Viewpoint: The poignant video of the Bad Samaritans


Youths helped the injured man to his feet, and then stole his belongings

The video of a 20-year-old Malaysian student being robbed by people who had pretended to help him has for many been one of the most poignant moments of the riots, with Prime Minister David Cameron saying it showed things are wrong in society. Why was this video of the bad Samaritans so powerful, asks Giles Fraser, canon chancellor of St Paul's Cathedral.

"And who is my neighbour?" a lawyer asks Jesus. His reply may be the best known and most morally influential of all Bible stories.

"A certain man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who both stripped him and beat him, and departed, leaving him half dead" - so begins the parable of the Good Samaritan.

A priest and a Levite hurry by, ignoring the dying man, too afraid that they are going to get mugged themselves. But a Samaritan, a stranger from a widely hated community, lifted the man off the floor, took him to an inn and paid for his care.

Being a good Samaritan has become the paradigmatic expression of good neighbourliness. Morality begins with compassion.

Metaphor for kindness

  • Used in English to mean a kind stranger helping since at least the 17th Century
  • Parable only figured in the Gospel of Luke
  • Jesus gives the parable in response to a lawyer's question about neigbours
  • Jews and Samaritans were mutually hostile at the time

The story of Asyraf Haziq looks a little like this, at least at first.

On Monday night, the 20-year-old Malaysian student, who had only recently arrived in the country, found himself caught up in the riots in the Barking area of East End of London. On his way to buy food to break his Ramadan fast, he was attacked at knifepoint and his jaw broken.

As he sat on the pavement in a pool of blood, a group of youths gather to help him. Here, apparently, are the good Samaritans.

They appear to offer him sympathy. One offers him assistance to stand up. And then, as he staggers to his feet, a number of them open up his rucksack and rob him.

On the mean streets of London, even the good Samaritans are bandits.

The video of this robbery has now been watched on the internet well over a million times. It has come to encapsulate the moral vacuum that is at the heart of these disturbances.

Role models

"When we see the disgusting sight of an injured young man with people pretending to help him while they are robbing him, it is clear there are things that are badly wrong in our society," said Prime Minister David Cameron on Wednesday morning.

So what is "badly wrong"? Unlike the riots of 1981, these are not fundamentally about race or police heavy handedness. It is not some political grievance that rioters have in common, but rather the desire for a new pair of designer trainers and flat-screen TV.

In many places, this rioting is simply shopping without money. Yes, there will be much talk in the coming days about education and family breakdown. Feral kids, some pre-teenage, need stronger role models at home, especially from fathers. And in the absence of parental guidance, young kids look to gangs as their real family.

The Parable of the Good Samaritan

A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. And by chance there came down a certain priest that way, and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side.

But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion on him, and went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him.

And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee.

But underlying so many of these problems is a general culture of acquisitiveness that has come to shape our society. "Get rich or die tryin'" advises the rapper 50 Cent. Rap music isn't the cause, it's just another symptom.

We over define ourselves by what we buy. I have therefore I am. Many of those rioting have been brought up on this debased philosophy, and have become increasingly angry at the feeling that they have been locked out of the world of material possession.

Back in 1980, then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher gave an important interview with Brian Walden for London Weekend Television.

It was the first major TV interview since becoming Prime Minister. She was keen to set out her stall. She would work to return Britain to prosperity. This would require deep cuts in public spending.

Walden pressed her: "Now I put it to you, is the price of our economic recovery and prosperity greater inequality in this country?"

Her answer was remarkable: "…yes indeed, if opportunity and talent is unequally distributed, then allowing people to exercise that talent and opportunity means more inequality, because there are the resources to do so. No-one would remember the good Samaritan if he'd only had good intentions - he had money as well."

Mrs Thatcher's then economic policy adviser, Brian Griffiths, told me recently how proud she had been of that answer. A year after this interview, the inner cities erupted in violence - riots widely blamed on racial tension, poverty and social exclusion.

These latest riots are bound to generate a great deal of moral soul searching. The church's response to the 1981 riots was the Faith in the City report.

Condemned by Mrs Thatcher as left-wing propaganda, it nonetheless revitalised the Church of England's engagement with some of the most deprived communities in the country.

And in the debates that are already taking place about the causes of the present chaos, no doubt one issue will be the extent to which it is a by-product of economic circumstance, of how falls in the stock market impact the poorest and the vulnerable.

Others will fiercely contest this link, arguing poverty is too often used as a weak excuse - morality first of all means personal morality, personal responsibility. Expect this argument to run and run.


More on This Story

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  • rate this

    Comment number 612.

    @611 I think most people would interpret being called 'Deceitful & Selfish' as fairly derisory.

    I agree that everyone is entitled to their own views, you just don't seem to know when it is appropriate to air your religious ones & constantly force them on other people in almost any context. For example, when you implied that sex outside marriage was deceitful & selfish lead to criminality.

  • rate this

    Comment number 611.

    609. laughingman
    You completely miss the point
    & I'm not deriding anyone
    You are entitled to disagree
    I am entitled to let you know what I know to be true
    There are consequences.
    There is a God who loves you & has a plan for all of us
    Incl. the rioters, who He also loves
    I just hope that believers & non believers alike will have the sense to address this disgraceful situation at every level

  • rate this

    Comment number 610.

    608. crouchnhold

    We are simply reaping what was sown by Thatcher in the 80's. Why is everyone so surprised?

    Well said! Having witnessed her terrible behaviour first hand as a teenager, it really was depressing how she warped the whole country toward the the idealogy of 'personal greed'.

  • rate this

    Comment number 609.

    @607 Well that nonsense might be 'True' for you, but as overly religious people always have difficulty accepting, there are many potential 'Religious Truths' & many people disagree with you, including those with like myself no imaginary friends at all.

    Your solution though is to deride anyone outside your chosen group as 'Sinners'. Such sad intolerant behaviour is at the heart of all prejudice.

  • rate this

    Comment number 608.

    We are simply reaping what was sown by Thatcher in the 80's. Why is everyone so surprised?

  • rate this

    Comment number 607.

    606.laughingman Ha ha. Out of us you're the only one feeling sorry for me. Thanks though. The family is ordained of God. Marriage between man & woman is essential to His eternal plan. Children are entitled to birth within the bonds of matrimony & to be reared by a father & a mother who honor marital vows with complete fidelity,4945,161-1-11-1,FF.html
    This is true

  • rate this

    Comment number 606.

    @605 Huh, 'Deceit & Selfishness' would only apply if either of the people involved were already married. If two people (of any gender) love each other but choose not to marry, where is the immorality in that?

    Marriage is an artificial institution & to imply that sex outside is automatically deceitful or selfish is once again blatently ridiculous.

    I will continue to feel sorry for you though ;)

  • rate this

    Comment number 605.

    604. laughingman No need to feel sorry for me. The sin of sexual immorality i.e. sex outside of a loving marriage is a serious one on many levels. It has deceit & selfishness at its heart. This condition informs many other personal decisions as to what to do with the precious freedom all are given. Sins are linked to other sins, crimes etc. Each person has choices. Taking responsibility is needed

  • rate this

    Comment number 604.

    @603 LOL, I don't think any of the rioters were having sex on camera & to imply by your response that you think 'Sex Outside Marriage' is the first step toward criminal behavior is just plain ridiculous.

    What an astonishingly narrow view of the world you must have, I truly feel sorry for you, but I suppose that is just the 'Good Samaritan' in me ;)

  • rate this

    Comment number 603.

    599. laughingman 'truth is truth wherever it is to be found" & is discernable if living cleanly, so as to have spiritual guidance reach your heart & conscience. Sexual immorality in the media & in our society is a major factor in the degeneration of the family & of personal morality. Individuals unable to control basic urges or value eternal relationships are more susceptible to sin & crime

  • rate this

    Comment number 602.

    @600 You see, there you go again. Presuming that just because I find people pushing religion boring, that I don't contrubute to society. In addition to pushing your own private agenda, you are blatently prejudiced against anyone that doesnt share it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 601.

    I would say that the videos of people cleaning up the streets is more relevant and shows 'Britain Today'.

    There are more people that do have a conscience, do know their responsibilities and do know right from wrong.

    They sum up Britain. Not these people.

    But you media like showing us the bad stuff don’t you?

  • rate this

    Comment number 600.

    598. laughingman Funny, boredom was also much touted as an excuse/reason for the godless behaviour that we have been witnessing. If you're bored go & serve someone. Help someone in need. Cheer someone up. Contribute to your community. Find out the meaning of life. The wake up call that we are discussing is everyone's agenda, it's not just a private matter that there is a God with all the answers

  • rate this

    Comment number 599.

    @597 You see, there is a perfect example. I agree with most of your comments at the end, but the term "Replaced Christian Values" presumes that basic morality has been copyrighted by your belief system. Also what on earth has 'Become Permissive' got to do with anything? Are you claiming that 'Sex Outside Marriage' is reposnsible for the riots too now?

  • rate this

    Comment number 598.

    @594 I concede 'Bible Brigade' is mildly derogatory, but also descriptive. The term 'Fundamentalist' isn't derogatory though, just an accurate description.

    The reason I use terms like that is that it is boring to have to wade through comments from religious people pushing their own private agendas rather than sticking to the topic at hand.

  • rate this

    Comment number 597.

    584.Monkity ...The English?! What happened to your PG Wodehouse charm? You were the polite ones! You were the witty clever ELEGANT ones & now THIS?! What happened?

    Many of us still are but:

    We replaced Christian values with consumer greed & excessive credit
    Lost our moral compass
    Became permissive
    Failed to value & nurture our children
    Allowed the family to breakdown as society's basic unit

  • rate this

    Comment number 596.

    @553 Well trying to constantly trying to push your own private agenda by putting 'God' into every sentence is pretty facile too.

    Honestly, we're supposed to be discussing the recent riots, but comments from funadamentalist are more like bad TV placement advertising. You know, the kind where actors crudely & innapropriately insert the name of the 'sponsor' into every line of unrelated dialogue.

  • rate this

    Comment number 595.

    587. Australiano

    Got room for any more?

  • rate this

    Comment number 594.

    591. laughingman. If only you were funny. 'Fundamentalists' & 'Bible Brigade' are derogatory terms. Why do you use them? They aren't applicable to most sincere practitioners of a loving faith filled with service to their communities. In fact I've been v impressed with a lot of Muslim, Sikh, Christian & unidentified good peoples' responses to the godless violence that we have been witnessing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 593.

    553. Jim_yes_Jim You're part of the problem & accountable for every facile comment that you make. It's a choice what we believe & do & whether we care enough to find out if there is a God or not. I do know that there is & that He has every answer to these riots & other more subtle forms of moral degeneration. We must search out the best of moral thinking in every theology/philsophy & apply it


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