x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

A growing threat of sword violence? An explanation is at hand

Authorities should take the necessary steps to prevent deadly weapons from being easily accessible to anybody with a few dirhams.

Every few weeks, there are reports about clashes between groups of teenagers or slightly older young men that result in serious injuries, and occasionally in deaths. Often, in the more serious cases, swords are being used.

Gangs are not unique to the UAE, of course. In some countries where handguns are easily available, street clashes often involve shootings as well, which fortunately hasn't yet become part of the UAE's street scene and gang culture.

Sociologists can come up with all sorts of suggestions as to why young men join gangs and why they fight. Broken homes, parental neglect, peer pressure, insufficient opportunity for other activities, drugs, drink, heightened testosterone levels - these explanations, and many more, can be put forward.

The police and judicial authorities probably have their own take on youth violence as well, and their own ideas of how to respond to such behaviour. I have my own views, which are somewhat different from the days when I was a tearaway myself, but I won't engage in a sociological or criminological analysis.

I have another axe to grind - a fitting metaphor for the subject at hand.

Last weekend, I went to a shop in downtown Abu Dhabi that I've been meaning to visit for ages. Its name includes the word "antiques", but there are only a few genuinely old items for sale - some coins of dubious provenance, a few old telephones, a small pile of much newer carpets, some silver thimbles and the like. The bulk of the stock is replicas of various artefacts from all over the world, including African tribal masks, brass coffeepots, little wooden cabinets, brightly coloured lanterns and so on.

All rather nice, as long as one doesn't get misled into thinking that they are originals. I was fascinated by some, although not tempted to put my hand in my pocket.

And then I saw, down one crowded passageway, a large collection of knives and swords. Most were copies of antiques, including one massive cross-handled medieval sword that had a blade over a metre in length. There were also some vicious-looking curved blades in wooden sheaths. I checked a few of the blades and none of them had an effective cutting edge, although some of the points were certainly sharp enough to do damage.

The salesman noted my interest and came over. Did he sell many of these, I asked? Oh yes, he replied, lots of youngsters come in and buy them. Didn't he worry, I asked, about how they would be used? No, he said. I didn't ask if he kept a record of who bought them, but I'm sure he doesn't.

Some of the weapons might look nice hung on a wall or decorating a living room, but I doubt that many youngsters have that in mind. If they have a file or a grindstone, it wouldn't take more than a few minutes to turn these swords into deadly weapons.

The same applies to the long-handled battle axe, again of medieval design, which stood nearby. I picked it up and swung it gently; it was heavy enough to smash through a skull or to chop off an arm, once sharpened.

What on Earth are weapons like these doing on sale to the public? Surely the police could intervene. At the very least, there should be rules limiting purchase, for example, to people who can prove that they are over 21, and requiring the sale to be recorded in a ledger.

In Britain, laws prevent the sale of knives longer than a few centimetres to youngsters. It's time for something similar here.

The next time I read a news story about swords being used in a gang- fight, I'll think of that shop and of others like it. I hope that the authorities will have taken the necessary steps to prevent deadly weapons from being easily accessible to anybody with a few dirhams.


Peter Hellyer is a consultant specialising in the UAE's history and culture