Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Fundamentalist terrorist assassination plot defeated

Tonight the British people celebrate the defeat of a terrorist assassination plot. A group of disaffected men, followers of a foreign religion and egged on by propaganda from overseas and a radical cleric, planned a spectacular atrocity: they would blow up the entire government in one huge explosion. The plot was foiled by the security services, who, responding to a tip-off, mounted a surveillance operation and arrested one of the plotters red handed as he prepared to detonate the explosives. The rest of the gang were tracked down and shot or arrested when soldiers stormed their hideout. In accordance with an executive order from the head of state the survivors were subsequently imprisoned, tortured, and executed after a show-trial.

This happened over 400 years ago, on November 5th 1605. The plotters were Catholics rather than Muslims, but apart from that the story sounds disconcertingly modern, although we tend not to go in for show trials these days: they went out of fashion with Stalin.

Today the Gunpowder Plot is celebrated as Bonfire Night: Guy Fawkes (the one caught with the explosives) is still burned in effigy, and in some places the Pope gets the same treatment as well. However, over the past 400 years the anti-Catholic content has almost entirely leached away: now its just an excuse to let off some fireworks. A Catholic can join in the celebrations just as I (a Briton) joined in the 4th of July celebrations when I was living in the US.

Maybe one day we will look back on 9/11 the same way. I certainly hope so.

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