Thinking Anglicans

English bombers 1605-2005

The revelation that those who carried out the suicide bombings in London were British citizens is a shock. It would have been far easier to be able to regard the terrorists as people from out there, people who were totally different, people with whom we had nothing in common, and for whom were needed have no fellow feeling.

But we have been here before, and we need to learn from our history. This year marks the 400th anniversary of the Gunpowder Plot, possibly the most audacious acts of terrorism ever planned. It was planned by Englishmen. It was planned not by the poor or the dispossessed, but by people who largely were privileged and comfortable.

At the accession of King James VI of Scotland to the throne of England in 1603, those who wanted to worship as Catholics had hoped that the new king would be more sympathetic to them than Queen Elizabeth had been. At first James had appeared to favour them, but the Puritans objected to the new relaxed attitudes. James brought back the fines for those who would not worship as Anglicans, and expelled Catholic priests and Jesuits. This intolerance proved to be a breeding ground for extremism of the most audacious kind. And this was within the hearts of Englishmen who loved England. Like the men who successfully bombed London last week, they were indistinguishable from the rest of the population.

Today we have to learn from history. 400 years ago a religious war was beginning in England. The Puritans were determined to get the king to treat Catholics so harshly that they didn’t feel they had a future in England. The Gunpowder Plot led to more repression, partly to the Civil War, certainly to Cromwell’s hated campaigns in Ireland. In the city of Drogheda he ordered the death of every man in the garrison, describing this as “a righteous judgment of God upon these barbarous wretches”. In Wexford he slaughtered townspeople and garrison alike.

The legacy of the response to the gunpowder plot has been severe repression and hostility particularly in Ireland which has continued until our own day. It has set the native largely catholic population against the immigrant ruling protestant class for generation after generation. The two communities have been unable to trust each other, and the reason both catholic and protestant terrorists were able to function was that on both sides they knew no-one in their own community would betray them.

Today we stand at that same point in relation to the recent bombings in London as people stood on November 5th 1605. And today we have to reach out and acknowledge that people of Muslim faith have a legitimate and valuable part to play in British society today. We cannot afford to reject people of good will. We need them on our side if good is to triumph.

The Bush administration in the USA with its war on terror has been just as misguided as that of Oliver Cromwell. Its indiscriminate bombing, destruction of infrastructure and failure to establish a rule of law which could be trusted, its treatment of prisoners and detainees have all made things infinitely worse since 9-11.

Jesus tells a parable (Matthew 13.24-30,36-43) which is appropriate to today’s situation. An enemy comes by night and sows weeds in the field. The slaves of the household are up in arms, and want to rush into the field and gather up the weeds. But Jesus says “No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them.”

Our danger is that we could, as in the heavy handed and intolerant response to the gunpowder plot 400 years ago, rush in and make things infinitely worse, alienating good citizens of Muslim faith here, and breeding terrorists across the world. We have, fortunately, the good example of the dignified and appropriate response of Spain to the Madrid bombings as a much better example to follow.

The parable of the weeds sown in the crop has an important lesson. We are to live with those who are different. We do not know, and we do not decide which of us is ultimately the good seed which God will harvest at the end of the age. He sends his angels to do that. But we trample down those who are different at our peril, for in doing so, we spoil the good crop, we spoil even ourselves. We find our good intentions turned to hatred and our zeal to oppose what is wrong carries us away in a fury of righteous anger. And we become like an Oliver Cromwell, trampling on the whole of Ireland, turning people against each other for generation after generation.

Our task is to produce the good seed for the harvest, so that at the judgement we will be those whose response to God’s grace will find its fulfilment in his kingdom.

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Tim
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Excellently put. We had the same parable in church this morning, actually, with much the same message.

This evening I watched Channel 4 news, where I hear apparently their idea of bringing in new law to “combat terrorism” includes banning people from browsing websites containing instructions on making bombs.
I also heard the usual rhetoric about “protecting and upholding the values and freedoms of democracy”.
I’m trying to work out quite how these two are supposed to gel.

Thomas Bushnell, BSG
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The revelation that those who carried out the suicide bombings in London were British citizens is a shock.

I think Americans experienced this shock as well, but earlier: when the federal building in Oklahoma City was bombed.

Matt
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Matt

It would have been nice to mention how this country and its people (most of its people) have, in recent times, bent over backwards to accommodate people of different faiths and ethnicities and to facilitate their ‘integration’ into the wider ‘multi-cultural society’. I’m uncomfortable with how, in response to these mass murders of innocent British citizens, people like to raise up mistakes that Britain and its government/rulers have made in the past, such as the Irish history (mistakes that most British people regret and to which they would like to see a resolution). Britain is very good to its ethnic/religious… Read more »

steven
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steven

Dear Matt: Thank you for a clear and insightful analysis of the article. Do you think it would do any good to bring out the long and bloody history of Islam’s misdeeds? Sometimes I think it would be useful as a reality check for the misinformed and uninformed on both sides. At other times I’m concerned that it would merely stir up the same kinds of passions against Muslims that their radical Imams strive to stir up against others. However, I don’t believe this is an area where the continued ignorance of the general public on the subject represents the… Read more »

Matt
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Matt

Palestinian National Council Member Mamoun Tamimi on the London Bombings: ‘Who made them love death? Britain and the U.S. with their actions.’ Please read the interview (July 12, 2005: Al-Jazeera TV) and see how this influential Palestinian distorts history and reason to help delude young people to the cause of his islamist agenda and excuse the murders: http://www.memri.org/bin/opener_latest.cgi?ID=SD93605 (The Middle East Media Research Institute) I think a more pertinent historical comparison than Ambrose’s is Martin Kettle’s article in the guardian comparing our current situation to the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon: http://www.guardian.co.uk/attackonlondon/comment/story/0,16141,1531529,00.html ‘We too face a revolt whose activists are often relatively prosperous… Read more »

J. C. Fisher
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I think we need a “Truth and Reconciliation Commission” approach (ala South Africa) to the *entire history* of Christian/Muslim relations. We need to, together, define a *common ethic*, APART from “but scripture says . . . ” (much less an “Oh yeah? But what about when *your* side did _____???”) A paradox: in ANY armed conflict, *civilians should ALWAYS be off-limits*! (Whether the bomb is planted on a subway, or dropped from jet) . . . yet in democracies, *civilians* ARE RESPONSIBLE for their government’s policies (including, sometimes, really reprehensible ones: remember that Hitler was elected). How do we work… Read more »

matt
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matt

I think it is important to stress the difference between the extreme Islamists and their goal of annihilation or subjugation of all faiths and cultures (ie- people) outside of their own brand of Islam, of which al-Qaeda and the stupid kids who blew themselves up in London last week are just two examples of many; and the majority of peace-loving ‘moderate’ Moslems who do not seek these things (I mean, if you have better things to do, who could be bothered with all that annihilation & subjugation). God, I hope they are the majority. I assume they are, on given… Read more »

Merseymike
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Merseymike

Its a difficult one, though, practically. Islam is a strangely un-organised religion, in the sense that it isn’t very structured. For example, in the UK, there is no one Islamic organisation, not even bodies which could be said to fairly represent large swathes of Islam We are dealing here largely with young, disillusioned men, who have made contact and been ‘radicalized’ by groups wqhich are almost all external to the mosque, and operate via the internet, via work in countries outside the UK, and so on. Of couirse moderate Muslims should, and do, speak against them. But what they can… Read more »

Dave
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Dave

Hi Matt, why do you have too drag our internal disagreements into a discussion on extremist murderers ? There is a huge difference between the Christian view of morality and the Moslem extremist’s jihad which can justify killing (in his mind). Or have you forgotten that Christians have to even love our enemies and oppressors – and that WE ARE ALL SINNERS ! I believe the biblical/traditional view that homosexuality is sinful and that homosexual sex is not an option for people wanting to follow Christ, but I also believe the same about adultery, sex before (or after) marriage, pornography… Read more »

matt
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matt

It’s not just internal – that is the point of my comparison. I will try to spell out my view as clearly as possible to avoid any further misunderstanding: It is a very simple comparison: you believe what you do because your scripture and tradition (as you interpret it) tells you to. You will vocally defend your position and argue, as is your right, against a ‘liberal’ take on issues such as homosexuality. Whether you like it or not, the ‘extremist’ homophobic thug, will be informed by and to some degree feel JUSTIFIED by ‘traditional/conservative/fundamental/scriptural’ church teaching on homosexuality, and… Read more »

Dave
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Dave

Dear Matt, I do sympathise with your arguement that teaching that homosexuality is a perversion and sinful could be used by some unthinking people to to justify their thuggery. And the thought that people who are homosexual are oppressed and persecuted in many countries is horrible. But are you saying that the church should not condemn anything if that might lead unthinking people to use it as an excuse to attack someone? That would mean saying sex abusers are ok, for instance, since many have been attacked in the UK recently. Probably you’d respond that if it is a crime,… Read more »