Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin

Landscape

I witnessed an instructive but depressing little scene three days ago. I was on an escalator in the Paris Metro at quite a busy time of day when a young man in international slum-costume and face as malign as the late Mark Duggan’s who was standing a few steps ahead off me used a spray gun to scrawl his initials in bright red on the hand rail. Scores of people saw him do it but no one intervened; and at the top of the escalator he returned the other way to repeat his action on another hand rail.

The ease with which the stupid and criminal insolence of one young man was able to defeat the civilised conduct of the vast majority citizens present was both dispiriting and alarming. Just because the young man was dim doesn’t mean he wasn’t cunning, or wouldn’t be able to draw the correct lesson that he could act with almost total impunity.

Citizens did not interfere for three reasons: they were busy with their own lives; they were afraid of him, that he might carry a knife or even a gun; and they were by no means confident that if they had intervened, for example by jumping on him and holding him until a policeman arrived, it would be the young man and not they who would be charged with an offence. It might even be that a few of the onlookers had so read, marked and inwardly digested the exculpatory sociology of our time that they saw in his graffito not an act of moral depravity but a cry for help, a symptom of despair, or some such. Poor lamb, he had not had a good education, he never knew his father, he was unemployed, etc. Those onlookers, if they existed, feared to be judgmental even more than they feared to be stabbed.

The ability of the ill-disposed to defeat the ordinary citizen is not confined to France. The minute’s silence before the inquest into the death of Mark Duggan is one, but far from the only, instance of the same phenomenon in this country. And the liberal press after that inquest played the role of useful idiot to the gangsters’ Lenin by treating Duggan as if he were some kind of martyr and his family so hard done by that their flagrantly intimidatory behaviour was justified. It also showed its institutional racism by suggesting, in effect, that Duggan was some kind of benefactor of his ‘community,’ of whose members no other conduct than his could be expected or hoped for.

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