Every year in Britain we celebrate the Fifth of November as a major festival in the calendar.  Probably our third biggest after Christmas and Easter.  Surely a failed terrorist who died some 400 year ago is hardly someone we want to remember.  So lets look at the relevance of Guy Fawkes to us today and asks whether we should be making more or less of this event.  It also considers how it might be changed to make it more relevant.

Apart from the great religious festivals, what do we celebrate?  Perhaps a beter question would be “what should we celebrate?”

Other countries have their independence days.  Obviously we cannot copy them as Britain was usually the country they gained independence from.  I have actually heard of an American working in England who could not see why we did not celebrate the Fourth of July!  So what do we celebrate?  A failed attempt at blowing up both Houses of Parliament and the King.  Most people were relieved, to say the least, at the time, but do we need to keep it going today?

The King who had such a narrow escape was James VI and I.  The first King of both England and Scotland, who had acceded to both thrones without spilling blood.  Had he been killed then it is not certain that the ensuing chaos would have resulted in a new King, or whatever, for the two countries, or whether they would have split apart again, and for how long.  An interesting, but ultimately pointless, area for speculation.  Ask Alex Salmond?

What Was It All About At the Time?

  1. The motive for Guy Fawkes and his fellow-conspirators was religion. They could not accept that both England and Scotland had broken away from the Church of Rome and developed their own distinctive forms of Protestantism.  Somehow, the plotters had hoped to impose Roman Catholicism on an unwilling population, possibly with the help of foreign government, but that is a matter also for speculation.
  2. At that time, due to real or imaginary fears among Protectants, there was official discrimination against Catholics, although more serious persecution had ceased and relations between Catholics and Protestants were largely amicable.
  3. People might have thought that this failed coup would have resulted in anti-Catholic violence and/or more serious official persecution. Yet, somehow it was avoided.  Somehow we British managed to move on to religious toleration and equality without the need for revolution or violence.

So Why Does Any of That Matter Today?

  1. One of the biggest issues in British politics, and indeed around the World, is religious extremism.
  2. The danger is that some people will try to impose their faith, even a very specific variety of a broader religion, on everyone else.
  3. There have been numerous plots by Islamic extremists to cause serious harm in Britain, most of which have been foiled.
  4. We are all aware of Islamic extremists, but let us not forget the Hindu Nationalists in India and Nepal who want to oppress Moslems as well as Christians and others, and the Buddhist ones who want to make Burma, Bhutan, and Sri Lanka  into one-religion states.
  5. Some people fear a backlash against the majority of law-abiding Moslems in Britain and a general worsening of race relations, as people confuse race with religion.

So Where Does Guy Fawkes Come In?

  • We can be thankful he failed and long may they all fail who would damage democracy and religious or other freedom.
  • We can be thankful that Protestants and Catholics learnt to live and work together, even discovering how much they have in common.
  • We take courage from the example of the past and aim to see Moslems and everyone else blending into our British Society peacefully just as the Roman Catholics have.
  • We can try to export these ideas around the World, even as far as Ireland.
  • Perhaps not the fireworks, that might be asking for trouble.

So let us make the Fifth of November an international anti-extremism day, that we can all be proud of.