Sunday, 17 July 2005

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.

Posted by Tom Ambrose on Sunday, 17 July 2005 at 9:31pm BST
You can make a Permalink to this if you like
Categorised as: just thinking
Comments

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.

Posted by: Tim on Sunday, 17 July 2005 at 10:17pm BST

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.

Posted by: Thomas Bushnell, BSG on Monday, 18 July 2005 at 1:00am BST

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 communities. There is a natural tendency for people to ‘flock’ together with those whom they identify most easily – white, black, asian, Jewish, Christian, Moslem, heterosexual, etc. This is so the world over. I live in the multicultural Moslem country of Malaysia. I see religious and racial divides very clearly here. People are generally peaceful and keen to see a unity between the different Chinese/Malay/Indian and Christian/Moslem/Hindu communities as a country. But the divides are clearly there. There is a tendency to insularity, there is prejudice, racism, unfairness. It is everywhere, from all ethnic and religious groupings..

I’ve seen Moslem young men in Britain, slagging off British ‘culture’ as being nothing but beer drinking and football. ‘Why should we integrate with that?’

The bombers were not hard done by, repressed or victims of injustice at the hands of Britain or its people. I have enough faith in the majority of modern Britons and those that represent them in government, to assume that they desire a proportionate tightening of security and legislation in response to this new danger that is very different indeed (especially in the complex, variable and largely delusional motivations of its individual elements) from the historical issues Tom Ambrose refers to. Yes, there should be restraint in any response, especially in the changing of laws. There are clear signs that the politicians understand this as they strive to formulate a response. The reasons for legislative restraint are easily arguable without recourse to dredging up Britain’s old demons and muddying the waters of culpability when clarity in this regard is key in dealing with the problem of delusional terrorists.

One of the motivating beliefs of the bombers is likely to have been their take on the US and allies war with Iraq. I know of countless white, Christian or other, Britons who passionately and actively opposed and continue to oppose the Iraq war. None of them thought it would be a good idea to bomb people on London tubes, buses or Parliament.

The bombers are not insane. The are simply, deluded, foolish, and misled. I think an important aspect of countering the danger they present is to counter their delusions with a clear refuting that the issues they use to justify their murderous actions do NOT in anyway justify them. One of al-Qaeda’s stated and prime motivations is avenging wrongs committed by Christians and Jews against Muslims over the ages. Here Tom Ambrose raises up wrongs committed by Britain over the ages. I don’t think this is helpful at all in countering the delusions of young British potential tube bombers. Also, here Tom Ambrose raises up as a present ‘wrong’ (I’m not saying it is or it isn’t) of the US and its allies (ie Britain’s) recent involvement in Iraq – in response to and in the context of the bombing of innocent people by murderers who are probably partly motivated by that perception. Again, I don’t think this is helpful in countering the delusions of other would-be bombers.

I think the piece is dangerously close to clouding the issue and becoming an encouragement for the bombers’ delusions.

Posted by: Matt on Monday, 18 July 2005 at 5:00am BST

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 best policy. Still, the question of how to present the facts is a delicate one.

Cordially,
Steven

Posted by: steven on Monday, 18 July 2005 at 2:52pm BST

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 young people with a romantic attachment to violence, apologised for by a surprisingly large number of the comfortably disaffected - the people Lenin once called useful idiots.’

Steven, I don’t know much about Islam’s past misdeeds. I’m more interested in the current trends in Islamism around the world and on our doorsteps, and the counter-productive, and mistaken, fashion for Britons and Europeans to blame it all on the Iraq war.

Posted by: Matt on Tuesday, 19 July 2005 at 5:17am BST

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 through this one?

Posted by: J. C. Fisher on Tuesday, 19 July 2005 at 7:48am BST

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 evidence, and will remain so. Still, it doesn’t take many to kill and maim a lot of people over the years.

There is NOTHING we can do to change the minds of those who seek our annihilation or subjugation because we are western or Christian, Jewish or just not Moslem.

The moderate, peaceful, rational Moslem majority has a huge responsibility to challenge and criticise the extremist Islamists, just as the ‘liberal’ Christians are waking up to the fact that THEY have a responsibility to challenge and criticise the fundamentalist Christian bigots that seek to exclude, oppress, persecute and consequentially feed the extremist elements of society.

Most Christians I see speaking or writing seem incapable of seeing the clear connection between the homophobia of the church historically and currently, and a lout kicking the head of a gay man lying on a London pavement until he dies – because he is gay. That radical hetrosexualist murderer was driven by the desire to annihilate or at least subjugate homosexuals. Why? What put that into his head and countless other people’s heads to openly spit their heartfelt contempt and threats and violence at gay people as they walk down the street? What informed the culture that has up until very recently (in legislative and medical etc terms) thought that it is not wrong to persecute homosexuals? Centuries of Christians saying that God wanted that to happen to the homosexuals in our midst, because the bible is God’s literal truth and that it (including Leviticus) is applicable to our modern situations and phenomena in a direct and literal way. Our laws, our ethics are based on old (including Leviticus) and new biblical testaments. The only way to erode ideologies that have previously been enshrined in those laws and ethical systems and religion is assertively from the authority of the laws, ethical systems and the religion that informed them.

What, besides the Iraq situation, is informing the bombers of 7/7 ilk? Islam primarily, then radicalising factions and teaching within Islam, then their host culture (Britain, which is full of Galloway type apologists and lots of other less ill-intentioned people muddying the waters of culpibility).

Just as right thinking Christians are obliged to assertively promote rational Christianity and challenge and criticise theology that bears fruit of hatred and violence, right thinking Moslems have to wake up to the fact that THEY have to assertively promote rational Islam and challenge and criticise extreme Islamist beliefs - and they need to start pretty quickly and do a lot of work.

I don’t think there is much ‘reconciliation’ needed between rational, moderate Islam and Christianity or the West. They just need to pick up their responsibility in ‘teaching’ moderation and not just being moderate.

That has been the ‘liberal’ or ‘progressive’ Christian's error in the past – to imagine it’s good enough to just BE moderate. It’s not good enough for Christians and it isn’t good enough for Moslems or Jews. We have to be ACTIVE 'moderates'.

And I need to stop posting to this thread and get on with the things I’m using it to avoid, like work and stuff. Cheers, God Bless.

Posted by: matt on Tuesday, 19 July 2005 at 11:29am BST

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 actually do about them is more limited.

Posted by: Merseymike on Tuesday, 19 July 2005 at 11:05pm BST

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 and divorce (except in very narrow circumstances). Do you think I believe I should kick in the heads of LGBT people and of adulterers (the OT told the Jews to stone them ?!) - I would have to attack several friends and relatives. What about people who have sex, or live together, without marrying - most of my friends do or have done that ?

If you see demons in every church, you are in danger of starting your own jihad against perfectly reasonable and faithful Christians, because you imagine the worst.

Posted by: Dave on Wednesday, 20 July 2005 at 12:41am BST

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 will be encouraged by your arguments that reach the public domain where he picks it up (so not just an ‘internal’ issue). THAT is the link to your teaching and a foot in the head of a gay person.

The ‘traditionalist/conservative/fundamentalist/scriptural’ Moslems believe what they do because their scripture and tradition (as they interpret it) tells them to. Generally, they tend to have a lot of sympathy with some of the extremist views, such as anti-Christian, anti-western views and a strict, traditional and inflexible interpretation of scripture and tradition, and so are restrained from overtly undermining the extremists with whom they hold a lot of views in common. The extremists view a lack of broad-spectrum, coherent criticism as tacit support from the body of Islam.

The Church has had an enormous influence in the forming of Britain’s laws and ethical culture, historically and currently. The wider, unchurched population of Britain, to varying degrees, maintains some sense of spirituality and a respect for Christianity. They observe the historical homophobia of the church and the current arguments put forward by the ‘biblical/traditional’ section of the church. They receive, you would be glad to hear, the message that ‘homosexuality is a sin’, therefore, in their eyes, homosexual people are wrong, bad, worthy of contempt, etc. They become demonized. A little further and they become less than human. Not worthy of the same respect and rights of others. The principle is clearly seen in the Holocaust where, Jews, Gays, Gypsies, etc were catagorised, maligned, demonized, persecuted and eventually killed.

I’m not saying that the people in the church want to beat me to the floor and kick my head until I die, I’m saying that their arguments encourage the hatred of the wider population, some of which will actually beat and kill gay people. I remember the last time the gay issue got debated by the church a few years back – afterwards the statistics showed an increase in homophobic attacks on the streets. So, it is not just an ‘internal’ disagreement. This is why I say the ‘biblical/traditionalists’ seem wilfully blind to the connection between church homophobia and the homophobia of thugs on the streets. I think it is too uncomfortable for them to face the fact of the connection. If they could allow themselves to see it, then they may even begin to ‘test the fruits of the teaching’ and see that they are hatred, persecution, violence and ultimately death.

Imagine for a moment what it would be like if the Church through the ages had condemned persecution/abuse of homosexual people instead of condemning the homosexual people themselves? Do you really think there would be as many gay-‘bashings’ as there are? Really?

I’m comparing the consequences of the teaching and prevailing voices in both the Church and Islam to highlight the importance of this in countering extremism inside the faiths and outside the faiths.

I ‘drag’ this issue into the discussion on extremist murderers, because I consider a fatal homophobic attack an ‘extremist murder’ that is partly motivated by an understanding of what God wants or hates – what is ‘evil’ and what is ‘good’.

In some muslim states, homosexual people are NOW being stoned to death by law. Religious ‘fundementalism’ (of whatever brand) usually comes with a big dash of hatred for homosexuals.

My main point is to highlight the need for the ‘moderates’ of Islam to argue their case against the extremists, to challenge them to be clear in the teaching they give the youth of Islam, wherever they can (acknowledging it’s disparate nature) so that it is difficult for the extremism to flourish. I ‘drag’ in a comparison of the ‘conservatism’/’traditional’ v ‘liberal’/’moderate’ debates of the church, of which homosexuality is only one, becuase I believe that the principles at work in the two faiths are comparable and I think it is just as important for the church to be aware of the consequences of its teachings and how it influences the actions of those within and without the church.

Maybe the ‘traditional/conservative’ Moslems will, like you, balk at any suggestion of challenging ideas (such as anti-Christian, anti-western, and meanings/uses of 'jihad' for them - anti-homosexuality for you) that they feel sympathy with but feed extremist violence even though they are not themselves violent.

I really am going to stop posting now. I can’t make my point any clearer, I don’t think. Accept it or don’t, but it is my right to ‘drag’ in whatever comparisons I feel will be relevant. Just as Mr Ambrose uses comparisons that some may feel relevant, some will feel ill-fitting.

And, by the way, although I was not referring to them in this or past posts, I have seen 'demons' in churches I've frequented. I thought that was pretty standard - even Biblical. They didn't have big boots on, though. They assaulted my spirit wearing a trendy pullover and a lovely smile.

Posted by: matt on Thursday, 21 July 2005 at 4:15am BST

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, then it should also be condemned by the church - in which case the church has to teach morality based purely on secular law. Alternatively if you say that, additionally, we should only condemn as sins those behaviours where people are abused or hurt, then you are saying that we shouldn't condemn polyamoury, sex outside marriage, discrete affairs, or looking at someone lustfully (which Jesus condemned!).

Jesus was kind, approachable and loving and at the same time upheld extremely high moral standards. When people brought an adulterous woman to him, and were about to stone her, he said that the person without sin should caste the first stone, and didn't condemn her to death himself (he being the only one without sin) - but he DID explicitely tell her to leave her life of sin!

I think we have to learn from Jesus and teach "love for sinners", not "everything's ok as long as you don't hurt anyone". He is our model.

The Moslem's prophet was sometimes a man of war, as well as civility and culture. He is the Moslem's model. I think you will find more explanation of the way some moslems (mis)interprete the Koran by studying it and him.

Posted by: Dave on Saturday, 23 July 2005 at 5:55pm BST
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