On Riots, Violence, Sabotage: Denmark and the US Ghetto Intifadas

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“The good news is that we’ve made a lot of arrests”… thus spoke Michael Hoejer, the Danish deputy national police commissioner, to the public on the ongoing riots by immigrant youths against the Danish police brutality and racism.

So the first mass scale rebellion came from the immigrants in France, and now Denmark. There’s no reason to say similar events cannot happen in Italy and Spain on that scale. After all, these are countries where Arab and African immigrants are eating shit.

And don’t you ever think for one moment that those rioters’ violence in Denmark is random. They are targeting cars they will never afford, schools they don’t have access to or treated like shit at, and the list goes on. In other words, they are targeting symbols of wealth, power and economic repression in a racist/classist country… not the fucking cartoons… it doesn’t matter what the trigger was… the trigger could be an extremely trivial event.. (remember the French May ’68?)

I posted previously about the Egyptian January 1977 Bread Intifada, with a special focus on the violence (that the media has always depicted sensationally), and why it was explainable if not justified. But there’s wide variety of sociological literature on riots, and it’s always useful to look at examples from other countries.

Conservatives tend to take a criminological approach to riots. Encyclopedia Britannica defines riot, for example, as an “offense against public order involving three or more people and the use of violence, however slight. Like an unlawful assembly, a riot involves a gathering of persons for an illegal purpose. Unlike an unlawful assembly, however, a riot includes violence.”[1] Ralf Conant’s book on the prospects of revolutions in the US expressed concerns for the growing instability in the American society in the 1960s. When defining the act of rioting, he stresses the spontaneous nature of the participants’ behavior, in addition to the lack of “premeditated purpose, plan, or direction, although systematic looting, arson, and attack on persons usually occur once a riot is under way.”[2] However, a task force report submitted to the American National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence, set up to investigate the ghetto riots, tried to challenge the official conception of riots. The academics and lawyers, who were members of the task force, were neither radicals, nor did they advocate riots as a means of changing the status quo. They had the same concerns for the “stability” of the American society, but they advocated a new approach and means of social control that could address the grievances behind the riots. The report criticized some of the conventional theories on the subject. First, such theories “tend to focus on the destructive behavior of disaffected groups while accepting the behavior of authorities as normal, instrumental and rational.”[3] The report pointed out the “destruction”, or the violent behavior, of the forces of the state, can be, and usually is, more “destructive.” Second, these theories “tend to describe collective behavior [i.e., riots] as irrational, formless and immoderate.”[4] The report refuses such assumption; instead it argues that the rioters:

… show a considerable degree of structure, purposiveness, and rationality. Nor is “established” behavior necessarily guided by rational principle. While the beliefs underlying a riot may frequently be inaccurate or exaggerated, they are not necessarily more so than, for example, commonly held beliefs about racial minorities by dominant groups… [concerning] the causes of crime… [and] threats to internal security, and so forth. A measure of irrationality, then, is not a defining characteristic of collective behavior generally or of riots in particular; rather, it is an element of many routine social processes and institutions and forms of collective behavior.[5]

Moreover, continues the report, the so-called “inappropriateness” of riots is relative, depending upon whether there are alternative channels for action or not. The actors use rioting as a means of expressing their political demands in absence of the “normal channels.”[6] It is wrong to view the rioters’ violent behavior as “abnormal,” or as resulting merely from “tensions.” One should not attribute the whole phenomenon to psychological factors and neglect the political dimension. Violence of marginalized groups cannot be compared to the more severe systematic violence of the state. In addition, the rioters usually believe that the use of violence could pressure the state to concede to their own demands, and actually that was true in several cases.[7]

The radical literature, on the other hand, emphasizes the resistance side of riots, and their importance as an expression of defiance to the system. Studying the dynamics of the ghetto riots in the US, Herbert J. Gans considers riots in general as a form of rebellion. Incidents of looting and property destruction, included in the riot, are not impulsive acts, as “in most cases, people destroy or loot only the property of those who have exploited them.”[8] Gans compares the rioting situation to a carnival, not because of the irrationality of the rioters, rather:

They are happy at the sudden chance to exact revenge against those who have long exploited and harassed them. The rebellion becomes a community event; … people feel they are acting together in a way that they rarely can. But, most important, the destruction and looting allows ghetto residents to exert power.[9]

When studying the 1992 Los Angeles riots, triggered by police racist brutality, Alex Callinicos refuses both the idea portrayed by the media about the mass irrationality of rioters, and “race” being the factor behind it. Instead he focuses on the class dynamics of riots. Callinicos examines the economic context of LA, and the impoverishment that hit the city as a result of the austerity measures taken by Regan and Bush (the daddy), better known as “Reganomics.” These measures affected the working class from all ethnicities, not only the blacks. The rioting was of multi-ethnic nature, coming as a reaction of the urban poor against impoverishment and police oppression. The main target for the looting and property destruction was the Korean businesses. However, Callinicos denies “ethnicity” as a factor in making such businesses a target. It is the socioeconomic role played by Koreans merchants that made them a target for the anger and discontent of the masses in LA. The vast majority of Koreans act as entrepreneurs providing “valuable retail access to the ghetto for [big corporations]… without putting whites at risk.”[10] Callinicos is clear about that the “Korean merchants are not the chief exploiters of the black and Latino poor… [b]ut Asian shopkeepers are the only visible, directly accessible representatives of the system responsible for the poverty and degradation suffered by the mass of blacks and Latinos.”[11]

So back to Denmark. To cut a long story short, until the European governments start respecting the rights of immigrants in their countries and treat them equally, and until they stop sending their troops to our region, and until they stop supporting our dictators— expect more embassies torched down in the Middle East and more riots in Europe.

1 Encyclopedia Britannica On Line.
2 Ralph W. Conant, The Prospects For Revolution: A Study of Riots, Civil Disobedience, and Insurrection in Contemporary America (New York: Harper’s Magazine Press 1971), 22.
3 Jerome H. Skolnick. The Politics of Protest: A Task Force Report Submitted to the National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence (New York: Simon And Schuster 1969), 335.
4 Ibid., 335.
5 Ibid., 335-6.
6 Ibid., 336-7.
7 Ibid., 340-1.
8 Herbert J. Gans. “The Ghetto Rebellions and Urban Class Conflict,” in Robert H. Connery, ed., Urban Riots: Violence and Social Change (New York: Colombia University 1968), 43.
9 Ibid., 43.
10 Alex Callinicos, Race and Class (London: Bookmarks 1998), 55.
11 Ibid., 55.

  1. AJP

    You wrote:

    “…until the European governments start respecting the rights of immigrants in their countries and treat them equally, and until they stop sending their troops to our region, and until they stop supporting our dictators… expect more embassies torched down in the Middle East and more riots in Europe, motherfuckers…”

    Ok, you have a point. But I think you’re being a little unfair. To begin with, European Governments vary greatly in their apporach to immigrants. Yes, there has been a certain amount of push-back in some European states against a perceived ‘invasion’ of foreigners, but in others immigration has continued with hardly a ripple in public discourse.

    As for the rights of immigrants in EU countries, I think you will have to agree that they are far more robust than the rights they ‘enjoyed’ in their country of origin. Immigration is nothing new in Europe. Over the last century wave after wave of new arrivals have settled in European capitals without a problem. It takes time for a new ethnic group to establish itself in its adopted country, but to date most of them have. I would venture to say that a black person in the UK enjoys more freedom and opportunities in the UK, for example, than a Sudanese immigrant anywhere in the Arab world.

    As for EU support for dictators in the Arab world, I agree that it seems to be a short-sighted and proabably counterproductive policty. But the EU is faced with a difficult question: The current wave of emigration from the Arab world is fuelled by the apalling economic conditions that prevail accross much of the Middle East. If it is to stop, conditions must be improved in poor and populous contries like Egypt. Whether we like like it or not, nations now operatie in a globalized economy. The current regime is taking steps to increase its share of foreign investment (not just from the US and EU, but also from its wealthy Gulf neighbours), and there simply doesn’t seem to be anyone else on the scene that offer a viable alternative. The Muslim Brotherhood? Their promise to tear up the peace treaty with Israel will kick Egypt back into an economic dark age. The other opposition parties appear to be of little interest to the Egyptian population. Ergo, the current regime contiues to receive support, for now.

    Racism exists, everywhere. But I think you’ll find that in Europe there are at least legal safeguards against it that are generally vigourously pursued. Try to racially abuse anyone in public in the EU and find out.

  2. Sursock

    “Try to racially abuse anyone in public in the EU and find out.”


    I take it who have spent the last 30 years being called a “dirty Arab”, “Ayatollah” or “wog”. Being told to “get back where you came from”, or being told that you couldn’t have that job cause “they’ve filled their quota”… you’ve never come across the National Front, BNP or been “stopped and searched” by police.

    Maybe you should go to Paris and discover why women in veils never go into the city center… or why one Black British student being stopped by the cops five times during a school trip…

    … and then when you complain being told “you’re not assimilating”.

    Sorry AJP the place your talking about does’nt realy exist.