Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Burning at the break of day

JuliaM draws a comparison between the incident, reported yesterday, of police physically preventing neighbours from helping as a pregnant woman, her husband and their child burned to death in their house and the notorious occasion when Saudi religious police forced 15 schoolgirls to burn to death rather than let them flee the building "improperly attired".

When I first read her post, I thought the comparison was a stretch, but on reflection, she's right. In both cases police prevented other people from helping. The grounds on which they justified their actions are revealing of their societies. We know about the religious illness that afflicts Saudi Arabia, so what does this tell us about Britain?

The police said that the neighbours had to wait for the fire brigade because of "health and safety". As one neighbour pointed out, there was a time when you could have taken it for granted that the police would have been the first into the building. Now they consider themselves unqualified, and insist on waiting for people with the correct training.

This is, of course, credentialism - the idea that nobody should attempt anything they have not been specifically trained in. There's something characteristically British about this idea. It's a great an evil, in practice, as Saudi religious mania - people burn to death, screaming for help, as people who want to help are physically prevented from doing so - but it's an evil of utterly dull, boring, tedious, drab, unambitious, box-ticking, drizzly, overcast, stifling drabness.

I almost envy the Saudis their pantomime villains.

UPDATE: The title of this post comes from a Dr Feelgood song, All Through The City. Here it is, from a concert at the Kursaal Ballroom in 1975. I was at that concert, I remember the camera crews and one incident, a little cameo, at the door. Someone wanted to enter without a ticket, so sucker-punched the doorman in the gut, very hard. The doorman looked at the man, without any change of expression. The man nodded, turned and walked away to buy a ticket.

UPDATE: Whoops, didn't link to Julia's post. Now corrected.


dearieme said...

Could the police have been embarrassed that their own cowardice would be shown up by the actions of the public? Of course, I can't tell whether that would be physical cowardice in the face of danger or moral cowardice in the face of Big Brother.

JuliaM said...

Thanks for the link!

I think the main thing is: why? Why such a difference between the police of 20 years ago, and today? I'm sure any policeman attempting a rescue years ago would still have been publically praised, but quietly advised that their conduct was a bit reckless, even so.

It would simply be assumed that regardless of this, they would still be expected to do whatever they could!

Are we recruiting different people for the police, or are we ourselves different, and the polive merely a reflection of our society>

Quinn said...

Just a minute though. None of us were there, we don't know how any of us would have reacted to that specific fire. Of course you would want to try to help, but according to The Times one of the neighbours said "We tried to get a ladder up to the window but the flames were coming out of the ground floor, so we couldn’t do it." That sounds like it was pretty well ablaze, and the police have a responsibility to protect the neighbours outside the house as well as those inside.

They made a judgement based on the fire as they saw it. Perhaps they made the wrong call, but as we weren't there it is difficult for us to judge, just as it difficult to make any comparisons on how policemen 20 years ago would have acted, or if their actions constitute cowardice.

As for "health and safety", I'm sure that would have been a consideration, but that may have been in the broadest sense rather than the narrow, box-ticking HSE sense.

dearieme said...

Quinn, you are quite right. I've become so used to the police becoming commonly worse than useless that I assumed that they are always worse than useless.

Unknown said...

Credentialism. I didn't think of that. I saw it was state-enforced cowardice.

Anonymous said...

I hope the police officers responsible are charged with manslaughter, but of course they will not be.

Imagine if hypothetically someone were to put up a website naming and shaming these contemptible filth, or to orgasnise a protest outside the statino where they worked. I bet the police would react promptly them to shut down legitimate protest.