In 1605, Guy Fawkes hoped to restore Protestant England to Catholicism by blowing up the House of Lords and killing James V and I . He was, counter-terrorism expert Haras Rafiq told HistoryExtra, “the equivalent of a modern-day jihadist”.
He said: “Guy Fawkes fought like a jihadist of today; he fought for what he perceived as a utopian fate. Having converted to Catholicism in his early twenties, he went to fight for his new faith in Spain’s war against the Protestant Netherlands. Just as converts are travelling today to places like Iraq and Syria to fight, Fawkes got a taste in Spain of killing for his cause. He then returned home and became involved with the gunpowder plot.
“Guy Fawkes is a modern-day jihadist in that he was someone who tried to spread his ideology through terrorist force. He thought he had to promote the Catholic faith as being the dominant faith, and promote laws under that faith instead of the laws of the country.
“Guy Fawkes had a political goal, which was to spread Catholicism. Likewise, Islamism is the goal of jihadists today – that is, a political ideology that aims to establish Islamist states and govern by their version of Sharia law, and to spread that conversion around the world. This is crucially different from Islam, the faith.”
Rafiq continued: “Jihadists today believe the rest of the world is against them, and that fighting is the only way they can be a true Muslim, and they use force to implement Islamism. Every person who is an Islamist terrorist from the non-Shia traditions is a Salafi, but of course, not everyone who believes in the Salafi sect of Islam is a terrorist. Similarly, Guy Fawkes was trying to kill people in other Christian sects.
“And like many terrorists today, who have converted to the Salafi sect of Islam in conjunction with the ideology of Islamism – and believe anyone outside that sect is not a proper Muslim – Guy Fawkes had converted to Catholicism. He did not have the inbuilt resilience against ideological faith-based scriptural interpretations that promoted terrorism as a solution to grievances that people who may have been Catholic from birth had. He therefore felt his violent actions were justified.”
Guy Fawkes and the gunpowder plotters, from a print published in Frankfurt in 1605. Fawkes, best known of the conspirators, is third from right. Colourised black and white print. (Photo by Print Collector/Getty Images)
The gunpowder plot saw a group of disaffected Catholics conspire to assassinate King James I by blowing up the House of Lords with matches, fuses and 36 barrels of gunpowder. The plan was foiled at the last minute – an event celebrated annually in Britain on 5 November.
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Rafiq, the managing director of counter-extremism think tank Quilliam, also drew similarities between the aftermath of the foiled gunpowder plot and the reaction to modern-day terrorist attacks. “Like today, the government in 1605 tried to react in a way that would genuinely prevent something similar happening again, and also reassure the public,” he said.
“Politicians wanted to show that they were doing something. As today, they saw the incident simply through the lens of criminality and legislation, rather than from the point of view of society and what could be done to prevent future incidents. History repeats itself.”
The expert continued: “We need to imagine what Protestants must have been going through at the time – they would have been afraid of their Catholic neighbours. The foiled plot caused chaos for Catholics too.
“Today, the west has been dragged into a battle for the soul of Islam – a battle between Islamists who use Salafi jihadi theology, and other Muslims. Likewise, in the 17th century people were facing a struggle within Christianity – between fundamentalists and Catholics/Protestants.
“Over time, the different sects within Christianity have learned how to live with each other. That has taken a lot of battles, wars and atrocities, but I hope and look forward to a time when Muslims of different sects, creeds and ideologies can learn to live with each other and the rest of the world.”