Saturday, November 05, 2005

Religious Terrorists... From Today and 400 Years Ago

Captain Edmund Blackadder - "This Guy Fawkes bloke, do we let him off or what?"

As an American watching British television since at least the age of 10, I've resigned the fact that some cultural references go over my head.

Boxing Day was one. I sort-of got it after talking to some military guys who know one angle of the tradition.

Show jumping. "Cornonation Street". Boys' School literature (although the Michael Palin / Terry Jones parody series Ripping Yarns best show was the series opener, "Tomkinson's School Days" and is funny to me inspite of some of the lost subtlties of the genre). Cricket. I could come up with more. (However, I completely understand the appeal of kippers for breakfast... wonderful!)

Guy Fawkes Day also thuds on me as a cultural tradition. I've taken enough history classes to know the basics of the Gunpowder Plot, but the celebration of November 5th is elusive.

Bonfires. Fireworks. Effigies of Guy Fawkes carried about the neighborhood. Effigies of Fawkes (and some of the Pope!) burned.

So it's like Independance Day? No, not really... other than the fireworks, perhaps. So it would be like celebrating the capture and execution of Benedict Arnold? Maybe, but we haven't celebrated the death of a traitor for 400 years.

Best to go to a Brit for a little insight. We may not quite get it, but National Review's John Derbyshire connects the dots between oppressed Catholics at the beginning of the 17th century in England and today's radical Islamic terrorists.
Does any of this offer lessons to the many Muslims now living in Britain and America? Some commentators think so. Writing in the London Daily Telegraph a few days ago, Philip Johnston drew a parallel between the English Catholics of 1605 and the Muslims of present-day England. He congratulates his countrymen on their refusal to follow the jihadist bombings in London this year with a general persecution of Muslims: “As we remember once more the Fifth of November, let us also not forget what a frightened and intolerant society we once were and how far we have come in the intervening 400 years.”

I think Mr. Johnston’s self-satisfaction is misplaced. Muslims in present-day Britain enjoy full civil rights, and always have. The plotters of 1605 came from a background of decades of persecution, when Catholics had been dispossessed, exiled, hanged, and burned at the stake. Whatever you think of religious terrorism, Guy Fawkes’s grievances were real.

Pause for thought. We no longer live in the 17th century, and we've proven it. If we did, we would have seen a bloodbath in the streets in the days that followed September 11, 2001. There was no bloodbath in the streets.

However, there was dancing in the streets on September 11, 2001.


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