all in, all out

6 Nov

Guy Fawkes: all in. all out

On the 14th July in Bristol, in what appeared to be a terrible enactment of Guy Fawkes’ night, two men set upon their neighbour. Bijan Ebrahimi, a quiet, disabled 44 year-old Iranian and devoted gardener. They dragged Mr Ebrahimi out of his council house and beat him unconscious. Why? He was falsely accused of being a paedophile and arrested by the police on 12 July.  The accusation was groundless. False. No child had been abused.  The police set Mr Ebrahimi free the same day.  But two of Bijan Ebrahimi’s ‘neighbours’ took what they thought was justice into their own hands.  And so, having beaten him unconscious, they burnt him alive in a bonfire.

Every year on the 5th November, we celebrate Guy Fawkes Night with activities that range from fireworks to bonfires. But who was Guy Fawkes and what connection does he have with the events in Bristol? Fawkes was found guarding 36 barrels of gunpowder the night before Parliament was to open and immediately arrested. He wasn’t the mastermind behind the plot to destroy the House of Lords.  Robert Catesby and Catesby’s relatives were. Fawkes was the only nonrelative in the small group. What did they have in common? They were Catholics in a Protestant country; minority outsiders – the marginalised -in a culture that didn’t want them and never listened to them. They were ‘all out.’ Catesby asked his priest confessor, Father Henry Garnet, this question before he became a terrorist bomber: is it right is it moral to kill ‘innocents.’ Garnet said such actions could often be ‘excused.’ Especially in war.  This answer was all Catesby needed to justify his actions. The extremeists were committed to action. They were ‘all in.’But the priest’s response was wrong. Let us be clear: neither in the 1600s or the 21st century; in wars nor in peacetime, God never desires the innocent to suffer. (Genesis 18:22-23) The men turned away and went toward Sodom, but Abraham remained standing before the Lord.Then Abraham approached him and said: “Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Abraham gets closer to God, asks Him, but later answers his own question before God speaks: God never destroys, punishes, the innocent with the wicked. Never.

What do Bijan Ebrahimi’s neighbours have in common with Robert Catesby, Guy Fawkes and other terrorist groups, like al-Shabaab, the extremist group who attacked and killed in the Kenyan shopping mall? They are people who use force and in using force deny the humanity of others. Simone Weil, expressed this idea in her essay ‘The Iliad, or the Poem of Force’ published in 1939 just as the Nazis were taking power:

‘The true hero, the true subject, the centre of the Iliad, is force. Force employed by man, force that enslaves man, force before which man’s flesh shrinks away. In this work at all times, the human spirit is shown as modified by its relation to force, as swept away, blinded, by the very force it imagined it could handle, as deformed by the weight of the force it submits to.’ (Emphasis mine)

Extremists always ‘imagine’ they can handle it. They are wrong. Use of force sweeps away the human spirit. It is an uncontrollable fire. It excludes others from humanity. How did Catesby and Fawkes and the two neighbours in Bristol get so desperate, so consumed with their beliefs that they use violence? British author and historian Antonia Fraser describes Catesby’s mentality as ‘that of the crusader who does not hesitate to employ the sword in the causes or values which he considers are spiritual.’  People think, speak and act unkindly when they see themselves and their values as so different, so special, or out of step with their culture that they have removed themselves from the class of humanity. They become ‘super spiritual.’ They are themselves consumed by the fire of their beliefs. They leave humanity by the vehicle of the extreme force of their beliefs.

Remember Bijan Ebrahimi when you see the bonfires on the 5th of November. Let it remind you of the outsider in your community.  Naturally, we are wary, suspicious of the different, the outsider.  How could you include them? Pray for them. Question: Why has God placed this outsider in my path, at this time, in this place? What does this person’s presence reveal about me, my doubts, my fears, my prejudices? Me. Don’t assume you know the others; don’t judge them. Her, him- even unconsciously. Be generous in thought. Listen, by being aware of the other. Speak to them. Invite others in. Last question: ask, how does this person, my feelings, our situation relate to My relationship with Jesus who went ‘Outside’ for me, with me, to bring me in? ‘They’ aren’t all that different than ‘you.’ Remember Bijan Ebrahimi. Try to love a neighbour. As yourself.



2 Responses to “all in, all out”

  1. Priscilla Osewalt November 6, 2013 at 10:18 am #

    god is using you, with me and I am in wonder and awe of his goodness to us. I love you.

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