In the face of the London riots, Chris Flux writes, rather than blaming the lack of father figures, we should encourage fathers to be role models.
I’m British. As you know, riots have exploded in London, spilling over into Birmingham and Manchester. Shop windows were smashed, vehicles were set on fire, buildings were vandalized and burnt to the ground, department stores were looted, and innocent bystanders were murdered. Police initially struggled to contain and end the violence, which provoked an outraged British public to resort to vigilantism. The English National Team cancelled last week’s game against Holland, and some commentators have even questioned whether the Olympics will go ahead in London in 2012.
It’s now been a week since the worst of the violence. The national press have joined politicians, academics, and the general public in asking what went wrong. Was it all down to sheer “criminality” as the Home Secretary put it? Or is it the inevitable result of years of poverty, social exclusion, and inequality that has created an underclass that lost hope because of mass unemployment and government spending cuts? This is the view of some of the more left-wing commentators, who also add that there was no excuse. Other political and religious leaders (the more right-leaning voices) blame the moral decline in British society, the triumph of selfishness, welfare dependency, and the lack of discipline (by parents, schools, and the state) for the breakdown of law and order.
Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron has publicly blamed the riots on a “Broken Britain” becoming “sick.” Central to his diagnosis of the troubles is absent fathers in family life and the lack of male role models. But is he right? To what extent are absent, weak, or abusive fathers to blame for the problems in urban England?
First, we need to realize that not all of the rioters were male or from disadvantaged backgrounds. Among those arrested are an infant school teacher, several university graduates, and a millionaire’s daughter. Offenders also appear to be from every race. While it does seem that black people are overrepresented, this is likely to be because of the greater deprivation and exclusion they face rather than because of their skin color or culture. Sadly, some individuals and groups have tried to make this into a race issue, even though it shouldn’t be.
Now, fatherhood. I believe that fathers are important because of three things they bring to a relationship with their sons: love, moral discipline, and role-modeling.
Without the emotional warmth brought by a loving relationship with parents and family members, a young man is likely to experience an empty existence where he feels the need to seek affirmation in all the wrong things: cheap sex, criminal behavior, substance abuse, and illegitimate power.
Without discipline and boundaries, the young man is free to pursue the whims of his flesh until his own conscience demands that he stops. Tough love from an older man can play a significant role in changing this. This is not to say that mothers are incapable of disciplining boys or that all men are good in this area. Simply, boys are more likely to respect moral foundations set by men, than those set by women.
How can you be a good man when you don’t know what one looks like? For some boys, gang culture is all they know. A positive male role model shows them a positive way in which to live their lives and gives them hope through something to aspire to.
My personal belief is that “a poverty of hope” has encouraged people to give up pursuing the right path in life. So, we get riots. Creating good jobs, affordable housing, and opportunity for all is a great way to alleviate this. However encouraging responsible and emotionally involved parenting and mentoring by men can also help to eradicate a culture of hopelessness. Good men can help boys develop a sense of purpose and show young people something positive to aspire to.
Whether these riots were caused by a crisis in fatherhood, the troubles have (perhaps ironically) made one father an instant, inspirational role model to millions. Tariq Jahan, a British, Asian Muslim, saw his own son (Haroon Jahan) murdered by rioters who deliberately drove a car into three men, including Haroon. Tariq has every right to seek revenge, but instead he has pleaded for calm, unity, and forgiveness. Within days of his son’s murder, he stood before news cameras, like a professional spokesperson, and asked communities to come together in peace, friendship, and unity. He did this with maturity and humility. Bad and absent fathers may be at the root of many of society’s woes, but good fathers are responsible for much of the good.
—Photo AP/Sang Tan