No Claims to be Made – Youth Riots and Divine Violence

Jasper Westhaus

It’s not about the bread prices people can afford or can’t afford to pay, not about the ongoing wars in Iraq, Vietnam, Ruanda, Yemen, the US, Ukraine, Kurdistan, or one of the countless others, not about the prices for housing, the immigrants, the immigrating, fair payment, unfair payment, women’s rights, wages, housework, lgbtq rights, anti-racism or imperialism. It’s not about those who are dead and not about the football club, either. Not about articulating an ‘“inclination for aggression”, “disposition for opposition”, and “urge for adventure”’,1 not about sex or no sex. Tine and Jacob fall in love in the autonomous youth club. When everybody leaves the room to take a break from the plenary session, they leave the room together.

The autonomous youth club invites to an Adorno reading group after school, an Into the Wild film night, wild kisses in sticky corners; Philip who sells the stuff says “do you want stuff?” and Carla mulls over the tag which crossed hers, it’s too beautiful to be mad at. Anna sticks a finger into Emre’s ass and Emre in return gets some lunch from the grocery store. Jonathan grew legs too long for the staircase. Samuel joins after his shift in the restaurant. Tim swims in his sweatpants. There’s hair that’s shared. Sophie has a band meeting. 

There’s no manifest, who after all would have the time to write it? Yassin has to go study and Pip has to have some sexual experiences their classmates have already had a year ago. Martin writes in the same accent he speaks in. He doesn’t want any words to be public. Maxi and Kim fall in love in the autonomous youth club. After the public soup kitchen there’s always time for a beer or two. 

‘But what’s the issue, when it’s not about wages or racism or the football club, when there’s no claims being made?’, ask the papers, the media, the news ticker, the channel, the teachers, the sport teachers, the social workers, the parents, the foreign powers in the embassies, the neighbours. There are reports that cover the burning horses, the fireflies, the flying rocks, the glass doors at the Nike store, the wading windows, the sunken smell in the subway station, the smoke, the dust, the speculation.

What the […] report tells me more than anything is that the rioters still have not accepted responsibility for their actions. […] The riots weren’t about protests, unemployment, cuts […]. The riots were not about the future, about tomorrow. They were about today. They were about now. They were about instant gratification.2

– Theresa May, British home secretary

Meanwhile, the ‘mob of yobs and alien cultures; immoral, disrespectful, criminal, undisciplined, materialistic and hedonistic’3 sits in the park next to the autonomous youth club. Isi chews a chewing gum, Raf sexts her ex, Eddy relaxes next to his textbook. This is not a community, this is just a hanging out together. But because just hanging out and around in public is illegal, they have to call themselves a community or something else that is somewhat legible for the nation state. 

Being together doesn’t mean wanting to be read as something, especially if it collectively exposes you to violence. For the nation, Mark, Nissar, Kira, Fabio and the others are radical leftists, punks, rockers, a gang or hooligans, depending on style of clothing, country of birth, color of skin, money in pocket. Friendship amongst a group of people, especially if lived in public, is scary to the nation state. For the nation, as the scaled up counterpart to the nuclear family unit, the way reproduction is done in friendships is illegible. Caring for each other, outside of the confines of the nuclear family, can even pose – depending on the backgrounds of the friends – a crime.4 Not because its ends are against the law, but because its means are outside of it. 

There is clearly a problem with the integration of immigrants and, more importantly, their children […] In order for us to be able to integrate them, there must not be more of them than our capacity to integrate them. That’s the issue. It’s like polygamy […] It’s certainly one of the causes [of the riots], though not the only one. [It leads to] an inability to provide an education as it is needed in an organised, normative society like in Europe and notably France.5

– Bernard Accoyer, president of the UMP in the French national assembly

Since part of society displays this anti-social behaviour [polygamy, the lack of a father figure], it is not surprising that some of them have difficulties finding work.6

– Gérard Larcher, French employment minister

Anger is legitimized as a viable tool of democratic articulation, if it is constructive to and ‘about the future.’7 The future at stake for those criticising the youth’s disobedience is not any kind of future, but a conflict-free continuation of the current heteropatriarchal status quo. There is no moral-panic around the well-being of cars and houses – they are insured and nicely fenced after all – but, rather, around those kids who are reluctant to reproduce the future they’re supposed to embody. The friends in the autonomous youth club become a danger to the nation state once they prove not to possess the purity and innocence that they’re expected to have.

The role of the child is contradictory; it is understood to be pure and innocent, the ideal Western citizen, but cannot yet fully act as a citizen.8 Therefore the options young people have are limited; they’re asked to embody a specific future, whilst being deprived of the legal means to articulate their own take on it. Attempts to exit that contradiction most often begin with the claiming of basic rights; youth riots commonly start with small-scale confrontations with the police over access to public spaces, and only escalate into large-scale riots once the police decide to clear the spaces by excessive force.9 

Once the dust settles they remove some benches on the square between the opera and the autonomous youth club and add some spikes to the stairs on the buildings around it to discourage sitting and sleeping. They come up with a few ugly art installations that block the former skating spots. They invent the mall grab. The window sills get sloped, too. Everyone gets an app that tracks their screen time, their steps, sleeping time, their heart beat. Doing stuff without a purpose becomes loitering.

The problem is less what kind of futurities the kids embody, but rather, that they have to. They are ‘a locus of anxiety for homophobic culture because on [them] rests the reproduction of a heteronormative future,’10 and therefore the sentences for stepping out of line are way out of proportion. Nicolas got six months of imprisonment for taking a water bottle,11 Danielle got ten months for stealing sneakers,12 kids spent nights in prisons for wearing American clothes in Ginza13 and for allegedly having had beers in the Dolmabahçe Mosque close to Gezi Park, despite the local Imam’s defence.14

While it’s important to acknowledge what youths say on matters of futurity – after all they might have to live through more of it – it is crucial to free them from the burden of being the metaphor for futurity. As the harsh sentencing shows, metaphors are simply too real. Setting an example in the form of punishments that exceed the guidelines of a nation’s law is the making of a new law, is the pipeline from law-preserving to law-making violence. Its purpose is less to penalize the breaking of a law, but to formulate a new one.15 What once was considered injustice gets slowly established as the new justice.

Trixi rides a bear, Ritchie has a new pair of Air Max, Joni misses home so much, she would even kiss a sunset pig. Joe is a window shopper. Samet catches some tear gas with his hands. Shelves get knocked over, deli doors get kicked. Christian Dior, Dior, Bashar is up in all the stores – when it rains it pours. Glass covers the floor and weed crumbles and between the small pieces even smaller pieces rise to form a dust curtain. Some kids’ rain coats extend way beyond their feet, dragging the splinters behind them, making lots of noise. There’s no manifest, no program, they’re of no help. As it shows, opposition to the system can no longer articulate itself in the form of a realistic alternative, but can only take the shape of this outburst. Western society celebrates choice but it dawns on the friends who clean up the autonomous youth club after the film-night-turned-into-a-rave, that the only available alternative to the enforced democratic consensus is claim-less destruction.16 

Nobody in the youth club is interested in new laws, even less in making them. The idea is rather to break the flows of law-making and law-preserving violence, to destroy, to do a different kind of violence: A divine violence, which is articulated outside of the confines of the law and ultimately mobilised against all legal violence. It doesn’t matter who you steal from, as long as you steal. It doesn’t matter whose windows you break, as long as you break windows.  

The latest iteration of professional measurements proves useless against the amateurs. Kay grows an ass that fits the freshly sloped window sills and Maria gets a thick leather coat that perfectly covers the spikes they added to the stairs in front of the buildings. Stefan, whose arms grew long enough to hand soft drinks and beers to everyone out of reach, quotes from his textbook: ‘Tenderness between people is nothing other than the awareness of the possibility of relations without purpose.’18 Faysal throws sticks for Silke’s dog. The sunset pigs snoop around at an  unsafe distance. 

1 Andrés Brink Pinto and Martin Ericsson, “‘Youth Riots’ and the Concept of Contentious Politics in Historical Research”, Scandinavian Journal of History, 44:1 (2019), 13.

2 Cited in Charlie Cooper, “Understanding the English ‘riots’ of 2011: ‘mindless criminality’ or youth ‘Mekin Histri’ in austerity Britain?”, Youth and Policy, 109 (2012), (6-26), 17-18.

3 Cooper: “Understanding English ‘riots’”, 7.

4 Luke de Noronha, “Gangs Policing, Deportation, and the Criminalisation of Friendship”, History Workshop, last modified July 8, 2020, www.historyworkshop.org.uk/gangs-policing-deportation-and-the-criminalisation-of-friendship/.

5 “Polygamy possible factor in French riots”, The Sydney Morning Herald, last modified November 17, 2005, www.smh.com.au/world/polygamy-possible-factor-in-french-riots-20051117-gdmglt.html.

6 The Sydney Morning Herald: “Polygamy possible factor in French riots.”

 7 Compare the quote by Theresa May, footnote 2. Also consider the general mainstream-approval of the “Fridays for Future” demonstrations.

8 Lauren Berlant, The Queen of America goes to Washington City: Essays on Sex and Citizenship (Durham/London: Duke University Press, 1997), 5.

9 Pinto and Ericsson: “‘Youth Riots’”, 9.

10 Hannah Dyer, “Queer futurity and childhood innocence: Beyond the injury of development”, Global Studies of Childhood, Vol. 7(3) (2017), 291.

11 Adam Taylor, “London Looter Who Stole Bottled Water Jailed For Six Months”, Business Insider, last modified August 11, 2011, www.businessinsider.com/nicolas-roberts-looter-water-london-2011-8?international=true&r=US&IR=T

12 Amelia Gentleman, “England riots: the personal cost”, The Guardian, last modified November 25, 2011,

13 W. David Marx, “Stalking the Wild Madras Wearers of the Ivy League”, The New Yorker, last modified December 1, 2015, www.newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/stalking-the-wild-madras-wearers-of-the-ivy-league

14 “Turkey finds 244 protesters guilty in Gezi park trial”, Yahoo, last modified October 23, 2015, https://news.yahoo.com/turkey-finds-244-protesters-guilty-gezi-park-trial-182355310.html

15 Walter Benjamin, “Critique of Violence.” In Selected Writings Vol. 1 1913-1926, ed. Marcus Bullock and Michael W. Jennings (Cambridge/London: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1996), 242.

16 Slavoj Žižek, “Shoplifters of the World Unite”, London Review of Books, Vol 33(16) (2011), 1-5, quoted in Charlie Cooper, “Understanding the English ‘riots’ of 2011: ‘mindless criminality’ or youth ‘Mekin Histri’ in austerity Britain?”, Youth and Policy, 109 (2012), (6-26), 12.

17 Benjamin: “Critique of Violence”, 249.

18 Theodor Adorno, Minima Moralia: Reflections on a Damaged Life (New York/ London: Verso, 2005), 42.

Jasper works as a writer and researcher based in Amsterdam. They studied Creative Writing and Media Arts in Leipzig, Germany and are a postgraduate in Sandbergs Instituut’s Critical Studies since 2020. Jasper is publishing essays and poetry in German and English. Currently they are researching on the historic formation of puberty- and adolescence-concepts, their entanglements with literary history and possible emancipatory exits out of the normative force they pose.