category of 9, 10 and 11 were seen to be both rioting and looting. A fairly young Liverpool mother was asked where her children were at a very late hour. Her answer: "How would I know? I'm at the pub."
The failure of adults — both by example and in positive teaching - is primarily responsible for the general climate of permissiveness that pervades Britain today. They generally fail to lay down proper guidelines for their youngsters if they even know them in the first place. And those that do try to guide the conduct of their children often "talk an awfully good fight" without living it.
The prime minister was most certainly right when she warned that violence would destroy everything we value. She warned: "the free society could only survive if its citizens upheld the law and taught their children to do so." That says it all in a nutshell.
But what is the basic, underlying cause of this situation in which England finds herself?
Identifying the Problem Some journalists have labeled Britain as "The Sick Man of Europe." One of the latest literary efforts to identify and define the British malady is a little paperback called What's Wrong with Britain? in which 15 highly distinguished commentators assess the causes of Britain's present-day problems in a frank and forth right manner.
But it was Lord Hailsham who really put his finger on Britain's overall problem. He wrote in summary: "The cause of our troubles is not economic, nor has it anything to do with world conditions or our loss of empire, or with any of the easy excuses which we are so ready to accept.... It is a disease of the spirit for which there is no blame but ourselves" (What's Wrong with Britain? p. 41). An oversimplification? Perhaps, but true, nevertheless.
Modern Britain today is in a state of transition. People are revolting against the past, against long-established traditions, against the class system, and unfortunately, against authority in all of its forms. Violent crime in inner cities is but one symptom of this overall problem. The old settled frameworks and comfortable life patterns are fast disappearing. People have lost their moorings. They don't know where they fit anymore.
But Britain's real problems are spiritual.
The Failure of Religious Authority It has been said (and with much accuracy) that a crisis of the spirit must have an answer of the spirit. National decay that has its roots in moral betrayal is essentially in the realm of religion. And religion is not popular in Britain today, that is, unless one is speaking of the many forms of occultism.
Britons are turned off of state religion. Britain especially — and the West in general — is a secular society and therein lies our problem. We have forgotten the God who made us. We have accepted, almost without question, the word of those who would tell us that biblical revelation is not for us today.
The riots in Liverpool and London should be grim reminders of our unsolved spiritual problems. They should set us to asking some basic questions about the Bible. Could the Bible be an up-to-date book with its finger on the pulse of today's happenings? Why did man come to be as he is — so seemingly intelligent, yet so utterly helpless before his own social, ethical and moral problems? What is wrong with a religion significant only at the time of birth, baptism and death?
You owe it to yourself to open your eyes to what is written in the pages of the Bible. It claims to identify the spiritual causes of violent crime and other social problems presently plaguing the industrial democracies. And more importantly, the Bible claims to possess the long-range solutions that will be put into force and effect to solve all these societal problems.
Violent crime will pass into the pages of history only when God intervenes in human affairs to set up His government over all nations. Hostility between human beings will then become a thing of the past. Indeed the time will come when "They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea." That is the good news we announce in the pages of The Plain Truth.