Mong Kok riot

To defend the Mong Kok rioters is to condone political terrorism

Alice Wu says the Mong Kok violence was not about discontent over the problems in society – it was unadulterated abandonment of self-control

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 14 February, 2016, 9:31am
UPDATED : Sunday, 14 February, 2016, 9:30am

For Hong Kong politicians who would like to have a chance of getting elected and re-elected, here’s some free advice: there is no other position to take except to condemn the despicable acts of the rioters in Mong Kok.

What sparked the violence wasn’t discontent. Discontent may be why people are angry, but anger need not translate into violence. We don’t need a consensus on whether such behaviour is excusable. It is not. What occurred last week wasn’t venting. It was unadulterated abandonment of self-control. No one – the food hawkers, food safety inspectors, the police or chief executive – made them do it.

READ MORE: Angry Hong Kong police criticise ‘feeble’ senior management over Mong Kok riot arrangement

To view or twist it in such a way would be advocating the same sort of sick reasoning that abusive spouses use when they lash out, hit or kill their partners because those people were “asking for it”. And like domestic violence, there must be zero tolerance for encouraging and reinforcing a victim-blaming response for this “city guerilla warfare”, as it was termed by the director of Polytechnic University’s Centre for Social Policy Studies, Chung Kim-wan.

Exploiting issues and situations to mobilise street crowds and instigate flash mob rioting is a sure way to destroy not only law and order, but the freedoms and rights we hold dear. Making excuses for hoodlums reinforces their unbridled sense of entitlement to endanger and infringe others’ rights and freedoms on a whim.

And it is even more despicable that political predators turned it into an “election parade” for a candidate in the Legislative Council by-election this month. Electioneering by instigating or taking part in a riot is a huge affront to our democratic aspirations, and the ultimate bastardisation of the political process.

READ MORE: Hong Kong’s ‘fishball revolution’ is a load of bull, but there’s no denying the dangers of marginalising angry young people

No society is without its problems, and as bad as some of this city’s may be, violence is never the answer. To say that “it is easy” for those who “do not see a way out with their employment, housing and education issues… to go astray and resort to violence” is abominable. It is an insult to the majority – the law-abiding, hardworking individuals – who face daily challenges head-on without losing a grip of the moral standards they hold themselves to, without losing control and harming others.

If we are willing to hold “society’s problems” responsible for the violence unleashed last week, then we must be ready to call those who engaged in acts of violence for political reasons “terrorists”, as that is how political terrorism is defined. Groups that advocate violent protests are, in fact, insurgents even though they may use covers and excuses like “localism” to advance their cause to terrorise – to cause havoc, harm and endanger human lives.

It is not a time for leniency. It is not a time for excuses. It is a time to hold accountable those who refuse to acknowledge personal responsibilities for their actions

Some, like Democratic Party lawmaker James To Kun-sun, have said that going around arresting people would not solve anything. How about going around assaulting people and lighting up property? Would that solve anything? We have laws against this, and to not arrest those involved would be to jeopardise our rule of law, putting others’ lives at risk, and letting fear rule this city.

The two warning shots fired should be ringing loud in our ears. It is not a time for leniency. It is not a time for excuses. It is a time to hold accountable those who refuse to acknowledge personal responsibilities for their actions.

The Year of the Monkey may have been predicted by fortune tellers as a year of even more conflict and chaos, but it is up to us to send a strong and unified message – that we do not condone acts of violence and terror – and that we reject those who make excuses or attempts to justify that sort of destructiveness, to ensure that we survive it.

Alice Wu is a political consultant and a former associate director of the Asia Pacific Media Network at UCLA