To band around terms like tumultuous or world-changing can be a foolhardy pastime. It leaves a writer open to the charge of hyperbole, vulnerable to events. Something could emerge tomorrow, making everything else look like the librarian of the year awards. That said, it would take an extraordinary set of events to surpass this year’s news – maybe a Godzilla attack on Tokyo – but 2011 was, well, interesting.
It has been a year of protest. Greece appears more like an apocalyptic film set with each passing day of rioting. There have also been tamer anti-capitalism protests in North America and Europe, seemingly composed of middle-class people in tents. In many ways it reminded me of camping holidays in Cornwall. But the real cauldron of protest has been the Middle East and North Africa, the ‘Arab Spring.’ Dictators have fallen in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, but still cling to power in Syria, Bahrain and Yemen. How each of these uprisings will pan-out is unclear, and while optimism is always a virtue, history suggests virtually all revolutions ultimately lead to tyranny.
Intersecting the falls of Mubarak and Gaddafi, the Japanese tsunami reminded us of nature’s terrible power and man’s incredible penchant for short-sightedness. Building nuclear power plants along one of the most geologically active coasts in the world seems foolhardy enough, but building inadequate sea defences to cut costs demands incredulity. The explosions at Fukushima revitalised the anti-nuclear lobby, leading the earthquake and tsunami ravaged country of Germany to announce the closure of all atomic power plants. Who cares about global warming anyway?
The Arab Spring emboldened the West, who dug up the corpse of interventionism that they had buried after Iraq, and they started bombing for peace in Libya. Napoleon once said: “I have plenty of clever generals, but just give me a lucky one.” Fortunately David Cameron has so far been lucky. The country was delivered into the hands of the opposition and Colonel Gaddafi to a murderous lynch mob.
In any other year, Bin Laden’s death would have dominated the news for months. Instead, the death of the man who helped define the previous decade has become something of a footnote, popping up occasionally in newspapers or television shows like a hazy half forgotten memory.
The phone hacking scandal had been slowly brewing since 2007, but in 2011 it delivered a different tyrant to the hands of his enemies. News International’s claims that illegality was limited to a ‘rogue’ reporter was obvious hogwash, but it seemed that they were going to get away with it until the Guardian revealed Milly Dowler’s phone had been hacked. Coming shortly after the conviction of her murderer, public outrage ensued, giving Murdoch’s enemies, then belatedly his friends, the courage to attack both him and his publications. Murdoch took the desperate decision to shut the News of the World, but not before he lost his political influence and was even hauled before the Media Select Committee. The real shock for those who had built Murdoch into a bogey man was that he gave an admirable impression of a rather pathetic and tired old man. Perhaps more significant were the revelations of widespread corruption at the Metropolitan Police, with officers being paid by journalists and close relationships existing between senior officers and Murdoch’s newspapers.
Just when it began to look like the rest of the year would be dominated by phone hacking, along came the English riots. Much has been spoken without anything being said on this subject. There has always been an element of society prepared to riot, for various reasons, and they have done sporadically during summers for at least thirty years. After each of these disturbances the government announce some draconian knee-jerk responses, which are later quietly forgotten. Perhaps the difference this time was the proliferation of smart phones used by rioters to organise and bystanders to document every action in minutiae to feed to an increasingly ravenous media.
Rumbling in the background throughout the year was the Euro debacle, highlighting the political inadequacies of the EU. It seems that the UK’s economic future will either be very bleak, or non-existent, depending on which commentator’s vast unfathomable procession of depressing numbers you care to listen to.
If these prophesies of doom are correct, then maybe we should expect a tumultuous or world changing 2012.