Guy Fawkes

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Ran across an interesting link at the Prospect blog. I had not noticed this, but 2005 is the 400th anniversary the Gunpowder Plot famously associated with Guy Fawkes. The Guardian observes some interesting parallels between then and now. And I, for one, would have enjoyed watching Hammond narrate the explosive demolition of a replica House of Lords. Pity that got shelved.

The meat of the article goes thusly, though:

The Catholics were the Muslims of 1605. Most of them were relatively happily integrated with the larger society. Under the new king, James I, a more tolerant policy was being pursued towards them than had been the case under Elizabeth. ... He didn't like Catholics but he didn't want to persecute them. ...

But within that large majority there was a small cell of Roman Catholic bombers who wanted to wreak maximum destruction in the heart of London. ... Most of them were Englishmen to their bones but deeply disillusioned with the way in which the highly materialistic, highly commercial and highly nationalistic culture of their country was leading away from the embrace of the Roman Catholicism that represented for them the ideal of heaven on earth.

The result of the failed plot was a wave of anti-Catholic hysteria which was promptly exploited by the Protestant elites of Britain to harshly repress the Catholic population, as a result of which they did not regain full political rights until the mid-19th century. Nicholson, of course, intends this as an analogy to the recent London transit bombings by who appear to have been militant Muslim youth. He hopes to warn Britons away from scapegoating the Islamic community in general. Or maybe it's a reminder of the danger in resorting to torture, not that any Britons have been tortured so far that we know of. Or just a plea to give some thought to not being scared by cultural diversity. The parallel to current events is well-drawn, but the second half of the article rather fails to do anything in particular with it.

My advice: focus. Yes, the poor Guy was tortured, but the article doesn't prove that anything bad really happened as a result. On the other hand, a couple of centures of renewed religions oppression is worth digging into a bit more. Especially when you consider that this is right about when Calvinists and the like started leaving for the New World in droves. And what about Ireland? The Irish Rebellion broke out just 36 years later, which led directly to barring of Catholics from Irish government -- is there a connection? (The answer, I think, is a rousing "sort of.")

Note, then, that Fawkes and conspirators were actually trying to spark a rebellion that would topple the Protestant ruling dynasty. In that light, it appears that the reaction to the Gunpowder Plot came dangerously close to fulfilling those aims, even though the bomb never even went off. So here's my takeaway lesson for today, if moral there must be. The viscerally satisfying response to a terrorist attack is quite often exactly what the perpetrators were trying to bring about.

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You know of course that we celebrate Guy Fawkes Day in the APS lab thanks to KD.

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This page contains a single entry by Milligan published on August 9, 2005 9:32 PM.

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