Chief Rabbi: ‘We are living through the death of civility’
There's a crisis on our streets, especially in London, and it has nothing to do with the cost of housing. As the blame game is played out between ministers and bankers over why mortgages are suddenly much more expensive, the price of life in parts of Britain's inner cities has hit rock bottom.
Forget, for a moment, that the property market is dying, and look instead at the number of murders through unprovoked attacks by amoral teenagers demanding a perverse "respect". While we obsess about a rise in payments to the building society, the society we have built is falling apart.
In two court cases at the Old Bailey this week, details emerged of killings perpetrated by gangs of youths, some as young as 14, operating like hyenas. They hunted in packs and slaughtered their prey.
In February last year, in an affluent area of west London, a group of feral monsters set about 16-year-old Kodja Yenga with knives, hammers and baseball bats. The boy, a regular churchgoer, who was studying for AS levels, died in hospital, having been beaten and stabbed by five members of the MDP gang - Murder Dem Pussies.
Two months later, on Good Friday, a few miles across the capital in Leytonstone, 14-year-old Paul Erhahon was walking home when he bumped into the Cathall Street Bois gang, described in court as a "cult obsessed with violence". One of the older boys, aged 15, ordered the "youngers" to attack Erhahon. He was stabbed through the heart with a sword.
In both instances, the victims were assailed by a rampaging mob, howling for blood. The culprits appeared to have no fear of being identified. The Cathall thugs even boasted about their criminal exploits on YouTube. Brazen? Stupid? Evil? Take your pick.
Yenga's tormentors chased him along a street, shouting "Catch him! Kill him!" It was eerily redolent of Lord of the Flies, as if a scene from William Golding's sinister masterpiece had been transported to W6.
In the novel, a group of schoolboys, stranded on an island, descend into savagery. They whip themselves into a frenzy, chanting, "Kill the beast! Cut his throat! Spill his blood!" Then they rip to pieces one of their own, Simon.
The theme, Golding wrote, is about "the darkness of man's heart". His plot has become a tale of our times. From the fiction of 1954, to the facts of 2008.
Crimes of serious violence are rising in Britain. This is not the creation of a fevered press, anxious to produce eye-catching headlines, as some ministers claim.
The Government can spin the numbers hither and thither, but the brutal reality is that knife and gun attacks are becoming an everyday occurrence. Of the 200,000 violent offences in London last year, 3,459 involved firearms.
Statistics issued by the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies at King's College London show that street robberies in which a knife was used jumped sharply between 2004 and 2007. Deaths linked to knife crime rose by 18 per cent last year, from 219 to 258. The victims are more likely to be young people, those living in poor areas and ethnic communities.
Enver Solomon, the centre's deputy director, said: "The average age of male homicide victims in the Metropolitan Police area is definitely declining."
A BBC London poll of 500 youths, aged 13 to 18, across five boroughs, Brent, Croydon, Hackney, Lambeth and Southwark, revealed that one third knew someone who had been the victim of a knife assault and 17 per cent knew a victim of gun crime. Three-quarters of those questioned expected violent crime to go up again this year.
From the curse of coarse behaviour and the blight of litter to casual violence and extreme physical abuse, there is a pervasive nastiness rotting away at this country's foundations. Some urban areas feel wholly dysfunctional.
Apologists are quick to blame deprivation. If only it were that simple. Quite a few of England's worst football hooligans are earning fortunes in the City. Their poverty is not financial; it's a complete absence of worthwhile values - a collapse of decency.
Britain's Chief Rabbi, Sir Jonathan Sacks, sums up the anxieties of many: "We are living through the death of civility … Today, it is commonplace to encounter road rage, muggings, street crime, drunkenness, lager louts, hoodies, yobbishness and laddishness. Teachers are attacked in the classroom. Nurses encounter violence from patients."
The death of civility? I'm afraid so. The liberal revolution of the Sixties, which separated morality from law, is leading us, says Sacks, to "a new form of barbarism". The view that "it's legal, so I can do it" is destroying the fabric of social harmony. Manners are disappearing, along with courtesy and shame.
The story of Shannon Matthews' abduction tells us much about the state we are in. Mercifully, the girl was rescued and taken into care. But the details of her mother's breeding with a multiplicity of partners defies rational analysis.
Karen Matthews has seven children from five fathers, an extreme example of what author Tony Parsons called "the blended family", a toxic mixture for many of the unfortunate offspring who are trapped in the middle.
The breakdown of the traditional family was likened last Saturday by a High Court judge, Mr Justice Coleridge, to an out-of-control cancerous body, posing more of a threat to our futures than global warming.
The family courts, he said, are witnessing "a never-ending carnival of human misery". So, too, are hospitals and clinics, as the number of abortions in Britain continues to rise.
When young hoodlums are prepared to hack someone to death in broad daylight, I suppose we should not be surprised that their teenage girlfriends switch off unborn life without remorse. I spoke to a leading female academic who said "more education" was needed to ease the problem. She was, I'm afraid, making excuses for many who are comfortable with abortion as a form of contraception.
About 200,000 terminations take place in England and Wales every year. The numbers have been rising steadily for a long time. Are we saying that the availability of information about safe sex and reproduction is diminishing? Hardly. What's missing is a code of ethics.
While Court of Appeal judges fret over the human rights of terrorist suspects, blocking their extradition in case they don't get a fair trial, British law is happy to approve the extermination of unwanted foetuses at 24 weeks.
The state protects Abu Qatada, but not semi-formed babies. Their lives are no longer precious, not even cheap. They are deemed to be worthless.
When our legal system loses its moral compass, it is only to be expected that on the mean streets of Britain many impressionable children will do the same.