The ‘West Spring’

As beacons for economic development, our perception of progress amongst the lesser developed world is measured against the ‘west’. Yet, we barely need to use a microscopic lens to see social unrest and xenophobia scratching the surface of the western world. To what extent has the developed world actually progressed in the social sphere?

On 4th August 2011, Mark Duggan, was shot dead by police in Tottenham, and what began as a peaceful protest, two days later escalated into rioting, across Britain. The vast majority of violence was merely described by the media as ‘copycat violence’. Interviews with looters live on TV demonstrated a youthful ignorance amongst some communities, claiming to be in relative poverty-and simply taking back what they are owed.  Geographically the riots did take place in relatively ‘underprivileged’ regions of London, the West Midlands and Merseyside. Whilst to many the ensuing carnage was unjustifiable, it clearly paints a picture of unrest. We are used to seeing such scenes in Africa or Asia, but certainly not in the UK. It was at a point where Middle-Eastern countries were advising caution to their citizens travelling to Britain. It clearly demonstrated that social development issues still impact the west, and if anything becomes more challenging as economic development occurs. The London riots demonstrated how development in one sphere, economic, lead to tensions in social development, where it would seem income inequality and possible social dislocation powered the riots.

The open borders of the western world have also fuelled tensions in social development. The European Union currently finds itself on the brink of financial collapse, and as leaders are calling for a closer integration to save the euro, Europe has moved towards nationalism and xenophobia.  Last year, the Danish and French governments challenged the Schengen policy, of essentially a borderless state, by reintroducing limited border controls. Further, many politicians, such as Sarkozy, in the lead up to elections, have strengthened their voter base promoting national identity and attempting to bolster their countries’ borders. The Euro area crisis has left behind the lower middle and working classes; made redundant and disillusioned from the region’s economic woes. This is slowly building into a critical mass of individuals finding themselves able to relate to right-wing nationalist parties-which shun the multiculturalism that has built up in Europe. Are we seeing the rise of a xenophobic society in Europe? What was seen as necessary for economic development, open borders, is slowly becoming an excuse for economic failures.

The everlasting impacts of 9/11 have also strained religion and society in the western hemisphere. The FBI found that the number of hate crime attacks against Muslims increased 1,600% between 2000 and 2011. The huge rise is assumed to be the result of the 9/11 attacks. This wave of ‘islamaphobia’ seems to have snow-balled with the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. It is not only limited to those of Muslim faith; slowly racial profiling and racial gang violence is becoming more general, with cases arising across faiths. With income disparities and fortunes unevenly spread in these capitalist societies and especially skewed away from immigrants, we have a breeding ground for those victims of hate crimes to seek solace in extremism and gang culture.

Youth unrest in Britain, rising xenophobic state in Europe and simmering racial tensions are timely reminders that the west’s development is far from complete. Do we need to look inward before we look outward at the social development on the underdeveloped? Are these tensions likely to reach a critical mass and spill over like in the Arab world?

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